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SportsMonday: Martz vs. Q

And so a season goes.

Fortunately we can immediately begin to focus on the next seasons (see Hawks note below and probable Bulls column next week). Heck, maybe the Bears could go ahead and lose the last couple games to move even further down in the standings and set themselves up even better for the NFL draft season coming up in early spring.

Before we go, a few final thoughts on the Bears' disastrous last month. Let's start with the fact that observers who think signing quarterback Donovan McNabb would have ensured the Bears avoided their current four-game losing streak need to get a grip. First, McNabb failed with the Eagles, who were so desperate to get rid of him they traded him within their own division for second and fourth-round draft picks before the 2010 season. Then McNabb failed with the Redskins, who were overjoyed to get a sixth-round pick for him before this season.

It didn't take the Vikings long to realize they wouldn't even be able to get a seventh-rounder for the veteran quarterback at this late date. He was benched in October, demoted to third-string in November, released in December and is still waiting for his phone to ring. No NFL team has picked him up.

In other words, it's one, two, three strikes a quarterback is out.

Also, let's not exempt the defense from blame for all of this. Yes, the Bears allowed only 10 points in regulation in both their loss at home to Kansas City and the overtime fiasco against Denver. And Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije teamed up to score a huge defensive touchdown early Sunday against the Seahawks.

But the Bears needed more from the defense against the Chiefs and they needed more from it against Seattle on Sunday. The Chiefs game was most notable for the fact that the defense grabbed no takeaways. Other than two substantial drives that led to Kansas City's points in the middle of the game, the defense was in command. But it never mustered the sort of interception or fumble recovery that could have at least given the Bears offense a short field.

Of course a fan can say "If a defense only gives up 10 points, the offense should be able to score 13 for a win." But turnover-obsessed Bear defensive players and coaches were right when they themselves said they didn't do what was needed versus the Chiefs.

The crushing blow on Sunday was the first drive of the second half. The Seahawks traveled 80 yards in five plays. The Bears defense wasn't ready to play coming out of intermission and the team paid the price. Then Caleb Hanie threw the delightful interception that 320-pound defensive end Red Bryant returned for a touchdown and it was all downhill from there.

As for the offense, well, I had a chance to take in Sunday's game from the top of the world . . . okay, maybe not quite the top but only a few rows from it. My son and I sat in the 35th row in the 400 section at Soldier Field. There are a grand total of 38 rows in that soaring grandstand. But we were right at the 50-yard line, it wasn't too cold and the views were amazing.

From where we sat, we were pretty sure the Bears didn't run a single play-action pass all game. What the heck was that? And of course there was no shotgun formation for young Mr. Hanie. It is safe to say the vast majority of offensive coordinators in the NFL believe the shotgun can make the game easier for young quarterbacks, giving them a bit more time to size things up. Mike Martz is not one of them.

I think there are tons of misconceptions out there about the way Martz calls plays. I think the guy doesn't get the credit he should for adjustments he makes based on personnel.

But there are elements of his offensive football dogma that I will absolutely not miss when he's gone (there have been easily believed reports he will not return next season), led by his unstinting aversion to the shotgun.

And finally . . . early in the game, Johnny Knox's fumble was just the sort of failure that has plagued the Hanie-led Bears. It will be forgotten amid the long shadows of two pick-sixes, so many breakdowns in the offensive line and plenty of other poorly thrown balls, but it was a big play.

Hanie has made enough mistakes to justify what will almost certainly be banishment to the football hinterlands (signed as someone's third-stringer or maybe heading over to the Arena League?) this off-season. But it is too bad his teammates so frequently failed to make plays for him when it mattered early in games (and late - who could forget that delightful Roy Williams drop of a sure touchdown pass that would have tied the score at 10 versus Kansas City), when he could have at least started to build some confidence.

See also:
* Official NFL GameDay Highlights
* Johnny Knox Undergoing Back Surgery This Morning (If you can stomach it, here's the video of the injury)
* Forte: I'm Not Coming Back Unless I'm 100 Percent

Hawk Tawk
They've only piled up the most points in the league, people. We're all quite thankful we can turn to the action at the United Center as the Bears go down in flames but we should be making the turn regardless because the Hawks are once again kicking ass.

Joel Quenneville, who recorded his 600th victory as a head coach yesterday, engineered a masterful pivot with his goaltenders a couple weeks ago and it has been a big part of the team's recent surge. Corey Crawford had played awfully well all through the 2010-11 season and he began this season with promise. He is still the Hawks' by-far best option in terms of long-term goaltending. But he hadn't been sharp enough for a while and Quenneville decided to take a long look at veteran Ray Emery. The result has been a five-game win streak to cap off a three-week run in which the Hawks have taken 15 of a possible 16 points. Emery has started five straight in goal and six of seven.

The Hawks' skill players continue to thrill, with Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa scoring their ninth and 15th goals, respectively, last night. But they win with the sort of grit that defenseman Nik Hjalmarsson provides every night. Hjalmarsson actually scored his first goal of the season in the 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames but it is at the other end where he impresses the most. He now has 86 shot-blocks on the season, good for the top spot in that category in the NHL.


Comments welcome.


1. From Tony Mueller:

Kind of you to defend Martz but there have to be some coaches on the team that have to know that Hanie was just not ready for the big time. That speaks to a gross misjudgment of evaluating personnel and also a major fault in player development, which is what coaches are supposed to do. Seems like a nice kid, but I agree he seems destined for arena ball or UFL. I think Bear Nation is ready (praying) for a new face at O coordinator.

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