Perhaps without knowing it, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith fired a zinger at the rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Smith, who professed to not being familiar with the reasons for the Packers' surprising downfall, went on to compliment his quarterback, Kyle Orton, for his play in end-of-game scenarios. (Take that, Aaron Rodgers!)
"I think, eventually, you judge quarterbacks by what they've been able to do at the end of a football game," Smith said in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field on Thursday. "A perfect example is what Kyle was able to do in our last game against New Orleans."
Against the Saints, Orton and Co. blew a 21-7 halftime lead and fell behind 24-21 with 3:05 remaining in regulation. But Orton drove the Bears 60 yards in 13 plays to set up the tying field goal as time expired. The Bears won the overtime coin flip, and Orton drove the Bears 52 yards in six plays to set up the winning field goal.
By contrast, last week at Jacksonville, Rodgers got the ball in the final 2 minutes and needing a touchdown but instead threw an interception. In almost the same situation against Carolina two weeks earlier, Rodgers also threw an interception.
"You remember what happens at the end," Smith said. "It's, ‘What have you done for me lately?' Period. The season is that way. At the end of the game, you judge most quarterbacks based on what they've been able to do at the end of the game. Most games end up being won or lost at the end of the football game. A lot of things happen in the first three quarters. It's what you do at the end, and Kyle has really stepped up at the end of some games."
Not that Orton has been a modern-day Joe Montana in the clutch. Against Carolina in Week 2 and trailing 20-17, Orton failed to get so much as a first down. Against Tampa Bay in Week 3, Orton and the Bears failed to kill the clock, and the Buccaneers drove to the tying touchdown in the final seconds. The Bears couldn't score in overtime and wound up losing 27-24.
In Week 6, Orton rescued the Bears in the final 2 minutes with a stunning 77-yard touchdown drive — capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining — only to see the Falcons steal the game. While Orton didn't get the win, it was a big-time performance.
"Obviously, success will breed confidence," Orton said. "You've just got to put all the past plays behind you when you're in the two-minute situation. You've just got one goal, and that's to go down and score, and that's what we've been able to do."
Orton was a fourth-round pick in 2005, the same year the Packers selected Rodgers in the first round. Beating Brett Favre and the Packers in brutally cold conditions at Chicago last year is a big reason why Orton is the starter now. His play in the clutch is a big reason why he could be the Bears' quarterback in the long run, too.
"You certainly want the ball as a quarterback with the game on the line and have a chance to make plays," Orton said. "I love two-minute situations, being able to get up and call your own plays and just run the whole show."
Rodgers also says he has confidence in must-deliver situations, but the numbers don't lie. The Packers are 0-6 in games decided by four points or less, and their last three losses have come by a combined 11 points. While he's not to blame for all of those losses, a little late-game magic would have kept the team in the playoff hunt.
"The regrets have not being able to finish off some of those drives late in games when we had opportunities to win some games," Rodgers said on Thursday.
"Just the win-loss record is the most important thing," he added. "You're judged by your wins, regardless of how your stats look or how they stack up against other people."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Smith's praise of Orton also indicts Rodgers
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