22

May

Chicago Bears Brian Urlacher Announces Retirement

Brian Urlacher

Urlacher retires after 13 seasons, all with the Chicago Bears

Former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher announced today that he is retiring from the NFL after 13 seasons.

I know this is a Packers website but when one of the all-time greats from a division rival hangs up the cleats, it’s noteworthy. Urlacher is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.  No doubt about it.  Even the casual fan knows who he is and what he accomplished for the Chicago Bears and the NFL.

Packers fans surely will forever remember the frustration that he caused them and their team during all of those years.

Here is the message Urlacher posted via his Twitter account:

He ends a career in which he wore only one uniform and was the face of the franchise.  In today’s NFL, it is rare to see a player stay with his original team for that length of time.  But it almost didn’t end that way.

The Bears had released Urlacher earlier this offseason and, initially, it created a bit of a rift between he and the team.  Reports emerged that Urlacher felt that the Bears made him a very low “take it or leave it” offer to stay this season, and he chose to leave it.

Rumors started about which teams might have an interest in the veteran linebacker, one of which was the always-popular choice to pick up an old divisional foe: the Minnesota Vikings.  I think it’s safe to say that those rumors were false.

Urlacher also made some very frustrated comments about the situation and the reaction of some fans.  He stated that he didn’t care what they thought and that he didn’t play the game for any other reason than for himself.  Urlacher clearly backed off of that platform today with a statement that he released, part of which stated:

“. . .When considering this along with the fact I could retire after a 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear. . .I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped me along the way,” Urlacher said. “I will miss my teammates, my coaches, and the great Bears fans. I’m proud to say that I gave all of you everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss this great game, but I leave it with no regret”

24

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Forgive me, Packers fans, I’m about to stick up for the Chicago Bears.

(*The author pauses for a moment to put on his bullet-proof vest, change the locks on his home, and take a deep breath*)

I have no problem with the Bears one year, $2 million contract offer to Brian Urlacher. I’m actually insulted that Urlacher called the offer “insulting.”

Football is a business. Good teams make roster decisions not to reward once-great players or keep local heroes around to appease the fanbase. Football has been trying to teach us this lesson over and over again, but most people will never learn it, or simply refuse to even try to learn it.

Urlacher was a free agent for the first time in 13 seasons. He’ll be 35 years old in May and he missed the last month of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury.

In the 12 games that Urlacher did play, Pro Football Focus graded him out positively in only three of them. He finished with an overall season grade of -11.3. Pro Football Focus is not the be-all, end-all of player evaluation, but from what I saw of Urlacher in 2012, a -11.3 seemed generous. I thought he was slow and a shadow of his former self.

Does a $2 million contract offer for a once-great, but now aging player coming off an injury and likely on the downswing of his career really sound that insulting to you?

It doesn’t to me.

To be fair, there are two counter-arguments to this: 1) Urlacher’s leadership means a lot and is worth more than $2 million, and 2) the Bears have next to nothing at middle linebacker now that Urlacher is gone.

I don’t know how much “leadership” is worth, especially for a player who is declining on the field. To me, not very much, but I’m not in an NFL locker room, so who knows?

Yes, it’s true that the Bears now have next to nothing at middle linebacker, but that’s still not a good enough reason to overpay for an aging player. Draft a rookie to develop. Find a younger player who could do what Urlacher did for a fraction of the price. Sign Brad Jones.

15

March

Around the NFC North: Making Fun of the Bears, Lions and Vikings

NFC North DivisionIt’s free agency time in the NFL, also known as the the perfect opportunity for Packers fans to take a nap for two weeks.

Sure, it’s been mildly entertaining trying to figure out if the Packers did, or did not, sign Steven Jackson. And it’s been somewhat amusing following Greg Jennings and his mysterious tweets as he navigates the free agency waters, possibly back to the Packers.

But none of those things bring as much joy to my heart as mocking and ridiculing the Packers NFC North opponents for their offseason signings, roster cuts and trades.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle for a first round draft pick and a couple other draft picks. They also cut veteran defensive back Antoine Winfield and resigned right tackle Phil Loadholt.

Isn’t it cute how Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is trying to act like Ted Thompson? Suddenly the Vikings are all about the draft and getting younger.

Let’s see how long Spielman is able to stick with this philosophy. Remember that the Vikings quarterback is Christian Ponder and owner Zygi Wilf has a new stadium opening in a couple years that he’ll want filled to capacity with drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids.

What if Ponder continues to stink and the Vikings take a step backward? Is Wilf patient enough to give Spielman enough of a leash and allow this draft and develop philosphy to take shape?

I doubt it.

You know what’s going to be awesome? Watching the Vikings spend the first-rounder they got for Harvin on the next Troy Williamson.

UPDATE: The Vikings signed Matt Cassel after I wrote this, so you know what else is going to be awesome? Hearing those drooling rubes in helga horns and goldilocks braids chanting Cassel’s name after Ponder goes 7-for-16 for 49 yards with two interceptions in the first half of Minnesota’s season opener.

Chicago Bears
The Bears signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett. The futures of Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonje remain up in the air.

Pro Football Focus ranked Bushrod 24th among left tackles who started at least 10 games at the position in 2012. Bushrod got a pass blocking rating of     -3.5. For comparison, the Packers Marshall Newhouse got a 5.2.

27

December

Around the NFC North in Week 17

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 17

In week 17, The NFL is getting what it always hopes for when they create the schedule each spring.  Each of this week’s NFC North matchups have playoff implications and there is another NFL record in jeopardy.

After the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage record last week, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has the single-season rushing record in his sights.  Peterson needs just 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards.

Peterson’s Vikings host the Green Bay Packers and that game has been flexed by the NFL to the 3pm CDT time slot.  It is setting up to be one of the better matchups around the league.  Green Bay can secure the second seed with a victory or both a San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks loss.  For the Vikings, it’s simple:  win and they’re in.

The Chicago Bears are still alive in the wild card race after beating the Arizona Cardinals.  Chicago travels to Detroit and must win to keep any hopes alive of securing the last wild card spot.  The Bears also are in the precarious position of having to cheer for their arch enemy Packers.  Should Bears win and the Packers beat the Vikings, the Bears would claim the sixth and final seed in the NFC.

Let’s look at the matchups and playoff scenarios a bit more closely.

Chicago Bears (9-6) at Detroit Lions (4-11)

The Lions got pounded by the Atlanta Falcons this past Saturday to make official what we already knew:  Detroit is horrible.  The only bright spot in the game, and really their entire season, was Johnson  surpassing Rice’s previous total.  Rice established the record of 1,848 yards with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.

Johnson and the Lions can deliver a huge jab to the gut of Chicago by pulling off the upset this week.  A Chicago loss would eliminate the Bears from playoff contention.  While it’s not likely given the recently level of play by both teams, crazy things have happened this season and Detroit has at least an outside shot of pulling off the win.

16

December

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Key Matchups

Brandon Marshall

Well, here we are.  It’s Bears week and the Green Bay Packers have a chance to clinch another NFC North divisional title with a win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.  These are the types of matchups that the schedule makers and NFL hope for this late in the season.

When earlier this year it seemed that the Packers would be facing seemingly insurmountable odds to surpass the Bears in the North, all of the chips have started to fall into place.  The Bears have lost four of their last five games and are staring at a good possibility that their playoff chances will be reduced to a wild card chase.

Should the Bears lose Sunday, the Packers could clinch the division win and that is the only way Chicago can get into the postseason.  Should the Bears win, the Packers can still control their own destiny and win the division by simply winning their last two games.

There has been some jarring in the media between both teams with some subtle and some not-so-subtle barbs.  Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall acted like he didn’t know how to pronounce Packers cornerback Tramon Williams’ name and said that none of the Green Bay defenders should take any credit for severely limiting him in the teams’ first matchup.  Packers tight end Jermichael Finley commented that the Bears defense may be better off without the “slow” and future Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out with a hamstring injury.

But all of that is nothing but entertainment leading up to another huge game between these long-time rivals.  Let’s hone in on the key matchups that will play a big role in the outcome.

Bears Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall vs. Packers Secondary

As was the case in the first matchup, this is probably the most key matchup in the game.  Marshall is, by far, Chicago’s biggest offensive threat and he is currently the second leading receiver in the NFL in terms of yardage.  He’s a big body who is a tough tackle and can pick up some yards after the catch.  He has the speed to stretch out the defense and run the deep route too.

13

December

Around the NFC North in Week 15

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 15

It’s already the NFL’s week 15 and let’s cut to the chase in the NFC North.  This is a week that most Packers fans had circled on the schedule as soon as it came out.  Is there a more intense week in the Packers universe than “Bears week”?

The Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to take on the Bears in this highly-anticipated game that will be the marquis matchup not just in the NFC North, but in the NFL.

The Packers can clinch their second straight North division title with a win.  The Bears would re-enter the divisional race as a strong contender should they emerge victorious.  The early line this week favors Green Bay by three.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams.  This ends up being an interesting game because neither of these teams wants to go away quietly this year.

The week is rounded off by the Detroit Lions visiting the Arizona Cardinals in the “futility bowl”.  Nothing more than pride is on the line in that contest.

Let’s dive into the matchups and the storylines alike.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Because of the major playoff implications, I’m leading off with this matchup and will go more in depth with this game.

This game has changed shape immensely in the past month.  What was being billed as possibly one of the biggest game on the NFL schedule this season has turned into somewhat of a last stand for the Bears.

After starting the season 7-1, the Bears have lost four of their last five games including two in a row since the return of quarterback Jay Cutler.  After suffering a concussion during a loss to the Houtson Texans, Cutler was forced to miss a key game against the San Francisco 49ers.  The 9ers beat the Bears handily for a second straight loss.  They beat the Vikings but then suffered a tough overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks and followed that up with this past week’s loss in the rematch with Minnesota on the road.

Chicago will be without defensive playmakers Brian Urlacher who may end up on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and cornerback Tim Jennings who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight.  Jennings dislocated his shoulder late in the loss to the Seattle and is currently doubtful for this week’s game.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.