Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010
By John Mullin
The Bears did some celebrating on the field after Monday nights pasting of the Minnesota Vikings. They were wearing party hats and T-shirts that said 2010 NFC North Division Champions.
But in the locker room there was a mood and universal demeanor best described as business-like. The elation over Devin Hester setting the NFL record was shared throughout, an accomplishment truly group in nature, which Hester will honor with elegant watches for those whom he considers responsible for his honor.
The reason for the lack of other celebration was pretty obvious: The Bears havent won anything yet. And this is where the quality core of veterans becomes crucial.
Division titles are nice; a number of Bears have a handful of them. Lance Briggs, Olin Kreutz, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, others.
They also have something else a failed trip to a Super Bowl. They know how important first reaching the playoffs is but they also know painfully well how incomplete a win that really is.
This is a great accomplishment for me, for this team, for the young guys, everybody, Peppers said. But weve got to stay focused at this point. We have to realize that its only one of the first steps toward the ultimate prize. Thats our role as veteran leaders, to let guys know that, and let guys know that it only gets harder from here.
And there is a deeper realization the leaders are beginning to pound into younger heads. Rookies and NFL newbies think this sort of thing, even reaching a Super Bowl, happens every year.
Lovie Smith reached the divisional round of the playoffs in his second year as Bears coach. He was in the Super Bowl (and lost) his third year. Both accomplishments were achieved faster than Mike Ditka managed. He went to a Super Bowl his first year as a defensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams (and lost).
He now joins his veterans in delivering the same strong message to young players in particular.
You assume youll be back every year, Smith said. It just doesnt work like that.
Peppers was a member of the Carolina team that lost to the New England Patriots in the Pats first Super Bowl win. He experienced that same sense of NFL entitlement.
That was my thought, Peppers said. My rookie year we didnt do well but the next year we went to the Super Bowl and you think its going to happen all the time. I was lucky enough to win a couple of division championships but Ive never been able to get back to the Super Bowl.
The stats, even things like the divisional title, theyre nothing compared to the big things.
Favreing it up again, or...
Corey Wootton has been active only occasionally this season, four games in fact, counting Monday night. Yet here was this rookie defensive end setting up a Pro Bowl left tackle, beating him and putting his first career sack on a Hall of Fame quarterback.
The nerve of that kid...
Wootton beat Bryant McKinnie on a second-quarter rush, got the edge on the massive blocker, and took down Brett Favre with enough of a smash-down to put the quarterback out of the game with head and shoulder injuries.
McKinnie is a great player, Wootton said. I was able to get a good jump on the snap, use a little bit of power, rip outside and get to Favre and get him down. I kind of set him up wit a little inside pressure to make him think I was coming inside and then went outside. Coach Marinelli has done a great job of helping me get better every week and thats what I want to do, just keep improving.
The rookie impressed an important teammate, whose first thought was worry.
He got a sack? linebacker Brian Urlacher said Hell probably get fined.
The sack could give Wootton a place in Favre history, although a part of Favres NFL history the QB wouldnt mind forgetting about.
Favres last passes as an Atlanta Falcon, Green Bay Packer and New York Jet all were intercepted. His last 2009 pass as Minnesota Viking was intercepted in the playoff loss to New Orleans but Favre returned for 2010.
And given that injury and the lost cause that is the Minnesota season, the sack could well be Favres final pass play.
The Bears indeed have something very, very important to play for. The Nos. 1 and 2 playoff seeds, the two division winners with the best records, receive a bye week (as distinguished from the mis-named bye week in-season, which is simply a week off, not a bye, because no one advances in that week).
The others face wild-card qualifiers, meaning they need to play an extra game, meaning they can see their playoffs come to abrupt endings. In each of the last three postseasons, fully one-half of the wild-card games were lost by the division winners.
Chicago Bears Facial Fur Society
A number of Bears are looking a little ratty around the edges but its a good thing. They are letting beards grow until after the Super Bowl or after the Bears lose in the playoffs, whichever comes first.
Not all the chin upholstery looks bad by any means. Wide receiver Johnny Knox is letting his grow, although he looks to me a little like a Mennonite, very distinctive, actually. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has his trimmed in a fashion a little like my own (mine is not coming off, regardless of playoff outcome, in case you were wondering).
It helps keep a little warm in this cold weather, too, Toub said, laughing.
Yep, sure does.
If youve got any Bears thoughts, lets chat tonight at our usual 7-8 p.m. on CSNChicago.com. Should be some good fodder to noodle on. Always is.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.