Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The weather: A 13-degree wind chill with alternating snow and freezing rain at Solider Field.

The running game: 46 rushes for 196 yards.

The time of possession edge: 10 minutes.

The result: The Chicago Bears’ first NFC Championship since the 1985 season.

If ever there was an ideal scenario for the Bears in the playoffs, it was Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. In raw conditions, the Bears controlled the line of scrimmage, the clock and eventually the scoreboard in a 39-14 victory.

“This is the blueprint of the Chicago Bears tradition,” quarterback Rex Grossman said. “Great defense, run the ball well and then make a few plays in the passing plays.”

Said running back Thomas Jones, who has four touchdowns this postseason: “It couldn’t have been a more perfect situation than this. It’s snowing, and we’re running the football.”

But as the buildup to the Bears’ Super Bowl XLI matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 4 begins, the question remains: How will Bears Football translate to Miami?

The Colts’ blueprint for offensive success — Peyton Manning — of course will remain lethal in South Florida.

Indianapolis’ defense, however, has chosen the right time to stop the run, allowing only 220 yards rushing in three postseason games. The Bears’ task this week is to find a way to penetrate the Colts’ front seven so they aren’t forced to depend on Grossman’s erratic right arm.

Although the Bears passed nine more times than they ran in the regular season, they have run more in the playoffs — 80 rushes and 64 passes — and they want that trend to continue.

“We’re a running football team — our run sets up our pass,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We like to make teams put an extra guy in the box to stop the run and then be able to [go] one-on-one on the outside.”

The Saints and Bears both put a safety near the line of scrimmage. The Saints reacted by going away from the run; the Bears stuck with their plan.

Jones rushed for a Bears postseason record 123 yards on 19 carries (two touchdowns).

“We felt like we would come in and run it,” he said. “We saw some things in their defense from the previous games. [Offensive coordinator Ron Turner] did a great job calling some of the same plans consistently, giving us a chance to warm up.”

With 5:51 left in the second quarter, Jones ran left for 14 yards on first down from the Bears 31. On the next seven plays, though, he worked the right side for gains of 2, 33, 7, 2, 2, 7 and, finally, a 2-yard touchdown.

“Our running game was unbelievable,” Grossman said. “We ran it right down their throat in the second quarter. At that point, we had momentum. … Our offensive line cleared the way, and our running backs really saw the holes well and made great cuts.”

The run play Turner called on Jones’ touchdown drive was “42 Mike.”

“It’s a draw-type play, and we started hitting other plays off that play,” Jones said. “It ended up being a good play.”

The Bears (15-3) will need several good plays to down the Colts (15-4), who scored 32 second-half points to defeat the New England Patriots in the AFC title game. The best game plan is keeping Manning off the field, and that means Jones and Cedric Benson running it behind the Olin Kruetz-led offensive line.

“We talk about that every week, and it does start up front,” Smith said. “If you’re a running football team, you have to have a good offensive line. They’ve done a great job all year, opened up quite a few holes [Sunday] and set the tempo.”

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