The NFL Playoffs

My Recurring Nightmare About the Bears Quarterbacks
The stadium scene.
Jan. 17 2007 11:32 AM

The NFL Playoffs

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Josh, you obviously don't have much experience in QB fatalism, because Rex Grossman losing his helmet is nothing compared to the worst-case scenarios I've dreamed up. Throughout the football season I've had this recurring nightmare: All three Bears quarterbacks are car-pooling to the Super Bowl when their car gets blindsided by an Old Style truck. Cut to the stadium, where Coach Lovie Smith is on the PA asking if there's anybody in the crowd who can play quarterback. Ten men stand up, all of them various stiffs who've taken snaps for the Bears over the last 10 years—Henry Burris, Moses Moreno, Jonathan Quinn. Half of them tear their ACLs while rising from their seats, but the other five make their way down to the field. As they put on their helmets, I wake up sweating and screaming, "Craig Krenzel! Craig Krenzel!" over and over and over.

Yes, Ursine Nation is a sad and lonely place, and its citizens are prone to depressive flights of fancy. Can you blame us, though? The Bears have had 16 different starting quarterbacks since 1996. They've suffered through tightfisted ownership, incompetent management, and three coaches who aren't Mike Ditka. And until Sunday, they hadn't won a meaningful playoff game in about 15 years. So, while I'm thrilled that the Bears beat the Seahawks on Sunday, I still can't help hearing that Old Style truck revving its engine just around the corner. One overtime victory doesn't erase 15 years of suck—especially not an overtime victory that was as ugly as that one.

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I'll ask you guys this: How much faith can you have in a team that consistently plays just well enough to win? Sure, Grossman minimized his turnovers, and kicker Robbie Gould came through in the clutch. But the Bears run defense gave up more than 100 yards to a crippled-looking Shaun Alexander, and the offensive line struggled to contain Seattle's undersized front four. Moreover, Lovie Smith made several bizarre judgment calls (that inexplicable timeout that gave the Seahawks a chance to win with two seconds left in regulation almost made me vomit) that have me questioning if he can handle the playoff pressure.

If all that doesn't prove my pessimist bona fides, you should also know that I'm convinced Devin Hester isn't the Deion-esque game breaker who everyone else in the world seems to think he is. During last week's game, the smarmy, unctuous Joe Buck referred to Hester—who's returned an NFL-record six kicks for touchdowns this season—as the Bears "home-run hitter." That's true, if you're comparing Hester to Rob Deer. Sure, he's scored a lot of touchdowns, but the rest of time, he's fumbling the ball or running right into the kickoff team. The kick returner's main responsibility is to give his team good field position to begin each drive. Hester's all icing and little cake. Although the icing is pretty sweet.

In spite of all these terrible thoughts dancing in my head, there are still a few things in which I can take heart. First, there's the Bears defense, which is unequivocally the best unit remaining in the playoffs. Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher might be the best linebacking tandem ever (these are fighting words, but I'm prepared to defend them), and Tank Johnson seems none the worse for wear from his sundry run-ins with the law.

Secondly, if you believe Rob Weintraub's theory that centers are the key to playoff success, then the Bears are in good hands. Chicago's Olin Kreutz is the consensus best center in the league. He's also the longest-tenured Bear and a complete badass—last year he broke a teammate's jaw after an outing at an FBI shooting range. The dude is intense. (I actually played against Saints center Jeff Faine at a football camp in 1998. He was sort of slow, and I remember him eating a lot of pizza in the dorms. Too much cheese will kill your endurance. Advantage: Bears.)

Finally, and most surprisingly, there's Rex Grossman, whom I've decided to trust. Call it Stockholm syndrome, but I like Grossman more than any quarterback the Bears have had since Erik Kramer. (That's a sad sentence, now that I think about it.) Grossman pulled through in the clutch last week, and I really think that he's poised to do it again. Besides, I sort of have to think that, because who else do we have? Brian Griese? Kyle Neckbeard?

I confess that I didn't pay all that much attention to the other games last week (I was too nervous beforehand and too drunk afterward). I was sorry to see the Eagles go, though, because the Saints are the one team I don't want to be playing right now. I actually think the Bears defense matches up well with the Saints offense, but the Saints are going to have everyone in the world pulling for them. For a non-Chicagoan, rooting for the Bears on Sunday will be like rooting for the Grinch on Christmas. I just hope the Bears can muster up enough animus to come out strong against America's team. Maybe Lovie Smith's pregame speech should reference the great Chicago fire.

As for the AFC, I'm rooting for the Colts. Like Josh, I'm sick of the Patriots—but I'm also sick of hearing about how Peyton Manning can't perform in the playoffs. I want Manning to run up the score on the Patriots … and then I want him to lose his helmet right before the Super Bowl. Seeing that the Bears QBs are probably going to end up as roadkill, that seems only fair.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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