Mark Potash to Lovie: Win or else...
Time for Lovie to earn his keep; plus, 10 more observations
BY MARK POTASH | Commentary
Last Modified: Jan 10, 2011 04:02PM
This is why Lovie Smith gets paid the big bucks.
NFL head coaches are defined by their playoff success, and nothing can chip away at credibility like a home playoff loss. Losing to Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl is one thing. Losing to the Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field after an extra week to prepare is another — especially when you allow 29 points to a team you held to three points eight weeks prior in a regular-season victory.
The Bears divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field is a delicious opportunity for Smith. No regular-season game screamed “They were outcoached” like the Bears’ loss to the Seahawks at Soldier Field on Oct. 17. The Seahawks, coming off a 20-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams but with a bye week to prepare, outfoxed the Bears at almost every turn. They sacked Jay Cutler six times, usually with blitzing cornerbacks who came in untouched. Safety Lawyer Milloy (two) and cornerbacks Justin Babineaux (1 1/2) and Roy Lewis (1) combined for 4 1/2 sacks.
And Matt Hasselbeck, who had been sacked seven times in his two previous games against the Chargers and Rams (and would be sacked 13 times in the following two games against the Cardinals and Raiders) was not sacked at all by the Bears. It was a glaring insult to the Bears, especially because offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who spurned the Bears to join Pete Carroll in Seattle, masterminded the winning effort. Wide receiver Mike Williams, a flop in Detroit in 2006 with Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz who had not even played in the NFL since 2007, caught 10 passes for 123 yards — his biggest game as a pro.
Now it’s Lovie’s turn. This time it’s the Bears who have the extra week to prepare. This time Lance Briggs will be starting instead of Brian Iwuh (who led the Bears with 12 tackles in that game) and Roberto Garza will be starting at right guard instead of Edwin Williams. Cutler won’t be coming off a concussion that forced him to miss the previous game.
The Seahawks presumably have had to show all their cards in elimination-game victories over the Rams and Saints. This time it’s Martz who should have something up his sleeve after the Bears seemed to hold back offensively against the Packers.
Lovie Smith has been among the highest paid coaches in the NFL over the three seasons prior to this one, with nothing to show for it. It’s time for him to hold up his end of the bargain.
And now, 10 more observations from wild-card weekend:
1. LIKE A BAD COLD coming on, is anyone else unsettled by the prospect of a Bears-Packers NFC championship game, even at Soldier Field? If both teams win this weekend, the Packers would come to Chicago with a ton of momentum and the knowledge that they have outplayed the Bears twice this season. It would be the biggest Bears-Packers game ever, with unprecedented “bragging-rights” consequences for Bears fans should the Packers win. So here’s a classic “Would you rather...” for the “Silvy & Waddle Show” on WMVP-AM 1000 — if the Bears win Sunday, would you rather play the Packers at home or the Falcons on the road. It’s not as clear-cut as you might think.
2. IF YOU THINK Lovie Smith deserves a contract extension and a raise, what does the Packers’ Mike McCarthy get? Like Smith, McCarthy is a winning coach (49-32) whose detractors seem to outnumber, or maybe out-shout, his supporters. But McCarthy not only won a close game Sunday when the Packers beat the Eagles 21-16 in Philadelphia, but did it without eight starters from the season-opener against the Eagles (nine, including DE Cullen Jenkins, who played in a reserve role Sunday).
3. THE PACKERS have been running the ball with mirrors since losing starter Ryan Grant in the season opener — is there an NFL that gets more out of play-action despite a bottom-10 rushing attack than the Packers? — but they outdid themselves against the Eagles, with rookie James Starks gaining 123 yards on 23 carries (5.3 yards per carry). It was only the second time this season a Packers running back has rushed for more than 100 yards. Starks is a sixth-round draft choice from the University of Buffalo who wasn’t even activated until Nov. 9 and didn’t play until Week 13 and entered the playoffs with 101 yards on 29 carries. He rushed for 20 yards on five carries against the Bears in Green Bay, plus a nine-yard gain that was nullified by a holding penalty.
4. SPEAKING OF LOSING home playoff games, would the Colts’ Jim Caldwell even survive in Chicago? Caldwell, the successor to Tony Dungy, guided the Colts to the Super Bowl last year, with a little help from Peyton Manning. But the Colts lost to the Jets 17-16 at the RCA Dome on Saturday. And he greased the skids by calling an ill-advised time out with 29 seconds left that gave the Jets a chance to set up an 18-yard pass play that moved them into chip-shot field-goal range, where Nick Folk booted a 32-yarder for the winner. Caldwell’s explanation defied football sense — he wanted to force the Jets to take as many snaps as possible. The risk-reward factor in that scenario makes that gambit a tough sell. It would in Chicago at least.
5. THE COLTS GAME was a reminder that Lovie Smith’s greatest attribute is his emphasis on special teams. Few teams, if any, give special teams the credit it deserves as one-third of the formula for winning football as the Bears. After Adam Vinatieri’s 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds to play gave the Colts a 16-14 lead, the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the Jets 46. They needed four plays to set up Folk’s 32-yarder on first-and-10 to win it.
And Cromartie came into the game with only one kickoff return and that was for minus-six yards. But he had a 41-yard return and then the 47-yarder against the Colts. It’s also a testament to the Bears’ health. The Colts have lost so many players this season, it inevitably impacts the quality of your special teams.
6. IF BEARS GM Jerry Angelo was so salary-cap efficient in building the Bears playoff team, maybe he still has room for a Pro Bowl cornerback. The Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha, who through a quirk in his contract is now a free agent and can’t even be tagged. Asomugha is a true shutdown corner. According to STATS LLC, he allowed 13 pass receptions for 205 yards and no touchdowns this season. His man was targeted only 33 times.
7. SPEAKING OF shutdown cornerbacks, the value of a player like Darrelle Revis can’t be overestimated in the playoffs. Revis held the Colts’ Reggie Wayne to one catch for 17 yards on Saturday. In fact, it was the only time Wayne was even thrown to all game. Wayne led the NFL with 111 receptions during the regular season, for 1,355 yards and six touchdowns.
8. REVIS, THOUGH, can only cover one guy. That’s great when an opponent has a dominant receiver like Wayne. Manning didn’t have many other options. But the Patriots, who play the Jets at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, have several options, and Revis can only nullify one of them. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Jets beat the Patriots when Randy Moss was with New England (and caught a TD pass vs. Revis), but lost 45-3 after Moss had been traded.
9. RANDOM THOUGHT: The four teams that beat the Bears in the preseason — and combined for 19 sacks of Bears quarterbacks — did not make the playoffs: the Chargers (9-7), Raiders (8-8), Cardinals (5-11) and Browns (5-11). And the Giants, who sacked Jay Cutler nine times and had 10 sacks overall against the Bears, also failed to make the playoffs.
10. THE SAINTS were a flawed team, but after finishing 11-5, including victories over the Steelers, Falcons and Buccaneers, should they really have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs? Sure, they should have won anyway. But being a dome team traveling to the West Coast on a short week to play in arguably the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL was a factor in their demise — and an advantage the Seahawks did not deserve.