Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Giant Win

The sports writing regulation requiring puns on the word "Giants" continues through the end of the week. Yesterday was a busy day at work, and I didn't get to post, so I'll double up today. Later, I'll talk about the Bulls, the circus trip, and the new line-up. But first, your NFC leading Chicago Bears.

In the end, it looks like the Bears handled one of their toughest conference foes fairly easily. Anyone who watched the game knows that's not the case. With about three minutes left in the 1st half, I said to Mrs. Appeal, "The Bears are lucky; if the Giants weren't playing like crap they'd be down 28-3." A couple of minutes later the Bears entered the locker room down 13-10. From that point on I had no doubt they would win the game.

The Bears' defense played great, especially in the second half. But the truth is that after the opening drive of the game, the Bears didn't give up much until Tiki Barber broke his one long run of the 2nd half. They thoroughly throttled Eli Manning, and shut down Plexiglass Burress (very clever, I know). "They probably covered me two or three times," Burress told the New York Daily News, referring to passes deflected by the corners. "Other than that, it was their front seven. Their front seven got after it. Eli was trying to get the ball to his receivers, but we weren't even out of our breaks." In other words, it took so long for Burress to get open that Manning didn't have time to wait for him. Great job, Plaxico.

In fact, the Bears reclaimed the top rating on the defensive side of the ball in Football Outsiders' DVOA. They have the top ranked pass defense, and are ninth against the run. The run defense is a bit of a concern, but looked better after the first drive. The announcers attributed it to Barber's thumb injury, but I think the insertion of Chris Harris for Todd Johnson in the defensive backfield played a role as well.

As for the offense, Rex Grossman bounced back from a pretty terrible start to post a pretty darn good game. If he can keep playing well for the next two weeks, then he'll have me convinced that he's ready to lead a team through the play-offs. Thomas Jones worked hard, but wasn't especially productive or efficient. Still, one play may have changed the game and the season, when he converted the longest third down picked up on the ground this decade. Moments later Mark Bradley was standing in the endzone, and the Bears were on their way.

Finally, the play everyone is talking about. Devin Hester's 108 yard field goal return touchdown was brilliant. Putting him back there with essentially the punt return unit, instead of trying to block a kick that was never going to be made, was a great coaching call. Bothering to call a return, the same that has worked for touchdowns on two punts already this year, was also a little step that made a huge difference. Calling the return to the Bears' sideline, so that clueless Giants' players wandering off the field would be as far as possible from the play -- that was simply genius. Special teams were bound to be an advantage for the Bears in this game -- I just doubt anyone had that in mind.

Anyway, big win for the Bears. Same place, different time next week.


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