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Bears in Five

Patriot Games
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon & Friends

One: No Reason to Panic
The Bears 17-13 loss to the New England Patriots isn't quite as earth shattering as it seemed shortly after the game ended on Sunday evening. They played a good team and took it down to the final minutes before the Patriots victory was secured. The Bears are still the top team in the NFC. Both of this seasons losses have come against AFC opponents of which there are none remaining on their schedule. The three game road trip to the Northeast can be considered a success with the Bears coming away the victors twice. And the bottom line, finishing the season 14-2 will still be a very good record.

Two: Is There an Asante Samuel Fan Club?
Let's hope there is. And then not join it. The New England corner had nine tackles and intercepted Rex Grossman three times on Sunday. Hopefully he calls Grossman and thanks him when he undoubtedly is named AFC defensive player of the week.

Three: Let's Talk About Rex, Baby. Let's Talk About Brian Griese. Let's Talk About All the Good Things... Oh That's Terrible.
But we probably should talk about the quarterback situation. We here at Bears in Five are Grossman fans. The coaching staff and his teammates are Grossman fans as well. But when he's bad, he's bad. Grossman outplayed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the first half of the game. The second half was a different story as Rex completed only three of 11 passes. And he was given an opportunity to make himself a legend in the eyes of Chicago Bears fans in the final quarter of Sunday's game. New England fumbled the ball as they were threatening to score. Chicago ball. Our first offensive play, a deep pass, was intercepted. End game.

But should there be talk of veteran Brian Griese stepping into the starting role ahead of Grossman? Simply put, no. He is still a luxury on a very good football team with a relatively young quarterback. Keep the keys in the kid's hands, he'll bounce back.

Four: Did We Have a Defensive Line on the Field?
It sure didn't seem like it. The Bears didn't register any sacks during the game and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of the defensive linemen. Without pressure from the front four the linebackers and secondary managed to play exceptionally well against the Patriots. The only lineman that made any amount of noise during the game was defensive tackle Tank Johnson. Outside of him, not much else was going on.

Five: Bernard Berrian Must be the Best Wide Receiver in Football
He was the victim of pass interference on almost every route that he ran. And he was still able to catch five passes for 104 yards. Therefore, Bernard Berrian is the best wide receiver in football.

Pucks in Five

Out with a Yawn
by Jeremy Piniak

With the circus pulling up stakes at the United Center, the Blackhawks return home tomorrow night to battle the Dallas Stars after a yo-yo West Coast trip. The fresh sheet of ice laid down at the UC already turned out to be too thin for one man, however. Still recovering from a prolonged holiday hangover, Pucks in Five gets up to date on the past two weeks in Hawkland.

One: Out With the Old...
It's the oldest cliché in the book. When expectations are not met, there needs to be a fall guy. With the Blackhawks having lost 12 of their last 15 games after starting the season 4-2, something had to give. Announced Monday, GM Dale Tallon fired coach Trent Yawney, with long-time assistant coach Denis Savard ascending to the head coach position.

First things first, let's cover the basics. The slump the team has been in was not all Yawney's fault — a number of major injuries knocked out the Hawks top scorers and starting goalie, and the team is lacking in offensive depth to fill in. That said, there have been too many nights where the team has come out completely lacking energy, which no injuries can excuse. Combined with Yawney's constant line-tinkering that prevented any cohesion on offense, the team stopped giving the same effort night after night. Rumors have also risen that Yawney and Tallon weren't seeing eye-to-eye, which would have given Yawney little margin for error as things went south. Yawney earned the job for his work with the AHL Admirals, where he lead them to the playoffs all five years and helped develop the Hawks' young talent. Once that talent didn't deliver over the last two years, it also led to his dismissal, a move that needed to be made to salvage anything out of the season.

Two: In With the Interim
So is Savard the answer? There's positive and negatives that will ultimately provide the answers Tallon is looking for when he evaluates Savard at the end of the year. Savvy's a Hall-of-Fame player whose number 18 hangs from the rafters. In his role as an assistant he's already shown himself to be very hands-on, offering guidance and drawing up plays on the bench, and it's clear the players respect him. The offense also promises to be much more up-tempo in the mold of Savard himself in his playing days. Whether the talent is there to pull it off is another issue altogether.

Despite having been an assistant in the organization since 1997, Savard has no head-coaching experience, and there's no telling how he responds to the added responsibilities and pressures of being the main man. He could be the Blackhawks' version of Ozzie Guillen or in way over his head. Savard has the poise and skill to succeed, and he deserves a shot, but a coach with a defined system and NHL experience could step in without as much adjustment time. In his time behind the bench serving under seven different coaches he's also had a front-row view to see that the issues facing the Hawks are much more than anything a coaching change will fix, which should have been enough to scare him away.

I loved Savard as a player growing up, and want nothing more than to see him succeed. But part of me is already worrying about another bridge being burned with a Blackhawks legend if things don't work out.

Three: West-coast wrap up
Before the Thanksgiving hiatus of Pucks in Five, I said that the upcoming circus trip would be a key to the Hawks chances this season. Obviously, with the firing of Yawney, the results were far less than hoped. Entering the trip with a two-game win streak, the Hawks lost a shootout to conference-worst Phoenix, then won a shootout against conference-leading Anaheim, the exact opposite of what anyone would have predicted. Following that start, the wheels came off. The team lost a close 2-1 game in Vancouver then offered up two dismal games that highlighted their offensive struggles in Calgary and Edmonton. The three-game losing streak pushed the team back toward the Western Conference basement, while their 49 goals scored is now last in the league and all but sealed Yawney's fate.

Four: Red-Light Ruutu
The one bright spot on the Western swing was the play of Tuomo Ruutu. After returning from a knee injury at the end of October, Ruutu looked to be a little tentative, but with three goals in the last four games, he's stepping up his output and provided a small scoring spark for a team that's been desperately lacking in offense. If the Hawks look to do anything the rest of the year, Ruutu's scoring punch is a necessity, especially first-line center Michael Handzus out for the year. Two of his goals were the only tallies on the Blackhawks score sheet, so while Ruutu's offense is a welcome sight, he's going to need help if Savard is hoping to turn on the jets.

Five: Injury Injustices
The walking wounded for the Hawks were supposed to be healing, but the West Coast swing only added to the ranks of the infirm, as captain Adrian Aucoin suffered an injury to his groin. He is listed as day-to-day, but will miss the Stars game Wednesday. Also missing the Dallas game is Hawks sniper Martin Havlat, who sprained his ankle in the team's last game against the Stars October 20. The team was hoping to see Havlat back in the lineup this week, but although he has started skating, he has yet to practice and is still a week or two away. And Rene Bourque's return is still weeks away as he recovers from surgery to repair his lacerated throat.

While Savard is being asked to turn the team's fortunes around, he still faces the same issues that lead to Yawney's downfall: key injuries and a lack of depth. Until the team is healthy, it's hard to see what Savard can do.

Bulls in Five

...will return next week.
by Jason Maslanka

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Comments

Andrew / November 28, 2006 12:15 PM

The difference between the beginning of the season and the last few games for Grossman is the offensive line: in games where he had solid protection, he took his time and threw with confidence (he still got picked off a decent amount, but it wasn't because he was rushed). The last few games, he's been under pressure on nearly every down.

 

About the Author(s)

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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