NEW ORLEANS — Remember the Rams' hurry-up offense at the end of the half in the NFC title game at Chicago two weeks ago--the one that almost got called for delay of game?
Well, the Rams' old pal, Buddy Ryan, assures them that they didn't blow it, that it was his defense that did them in.
"They had the right call," the Bears' defensive coordinator said Tuesday. "We knew what they were gonna do, like everybody's gonna do. They're gonna run double corners or double posts.
"We were settin' back in a zone, which usually you don't play in that area, and they saw their big stud come out of the backfield open--they thought--so they threw it to him, and they were trying to call time out while he was still running with the football, and you can't do that."
Translation: Quarterback Dieter Brock sent both wide receivers into the corners of the end zone, but when he saw that Bobby Duckworth was covered to the left, he dumped the ball off to Eric Dickerson over the middle. Dickerson was tackled at the five-yard line as time ran out, and the Bears went on to a 24-0 shutout victory.
"It wasn't a coaching mistake," Ryan said. "They had plenty of time. They were gonna throw the ball out of the end zone if it wasn't open, then they saw him come out underneath open--at least they thought--and threw it to him. But he didn't get it in there that time."
In Ryan's view, if the Rams weren't ready to play the Bears, it wasn't because they lacked the manpower to match the National Football League's strongest defense, just the time to prepare for it.
"I think it would be pretty hard for any offensive line to be better than the Rams'," Ryan said. "They've got about all of 'em going to the Pro Bowl."
It was Ryan, of course, who predicted that the Bears would hold the Rams in check. They did, limiting Dickerson to 46 yards.
"We talked a good game before it, and we had to execute to make it look good," Ryan said. "It has a purpose against some teams, in some situations. Something bothered 'em."
How did Ryan know that Dickerson would fumble?
" 'Cause I had him in the Pro Bowl (the Bears' staff coached the NFC squad last year) and he laid two down there and cost me $5,000. (The AFC) ran one back about 80 yards for a touchdown."
Five thousand dollars is the difference between a winner's and loser's share in the Pro Bowl.
Still, Ryan had praise for the Ram running back.
"He's a great football player," Ryan said. "We had to play a great game to shut him down. I don't think you're ever gonna say Dickerson's a wimp. There's a lot of wimps in this business, but I wouldn't call him one of them. Most of them are playing way outside somewhere.
"Really, to (get ready to) play us in a week is tough. Any coach with any guts will tell you that. We give them so many fronts and so many (pass) coverages that it's tough to run all your plays against (them in practice). You don't know what front we're gonna be in."
How many fronts?
"We used 14 (against the Rams) last week."
"Twenty-three. That's a little more than average. Usually, we use 10 or 11 fronts and about 13 different coverages. It creates a lot of different blocking problems for them. Sometimes it looks the same and it ain't the same."
Ryan was reminded that the New England Patriots will have had two weeks to prepare.
"Oh, it should help them a great deal," he said. "Of course, it'll help us a great deal, too. Be sure to put that down."
Ryan has reason to be pleased these days. His defense has shut out both of the Bears' playoff opponents and he is being mentioned in connection with head coaching vacancies at Philadelphia and New Orleans.
Nearing 52, his star has never been brighter. At the moment, in fact, it seems brighter than that of Mike Ditka, the Bears' head coach.
In his crusty way, Ryan is coy about his head coaching prospects.
"I don't have no comment on any of that crap," he said. "I'm here to try to get another Super Bowl ring.
"Oh, sure, if the opportunity presents itself and it's right . . . I mean, I'm not gonna jump at it. If one comes along, it'd be great. If it doesn't, I'm not gonna cry about it."
Through seven years in college coaching and 17 in the NFL with the Vikings, Jets and Bears, Ryan has never been a head coach. "I feel like it's long overdue that somebody felt that way," he said recently.
But there is a sense that he would lose something, such as the tight control he exerts over the defense, which has become his own private empire with the Bears. Ryan coaches the defense; Ditka coaches the rest of the team.
"That's not much different than anyplace else in the National Football League, is it?" Ryan said. "We get along fine."
But Ryan is controversial. He speaks his mind, even going so far as to criticize his own management--telling the world that William (The Refrigerator) Perry was "a wasted drafted choice."
Said Ryan: "I don't worry about it 'cause I always try to tell the truth and I don't have to think about what I said last week."