Bears head coach Lovie Smith talked to his team last week about using the final two games of this lost season as a springboard for 2008. If he's serious, Smith should take some valuable lessons from Sunday's 35-7 victory over the Packers.
Alex Brown replaced Anderson and had the Bears' only sack, plus an interception, a quarterback hurry, a pass defensed and six tackles, a total that Anderson reached once in the 14 games he started this season.
"The starting lineup seems to be a big deal as we talk about Alex Brown, but Alex has been a three-way starter as we've seen it all along," Smith said. "He got about the same amount of reps, a few more reps yesterday than he normally does, but he was very productive. Whenever you talk about a defensive end getting an interception, [it] is good."
Keep that in mind when the 2008 season actually starts. Brown should get more reps than Anderson, not the other way around.
Briggs, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, already has one foot out the door although he didn't have any feet on the field Sunday – he sat out because of a hip injury. Second-year player Jamar Williams started in Briggs' spot and, although he came out of the game in passing situations, played well enough when he was in there that nobody noticed the absence of the three-time Pro Bowler.
"I think he only had 16 plays or so," Smith said of Williams, who has also been one of the team's top special-teams players. "But out of the 16 plays, on half of them he was involved in the play [or] had an opportunity to make a play, which is showing quite a bit of production. I thought Jamar did a good job stepping in for Lance."
On the offensive side, Kyle Orton turned in an impressive performance under difficult situations. Regardless of what the Bears do in the offseason at the quarterback position, and especially if they don't make any major improvements, Orton proved that he deserves a shot to compete for the job.
Orton's 103.6 passer rating was the second-best by a Bears quarterback all year, and it was achieved in the worst weather conditions the team has faced all season. Most important, Orton didn't turn the ball over once in the minus-18-degree wind chill and intermittent snow. Orton has just one turnover in two games, whereas Brian Griese had 12 in seven games and Rex Grossman had 10 in seven games.
"That was big to see him do that," Smith said. "He had that look about him before the game. He's really excited about this opportunity. Kyle made all of the throws. Normally you can look at quarterback play to tell whether you won or lost the game, and he had a lot to do with our win."
Smith has repeatedly said he will play whoever gives the Bears the best chance to win, and if he follows that rule, defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Israel Idonije should play key roles Sunday against the Saints even if Darwin Walker decides he's healthy enough to play with an elbow injury for the first time in three weeks.
Toeaina, who's been with the team less than two weeks after being plucked off the Bengals' practice squad, and Idonije, who's more at home at end, both have been more productive the past two weeks than Walker was when he was healthy. In the last 10 games, four of which he missed with injuries, Walker has a total of four solo tackles.
NOTES & QUOTES
Despite the Arctic conditions, Kyle Orton compiled a passer rating of 103.6, the highest of his NFL career. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 101 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions or mistakes.
Orton said he had a special weapon against the frigid conditions, which included a wind chill of minus-18 and intermittent snow flurries.
"Certainly with the wind, it was cold," Orton said. "But I have a beard, so that helps out a little bit."
Orton's 14 passes were 31 fewer than the Bears had averaged in the previous three weeks, but less was more with 22 mile-per-hour winds that gusted as high as 40.
QB Kyle Orton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"We threw it when we had to, and I thought we threw it pretty effectively for the conditions," said Orton, who improved to 1-1 as a starter. "We took out most of our deep pass plays and threw more high-percentage passes. Garrett Wolfe broke the long [33-yard] screen pass."
Orton also thoroughly outplayed future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre, who finished with a 40.2 passer rating.
"He's a great quarterback," Orton said. "I think it's something good to look back on and say I've beaten him. We don't have a whole lot of goals left, but that was one of them – to be able to go 2-0 against the Packers."
Orton was the Bears' quarterback Nov. 13, 2005, when they defeated the 49ers 17-9 in winds so strong that a Robbie Gould field goal attempt was blown nearly sideways near the goal line.
"[Sunday] was worse than San Francisco," Orton said. "That might have been more windy, but it didn't have the cold factor with it." …
Adrian Peterson knew he was in for a long day as soon as he stepped outside Sunday. But he enjoyed the workload, which included a 22-carry first half, the most in the NFL since Oct. 23, 2005.
"Coming into the game, I knew we were going to run it," Peterson said. "It was exciting if you go into the huddle knowing you're going to get the ball. That's always a great feeling."
Peterson finished with a career-high 30 carries for 102 yards, his second NFL 100-yard game and first in more than two years. Peterson didn't have a gain longer than 11 yards on his first 115 carries this season, but he broke loose for 21 yards on his 116th to set up Robbie Gould's 35-yard field goal, which gave the Bears a 6-0 lead 4:19 before halftime.
"Credit the offensive line," Peterson said. "They've been criticized a little bit, so it was good to finally get over the hump. Our guys up front, from the center to the tight ends to the wide receivers, did a great job. When they give me two [yards], I try to get four or five." …
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner knew long before kickoff that his game plan would have to be altered because of Sunday's weather conditions, which included howling winds that woke him in the middle of the night.
"I realized that at three o'clock in the morning, when I woke up in the Hilton because of the wind," Turner said. "I said, 'OK, we have to change this game plan a little bit. It's going to be one of those Chicago days.' We ran the first play that was on the script, and that was it. Then we got off it."
Even running back Garrett Wolfe, who's from Chicago, said conditions were difficult.
"You can be from Alaska. The wind is what really made it cold," Wolfe said. "It felt like my skin was about to bust open at times. But going out there and making some plays kind of calmed that down."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
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