Taking it Up a Notch

The Bears' Desmond Clark told fellow tight end John Gilmore an interesting story last week to illustrate the difference between playoff football and the regular season.

During the 2000 postseason, when Desmond Clark was with the Denver Broncos, he missed a block in a playoff game against the Ravens. He didn't even make it to the sideline before he discovered that the intensity level had been cranked up a few notches.

"(Offensive line) coach Alex Gibbs came off the sideline with his fists balled up like he was getting ready to punch me in the face," Clark said. "Instead, he just gave me a forearm, but when you think a coach is getting ready to punch you in the face for missing a block, that's intensity.

"That's what everybody's talking about when they say the intensity gets stepped up a bit."

When it comes to the playoffs, there's no tomorrow for the losers.

"You lose now, it's over," Clark said. "That's the biggest difference. I don't think people really play faster because it's been a long season, so it's almost impossible to be playing faster than you did at the beginning of the year. But people turn up their intensity a whole lot more."

Right tackle Fred Miller has more playoff experience than any other Bear, having played in eight games, three with the Super Bowl XXXIV champion Rams in 1999 and five with the Titans over three seasons.

"To me, it's just going out there and making sure you don't have anything left when you're done," Miller said. "You make sure that you're playing at your best ability because you don't get a chance to make up for it the next week, and you don't know when you'll be there again, so you have to take advantage of the opportunity that you have."

Only 16 Bears have experienced the NFL playoffs, including eight that were members of Dick Jauron's 2001 team that won the NFC Central and earned a first-round bye and a home game only to lose to the Eagles 33-19. Prior to this season, the Bears went 16-32 in the three years after 2001, which broke a string of six straight non-playoff seasons.

Miller is the only Bear who has played for a Super Bowl winner, although punter Brad Maynard and wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad have made it to the big game, with the Giants and Panthers, respectively. Most players never get there.

"The ramifications of the playoffs are a little bit greater," said guard Roberto Garza, who made it to the playoffs with the Falcons last season and in 2002. "Everybody's trying to get to the Super Bowl, and everybody brings their best game for the playoffs. Everybody's playing just a little bit faster and a little bit more intensely."

With a chance to play for the grand prize, the pressure increases with each game.

"You don't want to be the guy to let the team down," said Miller, who knows how it feels to have a gigantic burden dumped on his shoulders in a big game. In Super Bowl XXXIV, he played across from Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, who was that year's Defensive Rookie of the Year with 14 1/2 sacks.

Mike Martz, the Rams' offensive coordinator at the time, gave Miller and left tackle Orlando Pace a huge assignment.

"He said, 'Hey look, we know that you guys are vulnerable, but we're not going to chip, we're not going to do anything any different. It's up to you to go out there and block them,' " Miller recalled. "He said, 'If you block them, we'll win the ball game; if you don't, then we might have a tough time.' "

Kearse didn't get any sacks and the Rams won 23-16 when linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line as time expired.

That final snap has been replayed over and over, just like hundreds of other crucial postseason plays, another difference between the playoffs and the regular season.

"Everything is magnified," Muhammad said. "The hits are magnified, the big plays are magnified. You could have a terrible season but make one big play in the playoffs and you are the man.

"The emotional impact is a lot different. The speed of the game is almost like the first week in the regular season. Everybody's flying around for at least the first two or three series. Guys are just completely out of control."

Whether it was the speed, the intensity or the emotion, the Bears came up short in their last playoff appearance, not that any of them want to dwell on the memories.

"We were young," strong safety Mike Brown said. "We totally got dominated in that game. There's not too much you take out of a game that you got dominated in. We weren't ready for it, obviously.

"I don't think it was preparation. I just don't think we were ready for the moment. It's a long time ago, and I really can't remember too much about it. All I know is Donovan McNabb had a (heck) of a day and we didn't match their intensity. We didn't match their physicalness. I mean, they were a better football team than us, obviously. I think we would have had to play a perfect game to beat them that year. It was a learning (experience), I guess."

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