Headed to Super Bowl XLI
The Super Bowl XLI teams are set and now the fun can begin. We learned a lot about the Indianapolis Colts
and the Chicago Bears
in their struggles and their successes this season. Both teams had stretches in which they struggled and were written off, not thought of as "championship caliber" teams. Now, to the surprise of many, they are headed to Miami.
How can you not be glad for Peyton Manning? He has had to take so much criticism for things that were completely out of his control over the years that it's nice to see him get a chance to play on the biggest stage in all of football.
This game showed the heart, poise, intelligence and talent that makes Manning a great quarterback. He was obviously hurt late in the game after hitting his hand on the helmet of tackle Tarik Glenn, but instead of using it as an excuse, he drove his team down the field for the winning touchdown. That's what we've been seeing from him for years, but this was the first time that we saw it on the big stage.
Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIRE
Rex Grossman threw for 144 yards and a TD in the Bears' win.
On the flip side, we have a quarterback who doesn't have the acclaim that Manning does in Rex Grossman
. Grossman has gotten knocked quite a bit this season and rightfully so. He's been very inconsistent, but some of that is due to his youth. Even though he's in his fourth season, he doesn't have a lot of experience because he's missed so many game because of injuries
While he hasn't been great this postseason, he's done an excellent job of managing the Bears' offense and avoiding the mistakes that plagued him earlier this season. Too often in the past he didn't seem to know what to do in certain pressure situations. Now he understands his team doesn't need him to always make the big play. He understands that his team needs him to throw the ball away instead of throwing it into double coverage. That's why his team is in the Super Bowl.
Now he and Manning have to continue to learn from all the adversity and criticism they've had to overcome as they try to lead their teams to victory in Super Bowl XLI.
Elias says ...
• The Colts trailed the Patriots 21-3 in the first half. Prior to Sunday's game, Bill Belichick owned a 45-1 regular-season record and a 4-0 postseason mark in games in which his team built a lead of at least 18 points. The only loss came on Nov. 10, 1991 -- in Belichick's first year as an NFL head coach -- when his Browns jumped to a 23-0 lead before losing to the Eagles 32-30.
• Reche Caldwell, who dropped two wide-open passes in the second half, dropped only three passes during the entire 2006 regular season.
• For the second week in a row, Thomas Jones scored two rushing touchdowns for the Bears. The last player with consecutive games with two or more rushing TDs in the same postseason was Terrell Davis for the 1997 Broncos.
• Elias says
Key matchup: Super Bowl XLI
Bears' interior offensive line vs. Colts' defensive tackles
Chicago is very good at running the ball up the middle of the field. Thomas Jones
and Cedric Benson
are a solid pair of running backs, but the interior of the Bears' offensive line deserves a great deal of the credit for their success. Jones and Benson gashed the Saints for a combined 183 yards on the ground on Sunday and could approach those numbers against the Colts. Chicago center Olin Kreutz
may be the best pivot in the game today. He is nasty, aggressive and does an excellent job with all of his line calls and adjustments. He is flanked by right guard Roberto Garza
and left guard Ruben Brown
, two very solid veterans.
This offensive line shows great continuity and should challenge the Colts' undersized defensive line in the run game, particularly on the inside against defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Raheem Brock. The depth behind Indianapolis' starting defensive tackles is suspect and this group can be worn down. The Bears will attack the middle of the Colts' defense relentlessly.
• Even though his immediate duties will focus on the secondary, the Seahawks' hiring of former Falcons head coach Jim Mora as the team's assistant head coach could have some long-term ramifications. Mike Holmgren, who hired Mora, has two more years left on his contract totaling around $17 million. If he coaches both of those seasons, he will have been with the team for 10 years. At some point, general manager Tim Ruskell will have to look for a replacement and Mora could be the perfect fit. Ruskell, coming from the Bucs' system, likes defensive coaches. Mora could work and learn from Holmgren and become one of the prime candidates to eventually replace him. Mora, who went to the University of Washington, has a fondness for the Seattle area. He got in trouble for saying he would leave the Falcons if the University of Washington job ever opened. It's not out of the question for Mora to impress Ruskell enough to some day get the Seahawks job.
• Heading into the season, Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera were considered the hottest assistant coaches in terms of getting head coaching jobs. But once again, the Super Bowl is at least somewhat of an influence on the decision-making process. It's hard for an assistant on a Super Bowl team to get a head coaching job. Because they have to wait until after the Super Bowl to take a job, it's very hard to hire a staff. That means coaches on Super Bowl teams rarely get hired. The last Super Bowl coach to get a job was Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, and he's had to make several changes to his coaching staff over the past two years. Rivera and the Bears are going to the Super Bowl, so it looks as though Rivera will be on next year's head coaching market.
• New Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt will interview Eagles quarterback coach Pat Shurmur on Monday for the offensive coordinator job. Shurmur was considered a strong candidate for the Michigan State head coaching job.
-- Check out John Clayton's blog
|Pasquarelli's Game Ball
He has rung up bigger numbers and loftier passer efficiency ratings, but no victory probably means as much to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning as the 38-34 win he authored on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. Manning predictably downplayed all the questions about whether the win over the arch-rival New England Patriots validated him. But to win in the manner the Colts did, with Manning driving his team 80 yards in the final two minutes, had to be a special moment. Manning completed 27 of 47 passes for 349 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception. And as had come to be the case in these playoffs, he managed the game brilliantly, blending in the run and never panicking, even when facing an 18-point deficit in the second quarter.
Manning and Colts top Patriots.
• Chicago 39, New Orleans 14
Rex Grossman still looked shaky for a lot of the game, but overall it was still a pretty impressive performance by the Bears.
• Indianapolis 38, New England 34
Peyton Manning and the Colts already proved in the regular season that they could beat the Patriots. Now they've proven it in the playoffs.
Beware of the Bears in the Super Bowl.
|Bears 39, Saints 14
|Seems Lovie Smith knew all about a certain columnist doubting the Bears. So what happens when the Chicago coach calls him out? Well, pass the Bears Kool-Aid, writes Gene Wojciechowski. Story
|Bears 39, Saints 14
|Losing in the NFC Championship Game hurts, but the Saints know their season was a success on so many levels, writes Wayne Drehs. Story
|Super Bowl XLI
Sunday, Feb. 4
Colts at Bears, 6 ET
• Complete playoff schedule