|Matt Hasselbeck hopes to get untracked against the Bears. (TED S. WARREN/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Bears' defense out to stop skeptics
Late-season slide gives Seattle hope
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Alex Brown smiled and rolled his eyes in disgust. He wasn't worried about possible endorsement deals or the legacy these Chicago Bears will leave behind.
No, the only thing on his mind was the Super Bowl. More immediately, correcting the flaws on defense.
The other stuff can wait.
"What we're doing right now, what every team is shooting for right now, there's nothing bigger than this scenario. Nothing at all," said Brown, a defensive end. "You want to win the Super Bowl, that's it."
First, it's about beating the Seattle Seahawks today. And, it's about rediscovering the form the Bears' defense showed through the first 10 regular-season games.
While fans wonder which version of Rex Grossman will appear -- the guy who plays like a Pro Bowl quarterback or the one who plays catch with opponents -- there's a pressing issue on the other side of the ball: Which defense will show up?
The one that gave up an average of 251.8 yards through the first 10 games? Or the one that gave up 364.7 through the final six?
The one that held the No. 1 defensive ranking? Or the one that dropped to fifth by the end of the regular season?
The ferocious unit that manhandled Seattle, 37-6, at Soldier Field Oct. 1, or the one that allowed 373 yards in a 26-7 loss to Green Bay in the regular-season finale?
So many questions surround a team that went 13-3 and captured the top seed in the NFC. It would have been difficult to believe that the defense would become one of those questions after the last game against Seattle, when Chicago sacked Matt Hasselbeck five times.
Tommie Harris had two, despite being double-teamed, as did Mark Anderson. Ricky Manning Jr. intercepted two passes and Hasselbeck was just 16 of 35 for 196 yards. It was a defining win for the Bears, even though the defending NFC champions were missing injured MVP running back Shaun Alexander and tight end Jerramy Stevens.
"One thing we can't do is get down early on a team like that, and that's what we did," Hasselbeck said. "That wasn't the game plan. One thing we can't do is turn the ball over, which we did. That was not the game plan. The other thing we needed to do going into that game was block probably the best defensive tackle in the game, Tommie Harris, and we didn't do that, either."
They won't have to worry about Harris.
He underwent surgery on a torn hamstring in early December and is out for the season -- so is safety Mike Brown, who injured his foot six games in. A week after Harris's operation, defensive tackle Tank Johnson was arrested on misdemeanor gun charges following a raid on his home, and less than 48 hours later, he was at a nightclub with a friend who was shot to death. Johnson was held out of one game and suspended for another.
The secondary was shorthanded, too, with starting cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman missing time because of injuries over the final month. All that, combined with poor execution, added up to less pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
But can they get back to their earlier high level?
Hasselbeck didn't sound like he was lying in wait preparing to attack a defense without Harris and Brown.
"They can get after you, they can rush the passer," he said. "Their safeties are all guys who have started. They're playing well in their scheme, and everyone's got a role in their defense. You can tell when they're healthy enough -- and I feel they're healthy enough -- they can play that style they want to play."