- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2005

They are the NFL’s best defense.

The Chicago Bears have allowed the fewest points and yards in the league, and they are the best at stopping opponents on third downs.

They are the toughest around when backed up to the goal line, surrendering touchdowns just 20 percent of the time when their opponents are in the red zone.

The Bears (9-3) have allowed just 68 points (8.5 a game) during their current eight-game winning streak.

Bookends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown bring the heat, and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs hit like boxers. Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman are the league’s most underrated cornerback tandem, and Mike Brown is a playmaker at safety.



In consecutive November wins over the Panthers and Bucs, the Bears’ eight-man defensive line rotation produced a sack, deflected a pass or made a tackle for zero or minus yards on 24 of 122 plays. Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had been sacked just 13 times in 10 games, but he went down eight times against the furious Bears rush.

Yet, comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain of the 1970s (four Super Bowl titles in six years), the fearsome defense of the 1985 champion Bears or the Raven’s record-setting defense of 2000 are premature.

“They’re a very good defense, but let’s not anoint them yet,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who faced those ‘70s Steelers and ‘85 Bears and constructed the ‘00 Ravens. “Those other defenses won Super Bowls and had multiple Hall of Famers.”

The Bears own just three quality wins — against the Vikings, Panthers and Buccaneers. And they have yet to beat a team with an offense ranked in the top half of the league.

The 1985 Bears, however, won seven games in which they faced an offense ranked in the top 12 and five games against playoff teams. Tackle Dan Hampton, end Richard Dent and linebacker Mike Singletary had already been to the Pro Bowl. Urlacher is the only member of the current defense to be so honored.

In a down year in the NFC, the Bears are a legitimate contender, but they can’t stake a claim for greatness until they win a title.

Team of the past — The Raiders last week dropped to 4-8 and clinched last place in the AFC West. Before doing so, however, the team sent out this e-mail in all caps:

THE OAKLAND RAIDERS ARE THE LAST AFC WEST TEAM TO GO TO THE SUPER BOWL (2002 SEASON).

ARE THE LAST AFC WEST TEAM TO CAPTURE THE DIVISION THREE YEARS IN A ROW (2000, 2001, 2002).

ARE THE ONLY AFC WEST TEAM TO WIN A PLAYOFF GAME IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

ARE THE ONLY AFC WEST TEAM TO BOTH PLAY IN AND HOST THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP SINCE 1998 AND HAVE HOSTED TWO (2000, 2002).

ARE THE ONLY AFC WEST TEAM TO QUALIFY FOR THE PLAYOFFS IN EACH OF THE PAST FIVE DECADES.

THE TEAM OF THE DECADES

Talk about living in the past.

Take the Saints to school — Third-grader Paul Kohnke, who was forced by Hurricane Katrina to flee New Orleans for Houston, received a sweet reminder of home thanks to Saints defensive ends Charles Grant and Tony Bryant.

Paul had won a local “Take a Player to School” contest, but Katrina hit and the NFL didn’t know where to find him. When the Kohnkes finally got back to New Orleans to check on their house, the package containing the good news was waiting for them.

During a limousine ride to his Houston school, Bryant and Grant told Paul, his brother James and mother Beth that they too missed New Orleans. Paul told the players about his football team winning a championship.

“I wish my friends in New Orleans could see this,” Paul said as he got out of the limo to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Paul introduced Bryant and Grant to his new classmates and was pleasantly surprised when Travis Johnson and Donovan Morgan of the Texans and the teams’ mascots joined the party.

“You opened your arms to Paul,” Grant told the students, who danced to a Zydeco band and enjoyed traditional New Orleans beignets and king cake. “Helping people builds character, leadership, family. Without family and friends, America wouldn’t turn the way it turns.”

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