Re-Evaluating Tim Tebow as the Chicago Bears Gear Up

Tim Tebow ranks closer to Norris Weese and Pete Liske than to John Elway in the pantheon of quarterbacks, but now is not a good time to be facing that much discussed and improbably successful left-hander, as the Bears must do on Sunday.

A playoff berth that was there for the taking three weeks ago is now an iffy proposition for the embattled Chicago Eleven, thanks to two straight losses to supposedly inferior A.F.C. West opponents and season-threatening injuries to their two best offensive players. A quarterback with 10 N.F.L. starts and a 48.3 career completion percentage would normally present an appealing get-well opportunity, but “Tebow” and “normal” do not travel in the same circles.

In fact, everything about Tebow, a 24-year-old Floridian, seems polarizing, from his unabashed religious proselytizing to his unorthodox approach to playing quarterback. If you crossed a tight end with a fullback and raised him in the God-fearing home of a pious linebacker — a Mike Singletary type — you’d have Tim Tebow.

He won two national championships and one Heisman Trophy while barreling through college, but N.F.L. evaluators were nearly unanimous in their insistence that his reckless, why-pass-when-I-can-run style had no place in the sophisticated pro game. One dissenter, Josh McDaniels, is now known as former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, partly because he used a first-round draft choice to certify his belief in Tebow’s magic.

McDaniels’s successor is the veteran N.F.L. campaigner John Fox, who decided to have a look for himself after the Broncos stumbled to a 1-4 start with the unremarkable Kyle Orton at quarterback. They’re 6-1 since, with five of the victories achieved via Tebow-crafted comebacks that seemed borrowed from the Chip Hilton youth-fiction series.

Denver is beside itself — the football-crazy city hasn’t had this much fun since Elway delivered a second straight title after the 1998 season. The fans might be a little hyped on Sunday as the Tebows go for a sixth consecutive victory in what began as a lost season, don’t you think?

Have at it, Caleb Hanie.

There is this: The Bears are 4-0 in Mike Vick’s four career starts against them, and it’s Vick, the slippery Falcon-turned-Eagle, who evokes the most frequent Tebow comparisons as a quarterback who’s more dangerous with his feet than his arm. He’s left-handed, too.

Steve Young, also left-handed, also a tough, competitive football player who happened to play quarterback, is a better reference point.

Though he set a boatload of passing records at Brigham Young University, Young had been dismissed as a running back in a quarterback’s body when he joined the 49ers in 1987. Life-threatening stints behind sieve-like offensive lines before he came to San Francisco had caused Young’s instincts for self-preservation to kick in. He threw a nice ball, more accurate and more catchable than Tebow’s, but he was inclined to take off and run at the first sign of trouble.

The 49ers couldn’t have that. Their intricate, timing-based offense required patience and total faith in the premise that someone eventually would get open. With Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Brent Jones on the field, someone invariably did. Once Young realized it was safer and more productive to use those weapons than to run the ball himself, he became a passing wizard. And his legs remained a reliable asset.

Young, oddly, has been critical of the Tebow phenomenon — not the player himself, but the Broncos’ use of him. The college-style, spread-option offense they are running is “unsustainable” in the N.F.L., Young maintains, and by resorting to it, the Broncos are depriving Tebow of a chance to develop into a legitimate pro quarterback.

A Steve Young, say. He was no Joe Montana, but he was a terrific player, and after succeeding Montana, he gave the 49ers another decade of Hall of Fame-caliber performance at the game’s most important position.

Ask the Bears how important. Without Jay Cutler, they’re a mess.

Unlike Young, Cutler, when he arrived from Denver before the 2009 season, wasn’t faced with following a Canton-bound predecessor — “Bears” and “Hall of Fame quarterback” do not travel in the same circles. But he was under pressure to justify the hefty price the Bears paid for him, and he had begun to do just that during a five-game winning streak that had Bears fans thinking that last year’s trip to the N.F.C. championship game maybe wasn’t so fluky.

Then Cutler broke his thumb trying to make a tackle, setting off a sequence of events reminiscent of a chain-reaction pile-up on the Dan Ryan. Hanie looked lost in an offense that Mike Martz refused to modify in order to exploit Hanie’s mobility and the other things he does well. All-purpose running back Matt Forte went out with an injured knee; against the backdrop of a long-running contract dispute, he must weigh the merits of a quick return.

Talk that Martz is headed elsewhere after the season prompted less-than-vehement denials until Martz spoke out on Wednesday. But if the mad-scientist offensive coordinator really has other options, let him go now. His stubborn reliance on trickery has been an aberration on a tough-guy team that has always preferred muscle to guile on both sides of the ball.

Then install some stuff for Hanie, even if it’s made-up stuff. What’s the harm? Denver is improvising everything with Tebow, and laughing all the way to the playoffs.

dmcgrath@chicagonewscoop.org

Bears Relish Chance for Revenge Over Rival Packers

(Reuters) – Two of the National Football League’s most storied clubs add another chapter to their bitter rivalry on Sunday when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears clash for the first time since last season’s NFC Championship game.

The Bears’ desire to beat their neighbors is more enhanced than usual after last season’s encounters where the Packers secured a playoff berth with a win at home on the final week of the regular season and then advanced to the with a victory in Chicago three weeks later.

That defeat still stings the Bears players, particularly starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who had to watch their old rival be crowned Super Bowl champions with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cutler was forced out of the NFC Championship game in the third quarter with a knee injury while his team trailed 14-0 and he famously watched his team’s defeat from the chill of the sidelines wearing an oversized winter coat.

The Bears quarterback came in for some sharp criticism, much of it unfair, that questioned his toughness – fighting talk in the macho world of the NFL.

The reality is that Cutler is never afraid to leave the pocket and run with the ball if he feels it is the right move and he takes more hits than most in his role.

In the Bears’ defeat to the New Orleans Saints last week, Cutler came up against a blitzing defense that sacked him six times and he expects more of the same from the Packers.

“It’s a big game, I know what it means to this organization and also to Green Bay. To get this season going and get back on track we need this game,” Cutler said this week.

Sunday’s game will mark the 183rd meeting of the two NFC North teams in what is league’s oldest rivalry that began in 1921 in the era of historic Bears player, coach and owner George Halas. The Bears have a 92-84-6 edge in the series.

HISTORY LESSONS

The history of the rivalry between the two teams, combined with the recent pain of defeats, means there is not much need for motivating speeches from Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

“We are playing the Super Bowl champions. This week I don’t have to start off with a lot of George Halas speeches about getting ready for this game. We know who we’re playing and the guys will be ready for this game,” said Smith.

The Packers have started the 2011 season with wins over the Saints and Carolina while the Bears’ defeat to New Orleans came after an impressive opening day victory over Atlanta.

The New York Giants will also get a shot at revenge this weekend when they face the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time since having their 2010 season shattered in memorable fashion in front of their home fans.

When the NFC East teams last met the Eagles scored 28 unanswered points in the final eight minutes, including a punt return for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game, to propel themselves into the playoffs.

The Eagles could be without starting quarterback Michael Vick, who suffered a concussion at Atlanta on Sunday.

Week 3 also has another NFC East divisional match-up that evokes great clashes from the past as the Washington Redskins visit the Dallas Cowboys on Monday.

The Redskins are off to a surprising 2-0 start to the season and are clearly relishing the game with starting quarterback Rex Grossman describing the two teams as having “the biggest rivalry in football.”

The Houston Texans have started well with wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins but they will get a tougher test at New Orleans.

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, both with 2-0 records in the AFC East, meet up with quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady in great form with seven touchdowns each from their opening two games.

It is a sign of the times that the clash between the Steelers and Colts is no longer a headline encounter – the Colts are 0-2 without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Bears Crumble in Snowy Game Against Patriots

New England (11-2) clinched a playoff spot with its fifth straight victory and delivered a strong message to the in 9-degree wind chill and 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts that blew enormous clouds of snow throughout Soldier Field. If the last two weeks, when the Patriots beat two likely playoff teams by a combined 81-10, are any indication, they are ready for a lot more.

While Patriots Coach reviewed the game with reporters, the final moments of ’ demise was playing out on a television a few feet away. , which put them with three games to play, was pointed out to Belichick, and it drew the same shrug that a question about clinching a playoff berth did.

But Belichick was spotted mingling with players in the locker room after the game, a rare show of bonhomie in front of reporters and an indication of how happy the Patriots are with their position as they prepare to host the next week.

“It’s good, but we’re just going to keep playing,” Belichick said of the playoff spot, in his best monotone. “I’m sure when the season ends someone will tell us what to do.”

Belichick is 10-0 in snow games in part because he rarely takes the Patriots into their indoor practice facility in Foxborough, Mass. Belichick used the warm-up period before the game to examine the elements, installing and ripping up plays as the wind and footing allowed. And the Patriots indicated immediately that the weather would not alter their essential style.

operated out of the shotgun on his first play, a 5-yard completion to Wes Welker, who had warmed up before the game in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. Brady continued to use short passes, using the catch and run that has become the Patriots’ offensive profile to chew up the empty spaces that the Bears’ cover-2 defense gives up.

With Chicago’s pass rush thwarted by the poor footing, Brady, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards, was under little pressure, even when he did not release a quick pass. Deion Branch and Welker each finished with more than 100 yards receiving under conditions so unpredictable that Welker said that on one pass he thought he was going to have to leap, only to have the ball wind up near his belly button.

The Patriots went on scoring drives of 12, 11 and 7 plays, and the defense twice forced fumbles that were quickly turned into points.

But the signature play of the game, the thumb in the eye to prognosticators who imagined the Patriots’ passing game would be held up in the wind, came on the final play of the first half. On third-and-9 from their 41, the Patriots — , even when their opponents are inept — eschewed taking a knee and ordered up a Brady pass down the deep left sideline to Branch.

Branch was wide open when he caught the ball and ran, seconds ticking away, for the Patriots’ fourth touchdown of the first half. The Patriots had scored as many points — 33— as the Bears had yards. And Brady continued his run toward the league’s Most Valuable Player award, with .

“They don’t cancel football games very often,” Brady said. “It’s not like baseball. It was one of those days a lot of people would be cozied up by the fireplace with hot chocolate. But we work on Sundays.”

For the Bears (9-4), this game, which sent frozen fans streaming to their cars with four minutes remaining in the second quarter, provided a startling reality check. They had against largely weaker opponents, but when they beat the Eagles last week, they suddenly seemed like legitimate N.F.C. contenders. With their division rivals, the earlier in the day, the Bears had a chance to seize a two-game division lead with three games remaining.

Instead, they finished with just 185 yards of offense and allowed 475 yards by the Patriots. The Bears were angered and surprised by their performance, and face a critical game against the next Monday at a site to be determined.

“That’s an elite team there, and to get where we want to go, those are the teams we have to beat,” said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed just 12 of 26 passes for 152 yards, with two interceptions. “It’s little mistakes out there, and those things add up in a hurry, especially against a team like that.”