MINNEAPOLIS -- Great fun getting a Tour de Twin Cities Football Monday before and during the Bears' crushing 40-14 NFC North-clinching victory over the Vikings ... and sitting in the stands for the first half of the beatdown. Five observations of the evening:
1. The Metrodome is in big, big trouble. I was stunned to walk into the building and see at least 20 streams of melted ice and snow falling from the roof to the field and the seating areas, the result of the roof caving in on the morning of Dec. 12. Most of the snow that cascaded down from the compromised roof is still sitting on the field, which is partially covered, crazy-quilt, to try to minimize damage to the field. But the scariest thing -- the thing that could have led to a stampede out of the building if the roof collapse happened when a game was going on -- is the fact that some of the support beams for the roof collapsed, too, and hit some seats in the upper deck. Just imagine the hysteria of 64,000 Metrodomians if they'd see that whole thing happen, and if some of the denizens of the upper deck saw speakers and beams falling down on people. That's one of the reasons why some won't want the Vikes to return to the Dome for the final year of the team's lease in 2011.
2. The happiness of fans to be outside. "Thrilled'' is too mild a word. I sat in the stands for much of the first half of the game, and the crowd, even when the Vikings were stinking it up, seemed more overjoyed in being in the elements for a local home NFL game for the first time in 29 years than for the actual game itself. Commissioner Roger Goodell sat halfway up in the lower bowl of the University of Minnesota's stadium and noticed how excited fans were to relive the days at old Metropolitan Stadium. In the men's room between the first and second quarter, this chant went up: "No more Dome! No more Dome!'' Oh, and the smell of cheese curds filled the concourses. A cool Minnesota night, even in the cold.
3. I hope that's it for Favre. So it seems he wanted to play in a blizzard, and his hand and shoulder felt good enough to play Monday morning. That's fine. He drove the Vikings down the field beautifully on the first Minnesota drive of the game, but after that, it was painful to watch him and his team get whomped by the Chicago defense. He joked afterward that after throwing for his 508th career touchdown on that first drive, maybe he should have just continued up the tunnel and into the locker room. I don't begrudge him playing if he, and Leslie Frazier, think he should play. But the beatings he's taken this year, including the pile-driving sack that left him with a concussion Monday night and knocked him from the game, tell me it's almost cruel to subject himself to more of that, particularly behind a weakened offensive line without Steve Hutchinson, and particularly against the hard-changing Lions in Detroit in Week 17. I say the Vikings should play Joe Webb the last two weeks.
4. I really like the Bears' defensive depth. Israel Idonije, Matt Toeaina and Corey Wooten: three sacks, a forced fumble, a quarterback knockout (Favre), 27 yards lost against the Vikings. This is a tough D to gameplan against because if you spend one man blocking Julius Peppers and a tight end or back chipping him as well, the agility of the rest of the group will show through. That's a great sign for January football.
5. Chicago can be a great January team with a bad offensive line. In the first seven games of the season, Jay Cutler was sacked 27. In the last six, he's been sacked 16. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz knows he can't have Cutler be his mad-bombing Kurt Warner; he just doesn't have time. So the Bears are being more efficient, and Cutler (12 touchdowns, six picks over the past seven games) is doing a great job taking what the defense gives him.
Now onto your e-mail:
VERY INTERESTING POINT. "I was reading your article on possible ways to get some of the contributors of the game into the Hall of Fame. It brought me to an interesting question. Who is the Hall of Fame for? Is it for the fans, or is it for the players, coaches, etc? Fans care about players and maybe a very visible non-player figure like a head coach. So should the Hall waste precious spots for people who are anonymous to the fans? I'm a diehard NFL fan who sucks up as much NFL info as I can, but I couldn't name one scout in the NFL if my life depended on it.''-- Chris, Denver
Chris, that's a really good point. But let's take Ron Wolf, the longtime Green Bay GM, for example. When he took over the GM job late in 1991, the Packers were a consistently poor franchise that hadn't been good since the Lombardi days a quarter-century earlier. He hired Mike Holmgren to coach the team, traded for Brett Favre to quarterback the team, signed Reggie White in a tremendous upset in free-agency to be the game's biggest impact player on defense, and trained several men, including current Green Bay GM Ted Thompson, to continue the tradition he started. For much of the past 20 seasons, the Packers have been contenders, and it never, ever would have happened without Wolf. That's why I think he belongs.
RAY DOESN'T LIKE MY GOAT. "To make punter Matt Dodge the goat of the week is bit overboard. Sure, he should have hit it out of bounds, but what about the complete caving of the Giants defense in the last eight minutes? They gave up three touchdowns, which is inexcusable. What about the other 10 guys on the punt coverage team? Why didn't they tackle DeSean Jackson? Quit picking on a rookie.''-- Ray Thompson, Ashboro, N.C.
I could have made 15 players goats after that game. To me, Dodge was the most obvious for not being able to do one of the simplest things a punter has to do. You or I could have taken a ball and punted it toward the boundary. It's ridiculous the moment got to Dodge and he couldn't do it.
SOME, I SUPPOSE. BUT NOT IN THIS CASE. "How much of a responsibility is it for a quarterback to protect his receivers from taking a severe hit? For example, Austin Collie, back from a head injury only to get another concussion. While that's the nature of football, do you feel that Peyton Manning will adjust routes Collie is asked to run or base his decisions on pulling the trigger to throw to him based on tightness of coverage. Though dramatized in Hollywood fashion, I think of Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell complaining of the quarterback throwing high across the middle.''-- From Jake, California, Md.
Interesting, but I don't see how a quarterback could ever throw a deep, high-arcing pass to a receiver in your scenario of only throwing safe passes. How do you know when you release a ball whether a safety would be in position to intercept the ball or abuse the receiver?
ANOTHER COUNTRY HEARD FROM. "You couldn't be more wrong about playoff seedings and division winners. Division winners deserve to host a playoff game. The division setup encourages rivalries and makes football a better game. If a 12-4 team loses to a 7-9 team simply because they are playing on the road, they DESERVE to lose, in my opinion. The way things are set up now the first major imperative for every football team is WIN YOUR DIVISION! And I think it is the best thing for football. Where would it end? Should a 11-5 Wild Card team host a 10-6 division winner? That's absurd. The problem occurs very infrequently (as in never yet, right?) so why start making rules now? It's a waste.-- Keith Vega, Foxboro, Mass.
We'll agree to disagree. I think a division winner deserves a playoff berth, always. But I think it's absurd that playoff teams are not seeded by record. If we can agree, for instance, this year that wild-card New Orleans would certainly be a better team with more wins than division-champ St. Louis, for example, then why should St. Louis play New Orleans at St. Louis' home in the playoffs?
GOODELL AND FAVRE. "Does Roger Goodell have any credibility left after not suspending Brett Favre? Seems to me that if he hadn't done anything, as soon as the investigation was concluded he would've been the first to say so. Now that so much time has passed, I am even more convinced that Favre is guilty of sexual harassment, but also that Goodell is guilty of biased treatment toward players by trying to sweep this under the rug. Doesn't this allow the next player to harass a woman to appeal a suspension by pointing to Favre's lack of punishment by the league?''-- From Chris, Minneapolis
I think you know some but not all of the facts of the case, and I don't know all of them either. Let's see what decision Goodell makes, then pass judgment whether he did the right thing or screwed it up.