MIAMI (AP) - Forget the perception that the Chicago Bears are mere patsies for Peyton Manning. They have a decent chance at winning Sunday's Super Bowl against the Colts. Really.
Maybe these guys aren't quite the Monsters of the Midway - under today's rules, Brian Urlacher might get flagged just for breathing on Manning. But their defense can still be pretty scary.
"The Bears have a way of turning first and 10 into second and 15 into third and 20," Tony Dungy said this week.
Yes, the Colts are seven-point favorites despite the Bears' 13-3 regular-season record, second best in the NFL to San Diego's 14-2. There's a simple reason: It's not the Bears who are the underdogs, it's the NFC, which was as bad this season as the AFC was good. Its final four of Indy, New England, San Diego and Baltimore likely would be favored over any of the NFC semifinalists.
Still, Chicago can win this game if three things happen:
- Indianapolis reverts to at least a semblance of its shabby regular-season run defense, an NFL-worst 173 yards a game. That figure has been reduced by a full 100 yards in the playoffs to 73.3.
- Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman plays as he did in better efforts. "I had 12 games where I played well, six where I played not so well," he said. "Not so well" is an understatement - in one of those games he had a zero passer rating, in another a 1.3.
- The Bears continue to get turnovers. They had 34 takeaways during the regular season and five more in the playoffs, although they were only plus-6 for the year because of Grossman's propensity for interceptions and fumbles.
If the Bears control the clock with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson running the ball, it keeps Manning off the field and allows Grossman more opportunities. In other words, he gets more time to throw and Dwight Freeney and the rest of Indy's quick defenders get less time to pressure him into making mistakes.
Manning isn't immune to turnovers. He's thrown six interceptions in three playoff games, including one returned for a touchdown by New England's Asante Samuel in the AFC championship game. That's five more than Grossman, Mr. Turnover, who has one in the playoffs.
But Manning is too savvy to force anything; savvy enough to know that punting is a better alternative to throwing into coverage, especially with the way Urlacher can drop into the deep middle like the safety he was in college.
Most important, Manning finally demonstrated he can produce under pressure with his 80-yard drive in the final minutes against the playoff-tested New England defense.
Beyond that, these Colts are following a path similar to one taken by a team Manning wants to emulate: the 1997 Denver Broncos.
Those Broncos were eliminated in their first game in 1996 after clinching home field with a month to go. And like this year's Colts, who lost four of its last seven games, those Broncos struggled a bit, making the postseason as a wild-card team before sweeping through the playoffs and beating Green Bay 31-24 in the Super Bowl.
Last winter, Manning made a point of talking to the two leaders of that team: John Elway and coach Mike Shanahan. Last summer, he suggested that it might not be a bad thing if the Colts had a lower profile for the 2006 season than they had in 2005, when they won their first 13 games.
"You've got a team that's a little ticked off," Manning said, referring to last year's playoff failure. "There are guys who will play that way. I think you need that to rebound from last season."
There's one more thing the Colts need to do to emulate those Broncos.
No, Manning is unlikely to do a spinorama for a first down, as Elway did in the signature play of that game.