There are two ways to look at the way the Chicago Bears finished the 2007 season. One: Why didn't you play like this the whole year? The other: At least you finally played like this.
There are two ways to look at the way the Chicago Bears finished the 2007 season.
One: Why didn't you play like this the whole year? The other: At least you finally played like this.
Combine Sunday's season-ending 33-25 victory over a New Orleans Saints team pumped with playoff hope with a 35-7 walloping of NFC North champ Green Bay the week before, and fans saw how the Bears were a Super Bowl team in 2006.
Throw in the nine losses in the first 14 weeks of 2007, and you saw why Chicago can only look forward to April's draft instead of postseason play.
Well, not entirely correct. They also can talk about looking ahead to 2008 without feeling foolish.
"What takes precedence is what type of person are you?" said special teams Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo. "Are you optimistic? Are you pessimistic? An optimistic person, which you have to be in this business, you take away it was a two-game season, and we finished with two wins. The team is going to go into '08 with some momentum.
"We have something to build on, and there's not as much pressure as last year so we'll have nothing to lose. You go in with this momentum that you have, and let's get back to where we were in '06, basically."
Head coach Lovie Smith spoke the same language.
"After we were out of the playoffs, all we could do is try and finish 2-0 and start looking like the Chicago Bears of old and finish on a high note, and we were able to do that," he said.
Wideout Bernard Berrian, a free agent, was most impressed that his team started to play "all-around games."
"It wasn't just the offense shining, the defense shining, or special teams shining. All three phases came," he said.
Center Olin Kreutz looked at his glass as both half full and half empty.
"You always want to win games, and it was fun to win the last two," he said. "But we're not in the playoffs, so it doesn't mean much for us."
For the second straight outing -- which netted them their first back-to-back wins all season -- the Bears looked good in all aspects that matter.
Kyle Orton fired touchdown passes to Mark Bradley (19 yards) and Devin Hester (55 yards); Hester returned another punt (64 yards) for a record-producing sixth return touchdown in a single season, and running back Adrian Peterson threw his first career touchdown (9 yards to Bernard Berrian).
The Bears also tacked on a safety in the fourth quarter thanks to a strong pass rush on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Bears took him down three times -- he had only been sacked a league-low 13 times entering the weekend game at Soldier Field.
Ricky Manning Jr., Tommie Harris and Alex Brown recorded sacks; Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman had interceptions.
"The last two games, you saw what our true colors were," Ayanbadejo said. "If we had done that all season, we could be back where we were last year.
"One game you saw the Bears of 2006; the next game you saw the Bears of 2007, which wasn't a team that played up to its potential."
Sunday's team did. Chicago established a 33-17 lead before the Saints padded their stats. Orton had a workman-like 77.7 passer rating (12-of-27, 190 yards), and Peterson (91 yards, 21 carries) helped Chicago move chains.
"We executed better, we made some plays when we had opportunities," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We still didn't execute as well as we could have."
Brees fired 60 passes, as the Saints had to throw after falling behind 31-17 after Hester's easy punt return at 12:31 of the third quarter. Brees completed 35 passes for 320 yards, three scores, two picks and a passer rating of 75.7. He broke Rich Gannon's NFL single-season record for completions (418 with Oakland in 2002) by finishing with 443.
Former Illinois running back Pierre Thomas, the Saints' fourth-string back, had 105 yards rushing on 20 carries (5.3 average) and 12 receptions for 121 yards, a touchdown plus a two-point conversion run.
Chicago and New Orleans, who met in last year's NFC Championship game, both ended with 7-9 records.
"It was a rough season for us as a team, but I thought we responded nicely and finished up the season well," Orton said. "Hopefully, we can carry some momentum into the offseason.
"A team one year removed from the Super Bowl showed a lot of character."
Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.