Success in the Playoffs is a Must

Lake Forest - Even as he basks in the enjoyment of a successful regular season, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he still hasn't gotten over the disappointment of the playoff loss in 2001, when, in his first year in Chicago, his team won the NFC Central with a 13-3 regular season but was blasted by the Eagles 33-19 in its playoff opener.

Angelo is adamant about avoiding a repeat of that embarrassment.

"We saw what happened in '01," he said. "We weren't ready to play that game. Hopefully, we learned a lesson from that."

Only eight players remain from that team, and they've all matured as players. Even though the more than two-third of the roster has no playoff experience, Angelo expects a better result this time around.

"We've got to win, that's the bottom line," he said. "This is a big game for us. I talked to Lovie (Smith) a lot about it. I didn't like how we ended that '01 season. It made us look weak. I've got that taste in my mouth still.

"We just didn't look like we were ready to play. We didn't play well and we got beat in our backyard. We got our butts kicked. That leaves everybody with a bad taste, and you can't have that happen to you in your backyard, that's important. We're playing in front of our crowd, and we've got a good football team. We've got to go out there and take care of our business, and if we do that, everything else will take care of itself."

Hardly anyone would have predicted a postseason berth for the Bears when quarterback Rex Grossman suffered a fractured ankle on Aug. 12 and Chad Hutchinson quickly proved unworthy of the job as his fill-in. Angelo was skewered by his critics for not having a more qualified veteran backup on the roster than Jeff Blake, who was signed Aug. 15.

The Bears decided to go with fourth-round draft pick Kyle Orton, and it all worked out better than almost anyone would have expected.

"I know a lot of my critics were very hard about not having a veteran quarterback in here," Angelo said. "But we felt good about Kyle and what we saw in the preseason. That position is first and foremost in our minds, and my theme going into the season was not to treat the position just in terms of finding band-aids. It was to solve the quarterback position by bringing in quality players, irrelevant if they're rookies or not. So it was very gratifying to see him come in, show the maturity that he did and play with a lot of moxie."

An argument could be made that the best decisions Angelo and Smith made were the ones not to put certain players on injured reserve.

Grossman only played six quarters in the regular season, but with him behind center the Bears have a legitimate shot at winning the NFC. WR Bernard Berrian missed five games after surgery on this thumb. With Grossman throwing an accurate deep ball, Berrian is much more of a deep threat heading into the playoffs.

Even smaller moves have paid dividends. Signing undrafted free agent S Brandon McGowan out of Maine and brining in CB Rashied Davis from the Arena League has strengthened the bottom of the roster.

"Lot of credit to Jerry. You guys know Jerry, he does a super job. No one works harder than him," Smith said.

"If you go out to practice every day, you see Jerry out there every day. Right now there's a good chance he's up in his room watching tape. No one works harder than him and he deserves a lot of the credit for what we're doing right now."

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