Look out, world. A monster has been born.
Everyone sort of suspected that the Bears could play defense. I mean, they were ranked No. 1 going into the Carolina game, but you know, it was one of those things you kind of half believe. They're in the NFC North, for gosh sakes, and are playing a soft schedule. It seemed that every other week or so, the Bears were having it out with the Lions. Wait till they meet a real team, we all said.
Well, would you say the Panthers qualified? Six straight wins made them the hottest team in the NFC. Did anyone think the Bears' rush would get to Jake Delhomme? Good luck. He'd been sacked only 12 times in nine games.
Chicago got him eight times Sunday. No frivolous sacks, either, in which a DB chases him out-of-bounds on a scramble or something like that. These were all honestly earned, all by the front four, crashing the Panthers' wall all by themselves, using a neat variety of stunts and twists--but no blitz help.
The Panthers max-protected in an effort to keep Delhomme upright. Max, the maximum, sometimes two tight ends, accompanied, at times, by a fullback, removing these people from the pass receiving corps to help concentrate on those wild men. And nothing helped. Alex Brown, Wale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris ... they came in waves. The Bears play a stack defense, hiding linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher behind the guys up-front, and both those LBs can run like the wind.
The cornerbacks, Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman, are bold people who can lock onto a receiver or play the disciplined cover-two game. Strong safety Mike Brown is a dart who zeroes in on running backs.
Why am I so effusive about this unit? Because I was one of those who sneered at it. No more. The Bears' defense took apart a big league team. But that was at home. Now it faces another one, Tampa Bay, this time on the road. Young Chris Simms has matured in front of our eyes. He throws a nice ball now, and best of all, he seems to know where to put it. Will the Bears go after the Bucs with the same fury they showed at Soldier Field on Sunday? I think so. Chicago wins it in an upset.
The Colts, fresh off their track meet in Cincinnati, take on the Steelers. Big Ben might be back for Pittsburgh. The Indy defense didn't look too sturdy against the Bengals, but this one's in the RCA Dome on Monday night, and I don't think this team is ready to be stopped. I'll ride with the Colts. Very quietly the Patriots have established themselves as one of the high-performance offenses in the league, even with all their injuries. I have a feeling New England will spring an upset over the Chiefs in a high scorer at Arrowhead.
The Seahawks, known for their fades down the stretch, almost blew one in San Francisco. That was their scare for the month. Seattle gets itself together with a win over the visiting Giants. Washington, a loser to Oakland on Sunday, is banged up at this point. San Diego to win it, but it'll be a struggle. --Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 2--4 Season: 57--31
Dr.Z writes for the web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.
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BLACK AND BLUE Jerry Azumah and the hard-hitting Bears stifled Carolina--and some skeptics.