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The Bears also aggressively pursue the ball, whether on running plays or short passes. "I liken their defense to an accordion," says Hasselbeck. "You run something and it stretches out, and then when they identify the ball, it closes down very quickly." Despite often dropping 30 yards in pass coverage, Urlacher led the NFC with 141 tackles.
Manning led the league with a 101.0 quarterback rating and 31 touchdown passes, against just nine interceptions. The Colts feed off his ability to identify a defense's soft spots. "They have good plays into the weaknesses of every coverage," says Ryan. "You have to disguise things as much as possible because if Peyton knows what coverage you're in, you're in for a long, long day."
Manning will try to slow Urlacher by first faking a handoff to the running back on nearly every passing play. "The play action keeps Urlacher close to the line longer," says Hasselbeck, "and makes it tougher for him to think pass only."
The gulf between Super Bowl victory and defeat is enormous. For the winner there will be the ultimate fulfillment, for the loser a lingering question: When? So where does the advantage lie? Both teams have had letdowns. The Bears surrendered 268 passing yards to journeyman Tim Rattay of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 34--31 overtime win on Dec. 17, and if not for a bobbled snap on fourth down in the fourth quarter, Seattle might have beaten them in the playoffs. Manning had a 39.6 quarterback rating in the playoff win over the Ravens. "It might have been a zero rating if we hadn't dropped two interceptions," says Ryan. "He told me it looked like a video game out there. So it's possible to confuse him."
Brees says that Addai could be the X factor, if he can break off a few early gains and force the Bears into dangerous man-to-man coverage on wideouts Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, neutralizing Urlacher by taking him out of the coverage scheme. "They played a ton of man-to-man against us," says Brees. "We had guys open, but we just turned it over too much [four times]."
Ryan believes the Bears' rushing attack will outmuscle Indy's defense, limiting Manning's possessions and forcing him into impatient throws and turnovers. Hasselbeck has a broader take. "I don't think it will be close," he says. "One of these teams is going to get its way eventually."
It's all guesswork. The only assurance for Manning and Urlacher is that each will spend the evening in the other's head, often separated by only inches. When the game is finished, they will be divided by immeasurably more. One will have a Super Bowl ring; the other will not.