Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Better Team Trumps Better Players

I never thought I would have to admit this, but the Chicago Bears were the better team on the field Monday night.

Read that carefully...the better "team". Because if you take a quick look at the box score, the Bears were "outstatisticated" in nearly every phase of the game by the Green Bay Packers. In fact, the Green Bay Packers essentially dominated the game, almost from start to finish.

But they lost. Again.

This was to be the moral victory to end all moral victories. The silver lining on a grey cloud of a season. The "Well, at least we swept the Bears" during an upcoming offseason of self-doubt.

The Green Bay Packers blew it. They didn't get outperformed. They just got beat by a team that wanted it more, at the end of the game when it mattered most.

Aaron Rodgers outperformed Kyle Orton far more than the statistics show. He stood in the pocket, threw darts, and was rarely bothered by the rush. Orton looked like a typical Bear quarterback, unable to avoid the rush, overshooting and overmuscling his throws, and imploding along the way with interceptions.

The defense even held rookie sensation Matt Forte to 75 yards on what should have been a night ideal for smashmouth football. Ryan Grant didn't fare much better, but hey...our passing offense was better, our passing defense was better, our run defense was dominant for three quarters. This shouldn't have even been close.

DeShawn Wynn came out of nowhere to fill in nicely for Grant and made some key plays. Aaron Kampman, Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins all came out of their respective funks and had games that reminded us how good this defense used to be. Michael Montgomery and Donald Driver had great games.

Did I forget to mention special teams? Apparently, so did Mike McCarthy in the weekly planning sessions.

A week ago, I opined that the Packers were less than the sum of their parts, that despite great individual performances, the product on the field and on the scoreboard didn't reflect it. Monday night, we got proof positive that this team is severely lacking in leadership and direction, and the blame, unfortunately, is going to come to rest on the shoulders of coach Mike McCarthy and his staff.

You could boil this loss down to just a few plays. Just a few, but all important ones:

1) Jarrett Bush's inexplicable need to grab Dan Manning on a punt return and spend 25 yards trying to pull him backwards. The field position gained on this 70 yard return led directly to 3 points for the Bears.

2) Jarret Bush's unawareness of the ball on a short punt return struck his leg and gave the Bears their best offensive play of the day. I have long questions Bush's necessity for holding a valuable roster spot, but today he was simply a liability. This mental error led to seven point for the Bears.

3) The failure of the line to effectively block the Bears on the final field goal attempt. Yes, perhaps Crosby's kick was low, but that was as close to a jailbreak on a field goal as you are going to see. That took the game-winning three points off the board for the Packers.

4) After seeing the Bears get called for a horsecollar tackle and get severely penalized, Aaron Rouse had no excuse for returning the favor on the first play of overtime, putting the Bears in field goal range within seconds. This led to the final three points of the game, and gave the Bears the win.

Anything else was just football. Each of these were a complete failure to execute physcially and mentally at critical moments, that now overshadow the great performances put on by the rest of the team.

But you can't really just boil it down to just those four plays. Matt Forte took the team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, when it was clear Orton couldn't be trusted to do it. Ryan Grant couldn't do the same for the Packers, unfortunately. Crosby missed two field goals in this game, a sure sign he will now be cut on the final cutdown day next August in favor of Brett Conway.

And the playcalling and "playing not to lose", both very intangible concepts, seemed glaring in the final quarter of the game, placing more question marks on a head coach that seems to have lost the ability to keep this team focused down the stretch.

Despite rolling up passing yards, owning time of possession, and forcing two critical interceptions deep in their own territory, the Packers should have blown the Bears out. And somehow, this game was close throughout.

In a nutshell: there is the stat-based, execution-based view of football, in which everything boils down to nothing more than the play on the field. But there is also the intangible, synergistic power of teamwork, leadership, and motivation. Some people like to minimalize that, saying that it all comes down to the players on the field and whether or not they execute their assignment on each individual play, and it has nothing to do with leadership, coaching, or playcalling.

After watching the debacle on Monday night, this is a team that doesn't know how to win, and it has as much to do with the the execution as it does the leadership.

The Bears got lit up at halftime by their coach, and came out for the second half with that intensity. They still were often outperformed by the Packers, but they managed to put the most important stat on the board: the W.

The Packers had the better players on the field Monday night. The Bears had the better team. And the team trumps individuals any day...just ask any member of Lombardi's Packers.

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