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By Jim Coffman

Brian Billick knew the rule. The former Super Bowl champion coach and current Fox analyst knew almost immediately that Greg Olsen's attempt at a catch midway through the fourth quarter - the one that enabled Lovie Smith to make history as the first NFL coach to blow two timeouts on one challenge - was not a reception.

As Billick explained during Fox's broadcast of the Packers' 21-14 dismissal of the Bears on Sunday, "The receiver (Olsen) failed to complete the act" of securing the football.

In other words, when a receiver tries to make a catch but doesn't land squarely on his feet, he has to maintain control of the ball all the way through hitting to the ground and then coming to rest. If the shock of his body hitting the ground knocks the ball loose and he can't regain possession before it hits the ground, it isn't a catch. And it hasn't been a catch for a while now.

Referee Mike Carey knew the rule. He couldn't have looked at more than one angle before he removed the headset, hustled back onto the field and reported the results of an especially speedy replay review.

In so doing, he ensured that one of the first stories Bears fans will tell in the future when they look back at the lame late days of Lovie's head-coaching tenure is the one when the coach proved himself not just replay challenged but twice as replay challenged as anyone else had ever been.

Lovie had no clue.

Even worse, no one on his staff had a clue.

I suppose you could re-phrase that as "no one on the staff asserted his command of the rule confidently enough to sway the head coach," but I'm guessing the simpler assessment of the situation is the right one.

Even after taking an exactly wrong timeout to think about it ("Just make the challenge coach!" we were screaming at the TV in our house - then if you're right, your timeouts emerge unscathed and if you're wrong, all it costs you is the timeout you were going to take anyway), he dropped the red challenge flag and earned a little infamy.

Bears Bits
Right before Jay Cutler threw his killer second interception in the general direction of rookie receiver Johnny Knox - the one that was returned inside the 10 and set up the Packers' winning touchdown and two-point conversion in the third quarter - he had to know the play was doomed.

The Packers sent a corner blitz from Knox's general vicinity and there simply weren't enough blockers on the left of the Bears offensive line to handle it.

And then Knox didn't adjust his route accordingly. He should have broken it off and run a simple hitch. Cutler could have zipped a short pass out there and Knox probably would have had time to run for the first down after hauling it in.

Instead, Knox faded away toward the sideline and away from Cutler and the quarterback was stuck.

The problem was that instead of just throwing the ball away and bringing on the punt team, Cutler fired a pass to where Knox should have been.

And the space where Knox should have been was now occupied exclusively by a defensive back.

In the play's aftermath it seemed like the quarterback was trying to prove a twisted point - "That's where my receiver is supposed to be and that's where I'm going to throw the ball."

And it probably goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that quarterbacks who can't suppress that sort of petulance don't lead their football teams to championships.


How about that facemask penalty on second-year tackle Chris Williams on the second-half screen to running back Matt Forte?

Billick was on top of it again, noting that even if Williams' responsibility on the play, Packer linebacker Clay Matthews, had slipped through unabated, it wouldn't have mattered because Cutler got the ball out so quickly.

Of course, that's the way successful screens work and the Bears have only had a game or two this year when they've managed to run successful screens.

I suppose it wasn't that Williams, who was also flagged for a false start and for holding on Sunday, didn't know the play, it was that he just panicked.

Either way, the day's events caused the arrow on the meter that measures the Bears' last first-round pick's overall pro career to make a significant move toward "Bust."


Forte had another lousy day. My favorite lowlight was when Packer superstar corner Charles Woodson managed to tackle him with his elbow in the open field for a two-yard loss in the first half.

Hawk Squawk
Perhaps sports karma requires that at least three other Chicago teams totally suck in order for the Hawks to actually win the Stanley Cup. If so the Bears, Bulls and Cubs are certainly doing their part.

I suppose it isn't fair to lump the Cubs in with the first two, seeing as how they at least had a winning record at the end of their most recent season. But if this off-season doesn't start to turn around . . .


Apparently the Cubs won't just have to take a bad contract off another team's hands (like the Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell, the disappointing left fielder who is owed about $9 million in 2010) in order to dump Milt Bradley, they'll also still have to pick up a huge portion of his remaining contract. The sooner the Cubs (two division championships in the last three years) accept this and move on, the sooner we can stop lumping them in with the failing Bears and the flailing Bulls (no division championships in the last three years for either team).


That was quite a goal Marian Hossa scored to give the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead on their way to a 4-0 whitewashing of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday evening, a win that will hopefully help the Hawks start rolling again after a recent dry spell that had seen them score only 11 goals in seven games.

As he raced in to the right of Lightning goalie Antero Niittymaki, Hossa managed to backhand a tipped pass with his glove, drop it on his forehand side and then use his stick to knock it into the net out of mid-air.

Hossa also had a slick assist as the Hawks stretched their lead to four points over Nashville in the Central Division (with a game in hand).


Jim "Coach" Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday. He welcomes your comments.

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