Stud of the Week: Thomas Jones

Back when training camp began, Chicago seemed to be divided into two factions: Thomas Jones supporters and Cedric Benson supporters. And although the two of them may never be close friends, they have learned to work together and powered the Bears ground game to a franchise playoff record 196 yards rushing in the NFC Championship Game. Jones is the Bear Report Stud of the Week.

Coming into last Sunday's NFC Championship Game, the Bears altered their approach running the football despite an already-productive method.

With veteran slasher Thomas Jones getting the majority of the action in the early going and young bruiser Cedric Benson pounding the enemy into submission late, the Monsters of the Midway finished the regular season running the ball as well as they have all year long. Jones led the team with 1,210 yards rushing, and Benson racked up 647 yards of his own as the change-of-pace. New Orleans is undersized up front and finished just 23rd in the NFL defending the run in 2006, but they were poised to slow down Jones and Benson and force mistake-prone quarterback Rex Grossman to beat them.

But offensive coordinator Ron Turner threw a curveball, and the Saints swung and missed badly.

Jones started the game like he always does, but after playing the first two series on offense, he gave way to Benson for three consecutive drives in the first and second quarters. And although he wasn't extremely productive with his battering ram style, Benson wore down the New Orleans defense. He finished with just 60 yards on 24 carries, but this was little more than a setup.

Much like an alleyoop in basketball, Benson just threw the ball to the rim. It was up to Jones to slam it home.

In the second quarter, the Bears went 69 yards on eight plays for their first touchdown of the day and a commanding 16-0 lead. Jones carried the ball all eight plays and scored his first TD of the day from 2 yards out. This was Bears football at its finest: snow on the ground, cold in the air, and an unstoppable running game rammed right down the Saints' collective throat.

After halftime, Jones picked up where he left off in the second stanza and hit paydirt a second time on a ridiculous run that saw him run out of room to the right before cutting back to daylight clear across the field to the left. He finished the day with 123 yards on just 19 carries and two TDs, and he looked fresh as ever down the stretch carrying the ball against a New Orleans defense that was outmanned and overmatched. Benson was also rewarded for his tough effort, scoring a touchdown of his own from 12 yards out in the fourth quarter.

The Bears set a franchise playoff record with 196 yards rushing on the day, and it was Turner's slight tweak of the gameplan that helped set the tone. Benson may have set them up, but Jones knocked them down and is the Bear Report Stud of the Week. He'll have one more chance to strut his stuff this season - Super Bowl XLI on Feb.4 in Miami against the Indianapolis Colts.

JC


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