So much for life imitating art or at least going the way it was expected to… .
Remember how high-scoring this Super Bowl thing was supposed to be? The NFL’s No. 2 (Rams) and 4 (Patriots) offenses that averaged a combined 60 points per game in the regular season, and 67 points-per in the playoffs, combined for exactly three points in Super Bowl LIII’s first half. And neither team taking a single snap in the other’s red zone the entire half.
Probably not what the league had in mind as it tilted the game toward offense over the past quarter-century. But the Bears and general manager Ryan Pace committing money and draft choices to an elite defense amid the universal fixation on offense speaks to an underrated vision, the kind that understands that defenses indeed can win championships, or at the very least, keep a team in them.
The Bears provided something of a guide to handling the Rams, limiting that offense to 214 yards and sacking Jared Goff three times. Vic Fangio didn’t blitz excessively but came at him enough to allow his defensive backs to take away the seams that Sean McVay and Jared Goff so deftly exploit. The Bears didn’t allow Goff to beat them deep, and this Sunday, the Patriots sacked Goff four times, hit him eight other times and allowed just two pass plays of 20-plus yards (the Patriots had six).
Drawing parallels between the Rams’ success – reaching a Super Bowl in the second year after hiring a 30-something head coach (McVay) and in the third year after mortgaging a draft to trade up for a quarterback (Goff) – and the emplate in play with the Bears is natural. After all, McVay was the AP coach of the year last season; Matt Nagy, AP coach of the year this season….
But the far, far bigger mission statement is getting the quarterback situation right – which the Patriots did with Tom Brady – and remembering that football is ultimately holistic.
Sloppy is as sloppy does
This sort of thing goes on more than the winners care to admit but a thread of colossal, memorable gaffe’s, not restricted to any uniform, player or official, has run through a startling number of this season’s playoff games, beginning with but far from limited to the Bears and Cody Parker. Consider just the Eagles’ piece of this yarn:
Bears-Eagles - The Bears lose when Parkey misses a field-goal attempt from 43 yards. Surprisingly (or maybe not), Parkey’s personal no-man’s land is the 40-49 yard range. Parkey has converted 100 percent of tries from inside the 30; nearly 80 percent from the 30-39; and about 78 percent from beyond 50 yards. But from the 40-49, Parkey is a dismal 69.2 percent. The Bears might’ve been better served by Mitchell Trubisky taking a sack to get another 10 yards farther away.
Eagles-Saints - A game that ultimately turns on competing gaffes. Alshon Jeffery wrestles the goat’s horns away from Parkey when, with the Eagles inside the New Orleans 30, Jeffery lets a high-percentage second-down pass go through his hands at the 19 and into those of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Of course, the Eagles get the ball in great field position after Saints kicker Wil Lutz misses a field goal from his 42.
Saints-Rams - Los Angeles continues the playoff string of winners-with-asterisks when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman launches himself into New Orleans wideout Tommylee Lewis quite awhile before a Drew Brees pass gets there. Easily forgotten, though, is that the Saints even had the football first to start the overtime and were situated at their 40 after a 14-yard pass interference flag against the Rams.
Tom Brady and the Patriots turn their first overtime possession into a touchdown and trip to the Super Bowl. Brees and the Saints, with the No. 4 offense in the NFL and going against a defense ranked No. 19 by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, couldn’t.
HOF near-miss for Bears
The Hall of Fame doors opening to cornerback Champ Bailey sparks a might-have-been for the Bears, who were the third and key team in the memorable 1999 draft that had Mike Ditka and the New Orleans Saints trading basically their entire draft to move up from No. 12 to Washington’s spot at No. 5 to grab running back Ricky Williams.
The Bears, who went into that draft at No. 7, and their personnel chief, the late Mark Hatley, had targeted Bailey if nothing transpired to change their draft position. Something did, in the form of the Saints and Redskins.
Washington, which was unwilling to drop out of the top 10, only agreed to the swap when the Bears were brought in and were part of a three-way package deal that would allow the Redskins to go down to 12 but then back up to No. 7. Washington wanted Bailey, knew he wouldn’t last past the Bears, but also knew the Bears wanted a quarterback. Hatley accepted a group of picks that included that No. 12.
The draft was quarterback-heavy, albeit talent-lite, unfortunately. The Bears had decided that Daunte Culpepper wasn’t right for their coming razzle-dazzle offense, knew Minnesota was targeting Culpepper, and let Cade McNown fall to them at No. 12.
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