What We Learned
Three things we know after Green Bay's 20-12 victory
Updated: Sunday November 11, 2001 10:06 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
CHICAGO -- In a renewal of the NFL's oldest rivalry, upstart Chicago ran out of miracles Sunday against visiting Green Bay, losing its first game in more than two months. Here are three observations from the Packers' 20-12 victory, which left both teams at 6-2:
1. That creaking sound that came from the direction of Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon was the balance of power shifting in the NFC Central.
On the surface, the Bears and Packers are 6-2, tied for first place and dead-even at the season's midway point. But appearances in this case are deceiving. With a win against the Packers, Chicago could have built itself a two-game lead and put some real pressure on Green Bay's division title hopes. But now the Packers are sitting pretty, and it's the Bears who suddenly look vulnerable.
Why? Because Green Bay is heading into a very winnable stretch of its schedule with mounting confidence. The Packers in the next five weeks face just one team with a winning record, and that's Chicago in the Dec. 9 rematch at Lambeau Field. After next week's home game against Atlanta, Green Bay travels to Detroit and Jacksonville, before a trip to Tennessee follows the Bears game.
If they can go 4-1 in that span -- which seems reasonable -- the Packers would stand 10-3 heading into the season's final three weeks. A playoff berth would be all but wrapped up, and the division title would likely be within reach as well.
The Bears, too, face just one team in the next five games that currently has a winning record. But their run includes trips to Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Green Bay, along with home games against Detroit and Tampa Bay. All five games are within the NFC Central, meaning each one represents what amounts to a two-game swing in the standings.
To win the division, Chicago needs to keep pace with the Packers, then upset Green Bay at Lambeau in order to not lose the title on a tiebreaker. But that would appear to be a tough task for the young Bears, given Tampa Bay's penchant for strong second-half charges and Minnesota's 3-1 record in the Metrodome.
Chicago's best shot at its first NFC Central crown in 10 years probably escaped Sunday against Green Bay. But the Bears inability to beat their archrivals -- 15 losses in the past 19 meetings -- surfaced at a most inopportune time. With eight games remaining in the race, the two teams are tied. But it's a tie that seems to go to the Packers.
2. The Bears' dink-and-dunk offense is the NFL's version of Chinese water torture.
And that's just for the Chicago fans who have to watch it. While it's hard to quibble with the Bears' results the previous two weeks, when they rallied to post dramatic comeback wins in overtime against San Francisco and Cleveland, Chicago's offense couldn't overcome its limited scope for a third consecutive week.
The Bears had just one gain of at least 25 yards against Green Bay, with that coming on a 25-yard Marty Booker reception. The Bears' 262 yards of offense came in mostly small increments, adding up to 219 passing yards by quarterback Jim Miller and a season-worst 43 yards rushing. After gaining 29 yards on his first four carries -- all of which came on the Bears' crisp 14-play, 55-yard game-opening field goal drive -- Chicago rookie running back Anthony Thomas was throttled on just 16 yards in 18 attempts the rest of the way.
If the Bears are going to be behind as much as they have in recent weeks -- and they've trailed throughout 10 of their past 12 quarters of regulation -- their offense simply has to find a way to acquire real estate in bigger chunks. Chicago's twin miracles against the 49ers and Browns were the stuff of legend, but you can't count on such last-second heroics in the NFL.
Against Green Bay, Chicago was limited to four Paul Edinger field goals and never came through with a game-turning onside kick or Hail Mary pass. Credit Green Bay's No. 2-ranked defense, but send Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop back to the drawing board before this week's game at Tampa Bay. Had the Bears been able to drive to a pair of game-opening touchdowns rather than field goals Sunday, they likely would have been in line for a seventh consecutive victory, an NFL high. Instead they lost for the first time since the Sept. 9 season opener at Baltimore.
For Chicago's offense, it was a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained.
3. Get used to many of the faces you saw at linebacker and safety on Sunday. Because several of them could be headed for the Pro Bowl.
First, for Green Bay. Acquired in a training camp trade with Denver in 2000, weakside linebacker Nate Wayne was all over the field against the Bears, forcing the issue at every turn. Wayne, a fourth-year veteran, finished with 11 tackles, tying for team-high honors with veteran safety LeRoy Butler.
When Wayne wasn't wreaking havoc, Packers free safety Darren Sharper was. Sharper, a first-time Pro Bowl pick last year, had eight solo tackles and single-handedly snuffed out several Anthony Thomas runs in the Bears backfield. The combination of Wayne and Sharper served to bottle up Chicago's prized rookie, limiting him to by far his lowest rushing total since his breakthrough game at Cincinnati four weeks ago.
For the Bears, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown both are having Pro Bowl seasons. Urlacher made the game as a rookie last year and his seven tackles were second on the team against Green Bay. Brown intercepted a pass for the third consecutive game, before being forced to the sideline in the second half with a mild concussion.