Sunday, January 16, 2011

Historic Feats

It goes without saying that this was a good weekend to be a Chicago sports fan. The Bulls' win over the Heat on Saturday evening was both a great result and a fabulous game. Derrick Rose provided multiple "did he just do that?" moments in the win -- the most memorable of which for me was Rose's block of an Eddie House three point attempt.

But as nice as that win was, the Bears showing today against the Seahawks was far more important. This was the Bears' 30th postseason game since 1940. When Jay Cutler took the field this afternoon, he joined the elite ranks of luminaries such as Steve Fuller, Johnny Lujack, Mike Phipps, Ed Brown, Billy Wade, and Mike Tomczak, becoming the 19th quarterback to play for the team in the postseason in over 70 years.

I tell anyone who will listen that Cutler is the best quarterback the Bears have ever had and, as a general matter, the response is usually disbelief. But a look at the statistics amassed by Bears quarterbacks demonstrates the point.

Including today's game, if you were to predict the performance of a Chicago quarterback based on past experience, you would expect to see an average statline of 14 for 27, 179 yards, 1 touchdown (0.9), 1 pick (1.3), 10 yards rushing and a one in three chance that a rushing touchdown might also be added (0.3). Cutler's output today significantly augmented the average: 15-28, 274 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 43 yards rushing, and two rushing touchdowns.

No Bears quarterback has ever thrown for 300 yards or more in a postseason game. Cutler managed a combined 317 yards in the air and on the ground; only one game by a quarterback -- Sid Luckman against the Redskins in 1943 -- accounted for more yards in a postseason match (349). And that is the only game in Bears postseason history that featured a better performance out of the quarterback position than what Cutler displayed today. In that same game, Luckman accounted for five touchdowns (all passing); Cutler's four touchdowns (2 rushing and 2 throwing) are second only to that total. Cutler's 43 yards rushing is second only to Luckman's 64 in that same Championship game. And Cutler's 274 yards passing is third to Luckman's 285 and Rex Grossman's 282 (also against the Seahawks back in 2007).

To get a sense of how pedestrian the performances of Bears' quarterbacks have been in the postseason, note that Cutler's two passing touchdowns today is second best in club history and tied him with Steve Fuller (1984 against the Redskins), Jim McMahon (1986 against the Giants), and Steve Walsh (1995 against the Vikings). Cutler's two rushing touchdowns are the most by a Bears' quarterback in a postseason game, tying him with two others: Billy Wade (1963 against the Giants) and Jim McMahon (1986 Super Bowl).

While the Bears have only had one postseason game where the quarterback has thrown for three or more touchdowns, Bears' quarterbacks have thrown three interceptions or more in five games. Cutler did not throw a pick today (although he made some valiant attempts at completing passes to the other team), making today's win only the 11th time (in 30 games), where a Bears' qb avoided being intercepted.

Setting to one side Cutler's remarkable in the NFL playoffs, I was most impressed by Tommie Harris today. Most writers covering the Bears have puzzled over what to make of Harris, who is obviously not at the same transcendent level he was several years ago, but still busts his rear to make a positive contribution. Today, he was explosive off the line, punished the Seahawks' interior linemen, and was rewarded with two well-deserved sacks. It is simply remarkable how much effort Harris expends to put himself in a position to get the call to start -- I cannot fathom the amount of disappointment he must feel at the setbacks that have sidetracked him -- and it was wonderful to see him impose himself on Seattle.

At the same time, the Bears' good fortune rolled on this weekend. Because the Packers' handily disposed of the Falcons on Saturday, Chicago will host the NFC Championship game against a team with which they are very familiar. The Packers are a very good team, but I feel much better about the Bears' prospects at home against a division rival than I would have felt about traveling to take on the Falcons in Atlanta.

And if the Bears can take care of business on Sunday, the Jets' upset of the Patriots today sets up a potential Super Bowl against an opponent (either New York or Pittsburgh) that they will match up well with.

But the Packers game -- and the anxiety that will come along with it -- are a week off. For now, I am going to enjoy the fresh memories of an unexpected romp.

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