October 31, 2014

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

October 30, 2014

Leatherheads Midseason Awards

We are halfway through the 2014 NFL season and there have been surprises, disappointments, slumps, sacks, breakaways and meltdowns.

And so far we’re only talking about Jon Gruden.

We kid because we care. According to the Bible of Gruden every player in the NFL is the greatest player/person/life form ever, at least at some particular moment and we applaud such positivity because if football is about nothing else shouldn’t it be about love, appreciation and the Raiderettes?

Mr. Gruden was unable to join us for our midseason awards banquet but we Leatherheads still managed.

Midseason MVP: Peyton Manning

Manning is the runaway unanimous choice among all Leatherheads who took part in this report card. Joe Williams issues apologies to Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck noting that Manning is still the best player in the game and that’s difficult to protest. Manning is tied for Luck with an NFL-best 22 touchdown passes but has been intercepted just three times, whereas Luck has gotten picked nine times. Peyton’s QB rating of 119.0 leaves Luck, Rodgers, Philip Rivers and everyone else in the dust.

Manning is also leading what is probably the best team in the NFL. The Denver Broncos are 6-1 with their lone defeat coming in overtime to the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. If Peyton Manning stays healthy he seems likely to win his (gulp) sixth NFL MVP. No one else has ever won more than three.

We have to take a brief timeout here, however, to point out that Manning is now playing in an era when quarterbacks are like pinball players. They are allowed to just sit there and bang those flippers, racking up the stats and the points. Yes, #18 still does it as well if not better than anyone but we can only wonder what great QBs of yesteryear would have accomplished in today’s increasingly hands-off-the-star NFL.

And another thing, Peyton will not be considered the greatest quarterback ever until he wins another Super Bowl. That’s not fair, maybe. But it’s true. But for now, he must be satisfied with the official Mike Lynch Statue for winning the Leatherheads half-season MVP. I hope someone ordered that statue.

Midseason Offensive Player of the Year: DeMarco Murray

Some Leatherheads chose Manning for this and that’s perfectly logical. If a guy plays offense and is the league MVP then shouldn’t he automatically be the Offensive Player of the Year as well? After some discussion and a few cocktails our official answer is “no.” Manning is the most valuable because he’s awesome and has the unfair advantage over Murray of playing the most important position. But DeMarco Murray deserves the Offensive accolade for several reasons.

Murray, the fourth year Dallas Cowboys running back, leads the NFL in carries with 206. That’s 60 more than his next closest competitor, Arian Foster. Murray also tops the NFL in rushing yards with 1,054, easily outdistancing Foster by nearly 300 yards.   And Murray is not just a bull who bashes his way to real estate. He’s averaging 5.1 yards a carry. That’s fantastic.

Murray is also tied with Foster for the NFL lead with seven rushing scores and has caught 26 passes for a nearly nine-yard average. All this and his Cowboys are making Jerry Jones look young again without surgical help as Dallas is 6-2 and in great position to make its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Our concern is that DeMarco may not be alive and well come playoff time. He’s on pace to carry the ball more than 400 times and, come January, could be moving slower than lava but with implications just as critical.

Midseason Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

Another unanimous choice. Mr. Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, is so good some might say he deserves consideration for league MVP. Perhaps. Just as with DeMarco Murray, Watt pays the price for not being a quarterback which is a shame (whoops! We almost wrote “sham”) because he’s probably the best overall player in the league.

Watt has seven sacks which puts him significantly behind league-leader Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs who has ten. But sacks are like Mariah Carey songs. They’re fun and make the person who sings them a lot of money but they’re not really music, and not really the best barometer of a great defensive player. If a guy gets one sack a game he’s anointed a star. But what does he do the rest of the game? Watt does a lot.

J.J. has eight pass deflections, tied with Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata for most among defensive lineman.  Every other guy in the top ten is a defensive back.

Watt has 22 solo tackles, tied for fourth among NFL defensive linemen. He has one forced fumble and one interception; which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown against Buffalo. Watt also recovered a fumble and rambled 45 yards for a score against the Colts. Justin James Watt has also caught one pass this year, yes on offense, for a TD. This dude has three touchdowns. And he plays defense. And he does all this on a team that’s 4-4 and alive and ponderous in the playoff race. (And, as Joe Williams observes, J.J. is also a “decent dancer.”)

Midseason Rookie of the Year: Sammy Watkins

We’re impressed with several first years including Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, Arizona Cardinals receiver John Brown and Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. But in the end, it’s Sammy.

Watkins, the first year wideout for the Buffalos Bills, is described by our Joe Williams as “pure talent” and the numbers back that up. Watkins has 590 yards receiving, which is tops among rookies, and he is also tied for the lead in the NFL’s freshman class with five TD catches including a last-second game winner against the Vikings on October 19.

Watkins is electric and should be a stud for years to come. The problem is he plays in Buffalo and the Bills are so awful and so off the radar that no matter how good Watkins is he’ll never…oh dear. Wait a second. The Bills are 5-3, aren’t they? If Watkins and QB Kyle Orton (He’s alive! He’s good!) lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance since 1999 (who do they think they are, the Kansas City Royals?) then Sammy won’t just be Rookie of the Year, he’ll also never have to shovel his driveway again.

Biggest Midseason Surprise: Dallas Cowboys

It would have been a smooth and cool transition to go from raving about Sammy Watkins to christening his Bills as the league’s biggest surprise so far and that’s the vote from Leatherhead Joe Williams. But Leatherhead David Boyce says that honor is actually an ignominious one that belongs to the 4-3 Super Bowl champion Seahawks who are good but not looking at all like the juggernaut many thought they’d be.

Then there’s the offering of Leatherhead Daniel Durany who votes for the Cowboys and that selection is our winner. The Bills are a great story, so are the Cardinals but, as Joe Williams points, not really a surprising one as they were great in the second half of last year. We choose Dallas because the Cowboys are not only unexpectedly winning games but playing really well, if that makes sense. All the drama in Dallas is finally taking a backseat to really good, sound, fundamental football and the ‘Boys are playing it despite some big injuries.

Will Dallas continue to surprise in the second half? We have already voiced our concerns about DeMarco Murray’s durability and that drama that we don’t miss did return a bit in Monday’s loss to the Washington Redskins with questions about quarterback Tony Romo’s health both short and long term. And as long as Jerry Jones is there will Jason Garrett, or any coach, really get to do their own thing?

We knoweth not. But for the first eight games the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys are not just a pleasant surprise but the league’s biggest one.

Biggest Midseason Disappointment: Chicago Bears

This category is another contentious one. Joe Williams chooses the Seahawks. David Boyce votes for his beloved but 0-7 Oakland Raiders (will Jim Harbaugh cross the Bay and coach the Silver and Black next year? Or maybe travel with them to L.A.?) But Daniel Durany and the rest of us vote for, sigh, cigarette puff, sigh, head scratch, sigh, the Chicago Bears.

Oh it hurts. Maybe the Bears shouldn’t be considered a disappointment when remembering they were 8-8 last year. But most preseason prognosticators chose the Monsters of the Maddening to be a playoff team and some felt they could even have dreams of football in February. Instead, the Bears’ vaunted offense has been stuck in neutral, injuries are mounting for an already aged and bedraggled defense and the Bears are a very murky 3-5 with zero wins at home.

What in the Ditka has gone wrong in Chicago? Too much. The second half could see a turnaround but it’s going to be tougher than the Soldier Field turf to do so.

So, what are you thoughts about our midseason honors? Will they hold up? And what of the prediction of a certain Leatherhead back in August that we’d see a Cardinals-Chargers Super Bowl? It’s still crazy but maybe not as crazy as it sounded back then.

We’ll stand by that pick for now but won’t cry if we’re proven wrong. We hope the second half continues to see excellent football on the field and fewer distracting stories off the field. This has been a very challenging season for the league to put it mildly. Hopefully the NFL will continue pushing to make its service to the community as impactful as its product on Sundays.

Patriots 51, Bears 23 – The Negation of the Negation

October 26, 2014

Patriots 51, Bears 23 – The Negation of the Negation

Honestly, we forgot to set the DVR. And thank God for that because like a bad dream or an Elvis Costello song, Sunday’s Bears-Patriots game was so horrific that we hope to never have to revisit it.

The Bears went to Foxboro, Massachusetts and the Patriots went positively nuclear on them, blasting our orange and blue fellas 51-23 in a game that was ugly, scary, sacrilegious and completely uncool.

This game was not just bad from the beginning; it was smelly, slimy and icky. This game made statues cry.

We cannot really break this loss down because that would be like trying to diagram how the volcano defeated the Volvo. The Patriots were better in every phase of the game and also invented a few new phases and dominated those, too.

New England scored on its first possession of the game. Early in the second quarter it was 10-0. At halftime it was 38-7, the most points the Bears have ever surrendered in the first half and at that point we were just hoping to get out of there alive. We didn’t.

Here’s the meat of it: The Patriots, coming off ten days rest after having played on a Thursday had extra time to scheme for the Bears and used that extra time to write this on the chalkboard: “Throw the ball to Gronk.” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw to his tight end, Rob Gronkowski, nine times and Gronk caught all nine of them and scored three touchdowns.

Oh, and Brady also connected with just about everyone else in a Patriots uniform with the possible exception of Stanley Morgan and finished with five TDs, 354 yards, no interceptions, completing 30 of 35 passes for a passer rating of approximately 747.6.

Brady was sacked one time, courtesy of Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston who then did a celebratory dance and, we’re not kidding, promptly injured his knee and was carted off the field. And actually it wasn’t even Brady he sacked but number-12’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, because at that point in the contest the Patriots were up by so much that Brady was already on the sidelines kissing supermodels, making commercials and healing the sick.

We are scarred, scared and sad after this one, which leaves the Bears at 3-5 entering their bye week and of serious danger of not only missing the playoffs but also becoming the subject of a UN tribunal.

The 2014 Bears defense was supposed to be better and the 2014 Bears offense was supposed to be dominant. Halfway through the season, neither of those things appears to be true. Each week it looks as if the Bears’ opposition either already has Chicago figured out before kickoff or solves the puzzle before halftime whereas the Bears seem either overmatched from the start or unable to adjust once the snot starts flying.

Hope is not lost in Chicago but no one has seen it lately and it was last spotted 11 yards behind Brandon Lafell. But the Bears can revive that hope. They have an extra week and maybe they’ll go back to training camp mode, back to basics, back to a time when they knew what they were and what they could be.

Back, back, back. And then, forward? –TK

 

 

Dolphins 27, Bears 14: The Fish That Squished Our Dream

October 19, 2014

The Miami Dolphins are mean characters, uncaring of the feelings of others and utterly disrespectful of tradition and norms.

We say this because these Dolphins came to Chicago on Sunday and phin-slapped the Bears 27-14 at Soldier Field, dominating the proceedings from start to finish.

It was sort of like a date with Lucy Liu but you never even got a goodnight kiss.

The Dolphins outgained the Bears, 393-224, won the time of possession, 37:22–22:38 and won the turnover battle 0-3. That’s a recipe for a one-side game. That’s letting talking fish enter your house and drink the good brandy.

The defeat leaves the Bears 0-3 at home this year, 3-4 overall and feeling inadequate, insecure and desperately grasping for that magic reset button hidden somewhere in George Clooney’s glove compartment.

The Bears, one week after trouncing the Falcons in Atlanta, were expected to take this one because the Dolphins haven’t been good since Bible times and the Bears really, really needed to get in the win column especially considering they now go to New England and then Green Bay so, yes churchgoers, the Bears could be 3-6 before we finish our Halloween candy.

How did it come to this? The Bears were supposed to be good, offensive, virile and hearty. Instead, their offense, thought to be among the best in the league entering the season, is a very pedestrian 14th. The much-maligned Chicago defense, meanwhile, is 16th. If you had told Bears fans in August they would have the 16th best defense in the league in late October they would have kissed you, pinched you and maybe even let you pinch them back.

That’s because we (they!) estimated Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and all their pals would roll thunder and rob and plunder. Instead, they are stopping, starting, stalling and not reaching the endzone too often. They are ordinary at best, so far, and they themselves are starting to get sick of it. Marshall lost his temper after the game and told reporters the Bears’ performance has been “unacceptable.”

Can it be reversed in time? The defense, bitten by injuries and new faces is holding its own. The offense has had some guys sidelined too, but these fellas are supposed to know each other as they’ve been in the same system for a few years. So has the league simply caught up to Marc Trestman and Aaron Kromer’s offense?

The Bears probably need to go 8-1 to make the playoffs. But let’s not worry about that. Let’s worry only about New England. Let’s focus simply on gripping the football and sustaining drives. Good teams always play with a chip on their shoulder. Our chip has been knocked off. Don’t go looking for it, just smash the bloke who did the knocking. — TK

Bears 27, Falcons 13: The Undead March Ahead

October 16, 2014

Bears 27, Falcons 13: The Undead March Ahead

The Chicago Bears defeated the Atlanta Falcons 27-13 at the Georgia Dome on the same day that a record 17 million people watched the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” and 40,000 runners back in Illinois completed the Chicago Marathon.

We intersect these things because the metaphors are so easily within our grasp. If the Bears had lost to the Falcons they would have been 2-4 and the rest of the season might have unfolded like a marathon of the undead.

Instead, the Bears prevailed in Atlanta the place where, allegories unite, “The Walking Dead” is set.

On Sunday’s return episode, our hero survivors of the zombie apocalypse were victorious in a deadly battle at a place called Terminus (Atlanta’s original name) and the Bears earned the name Notdeadyetus, which was Chicago’s original name.

The Bears defeated the Falcons behind the arm of quarterback Jay Cutler who, statistically, had his best day as a Bear throwing for 381 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers, and on the legs of Matt Forte who is quietly putting together another Pro Bowl season, rushing for 80 yards and two scores and catching 10 passes for 77 yards.

Walter Payton was the greatest running back in Bears history, (NFL history?) Gale Sayers was the second greatest and Forte is solidly third on that list. Will he follow Sayers and Payton into the Hall of Fame someday?

Mr. 22 long ago reserved a seat in the Hall of Better Than Most and now, in his seventh season, could be sneaking toward Canton territory. Forte has more than 7,000 career yards rushing, more than 3,000 receiving and 81 career touchdowns. Is he getting close? A few more good seasons – and maybe a couple of playoff appearances – are certainly needed. But for now we can say the Bears nailed it in 2008 when they took Forte with the 44th overall selection, 11 picks ahead of the Ravens who took Ray Rice.

The running backs taken ahead of Forte in 2008 were Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson. Bears win.

The Falcons are not a very good team but are usually stubborn at home. The problem for the birds, though, is they weren’t really home in this one. All day long the Georgia Dome was filled with the shouts and cheers of Bears fans and the Falcons actually had to go to a silent count a few times because of the crowd noise. And, late in the game, Bears defensive end Jared Allen was actually encouraging the crowd to make more noise.

Poor Atlanta. It’s a great city, even when overrun by ambulatory corpses, but the problem Atlanta’s pro teams have always had is so many Atlantans grew up elsewhere and their allegiances often remain with other teams, especially since it’s easier now than ever to follow a team in a different place. And many of those born in raised in Terminus prefer college football, high school football, NASCAR and Waffle House to pro sports.

The Bears also won because of an impressive defensive effort, especially considering it came from a defense that has more scratches than a drunken janitor in a cat shelter. Chicago finished this game with these three guys at linebacker: Khaseem Greene, Darryl Sharpton and Christian Jones. They were good. The Bears’ regular starters – Lance Briggs, Shea McLellin and D.J. Williams -were sidelined. They also should be a bit worried.

Why else did the Bears win? They’re magic, they’re cool and they like the road (especially when it’s not the road) as they’re now 3-1 away from Soldier Field in 2014.

Perhaps this coming Sunday in Chicago the Bears should convince themselves it’s Miami. Mind games shouldn’t be necessary to beat the Dolphins but the visit by the Fish is followed for the Bears by trips to New England and Green Bay: places where hypnosis, trickery, hocus pocus and beer are all needed and turnovers are not. –TK

Carolina Crash: Panthers 31, Bears 24

October 5, 2014

Carolina Crash: Panthers 31, Bears 24

The Chicago Bears led the Carolina Panthers 21-7 late in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon when, just after the Bears forced their third turnover of the game, Bears running back Matt Forte took a short Jay Cutler pass 56 yards down to the Carolina 25.

It looked at this point that the Bears were going to score again and would lead by three touchdowns at halftime, or at least by two TDs and a field goal. But the drive stalled and Robbie Gould, who is normally as reliable as Matthew McConaughey at an after-party, shanked a 35-yard field goal.

The Panthers took over, marched down the field, Cam Newton hit former Bear Greg Olsen for a nine-yard score and it was only 21-14 in favor of the Bears at the half and oh hell, you know where this movie is taking us.

Panthers 31, Bears 24.

How do you lose to a team with uniforms so garish they would not have been allowed in the XFL and probably would lead to arrests in the CFL?

The Bears turned the ball over four times – two interceptions from Cutler, a fumble from Cutler and also a gut-wrenching fumble by Forte in the final minutes that led to Carolina’s winning score (Greg Olsen’s revenge! Never should have traded him! And maybe Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, the former Bears defensive coordinator, should have been kept around, too. Just maybe.) – and committed ten penalties for 80 yards whereas the Panthers were only flagged three times.

The Bears also fell behind, 7-0, to begin with when, after failing to move the ball on their first possession, Pat O’Donnell booted a 63-yard punt which landed, bounced around and then Carolina’s Philly Brown scooped it up while everyone else was standing around smelling the Carolina air and Brown returned that sucker 79 yards for a score. (“Coming to Fox this fall: He’s slick, he’s cool, he’s bad, he’s not your Dad. He’s Philly Brown!”)

Did the Bears think the ball was dead? If so, they were dead wrong.

OK, I know this narrative is jumping around all-Tarantino like but the point is there were mistakes at the beginning, mistakes at the end and oddness in the middle and the good football played by the Monsters in-between was not enough to overcome all of that and the result was this ugly loss and a 2-3 record and a big bowl of early October sadness.

It also comes down to the fact that for the second straight week the Bears put together a pretty good first half only to fall apart just before the break and then never get it together in the third and fourth quarters. After halftime in their last two games, losses to the Packers and Panthers, the Bears have scored a total of three points. So unless you’re scoring 30 in the first half, you’re going to lose.

Everyone knows that Bears coach Marc Trestman is smart as a whip and probably takes a backseat to no coach when it comes to game planning but for whatever reason the Bears, at least these last few weeks, have not been able to make adjustments on the fly to keep the offense going and the mistakes at bay.

Or maybe it all comes down to bad luck that the second most reliable kicker in NFL history missed a gimme and your Pro Bowl running back uncharacteristically coughed up the ball deep in his own territory in crunch time.

There’s all of that and there’s also the matter of the other team, a Carolina squad that had gotten slapped ugly in two straight and desperately needed a home win.

Sometimes the other guy is just better than you. We’re trusting that sometimes doesn’t become most of the time.

Packer Blasted

October 2, 2014

Packer Blast

Forgive the tardiness but it has taken a few days to pull out the splinters after another loss by the Chicago Bears against the Green Bay Packers.

The Pack did what they often do by coming to Chicago and sucking the life out of Soldier Field worse than a parole officer at a bachelor party. This time the final tally was 38-17 as the Bears fell apart in the second half getting outscored, 17-0 as Green Bay blew open what had for the first 30 minutes been a close, fun game on a sunny day.

Aaron Rodgers and friends don’t just rain on your parade; they toss marbles under the feet of the marchers and then padlock all the public bathrooms.

Rodgers earned an A+ in this one, to be sure, as he was nearly flawless by completing 22 of 28 for 302 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. What do those numbers spell out? R-e-l-a-x.

I really wish Aaron Rodgers would defect to Iceland.

Rodgers was sensational, which we expect, but in Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler have been absorbing much of the blame for this loss. Cutler threw for two scores but was picked off twice, one of which was not his fault, though, but couldn’t engineer big plays when it would have been nice.

Trestman has been catching heck for a few things including a curious onside kick the Bears tried and failed on in the second quarter. The Packers recovered and took over at the Bears’ 46 and Jolly Rodgers marched them down the field for a score and the Pack led 21-17 with a minute left before halftime.

The Bears not only would never lead again they would never score again.

It was not as if the Bears just gave up, though. In fact they responded impressively after Green Bay’s third score by zipping down the field into Packers’ territory but then fate – and the officials – turned up the noise and threw down the funk. Cutler hit tight end Martellus Bennett at the goal line with time running out but was gangtackled by the Packers just as he was trying to stretch the ball into the endzone.

The officials ruled no touchdown; replay said no touchdown and it probably was, indeed, no touchdown. In other words, it would have been a nice time for the officials to get it wrong, or a little bit less right. But they didn’t.

The Bears only have themselves to blame. They could have thrown into the endzone. They could have kicked a field goal. They could have done better.

After a bad game against the Lions it was inevitable that Rodgers and the Packers were going to play well against the Bears. They’re just too good and too smart to stumble two straight weeks. And, without starting defensive linemen Jeremiah Ratliff and Jared Allen, the evolving Bears defense had even more trouble pressuring Rodgers and standing in anyone’s way than they normally would have.

This game was less fun than Liam Neeson without his morning coffee and target practice.

The Bears are 2-2. They are sometimes good, sometimes not and don’t seem to like their home cow pasture of Soldier Field very much as they are now 0-2 there this young season. Right now that’s not a problem as they play their next two games at Carolina (winnable) and in Atlanta (loseable) before coming home to host Miami’s fighting fish.

As a result of so much first half peregrination, the Bears will play five of their final seven games at home including three in December. Most teams would relish this. The Bears might fear it.

The Lions are good, the Packers look better, and the Bears feel bland.

September is when you get your feet wet; December is when you check your gut. What is October? We know it ends scary, but the best horror shows have plenty of laughs along the way.   –TK

Monday Monsters: Bears 27, Jets 19

September 22, 2014

Monsters of the Monday

The Chicago Bears defeated the New York Jets 27-19 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on Monday night, improving to 12-3 on Monday Night Football since 2006.

This was the Bears’ second straight primetime road win which means the Bears not only like the bright lights but are not bothered by Jet lag as their win tonight came one week after playing 3,000 miles west in their victory in San Francisco.

So, from coast to coast, the Monsters of the Midwest may have more moxie than just about anyone thought.

The Bears won this game for several reasons, including the fact that orange is more pleasant than green, but largely because, for the second straight week, they won the turnover battle, this time, 3-1, including picking off Jets quarterback Geno Smith on the second play from scrimmage.

That pick was made by Bears safety Ryan Mundy who wasn’t satisfied with just stealing the ball from his hosts but insisted on running it 45 yards for a touchdown. So, it was 7-0 Bears when half the crowd was still driving through Hoboken.

The Jets fumbled a punt return just a few series later then committed pass interference giving the Bears prime field position and Jay Cutler hit tight end Martellus Bennett with a rocket shot in the back of the endzone for a 7-yard score and the Bears led 14-0 and it looked like Falcons-Buccaneers all over again.

There was an odd moment after that second score as the official informed the crowd that those nasty Jets had roughed up Cutler and so there was an “automatic first down,” when the rest of the zebras informed their pal that there was a touchdown on the play so no, thank you though, a first down would not be necessary as the Bears had actually scored, buddy.

The Jets broke the rules a few times in this one, penalized six times for 78 yards but the Bears cheated and got caught even more, nine flags for 95 yards.

Give the Jets an “attaboy” though for hanging in there. They were down 14-0 before Tirico and Gruden had even grown annoying, yet New York hung in there, eventually clawing back to make it 17-13 at the break which meant this was indeed a game and anyone who wanted to catch up on Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts on their DVR would have to wait until Tuesday.

Early in the third, Cutler hit Bennett again for a 13-yard score capping off an 80-yard drive and it was 24-13, good guys. The Jets responded with, well, not much. It was three plays and a punt and then on their next possession they were driving for a score when Beas rookie defensive back Kyle Fuller, who had two sweet picks in last week’s win over the 49ers, proved he might just be pretty good at this thing and picked old Geno in the endzone.

This was crucial because not only does Fuller like the smell of leather but the Bears were in the midst of three straight drives that ended in punts as the Jets’ proud defense flexed its wings.

By now you get what we’re trying to tell you and I don’t have to pull you close and whisper into your collar with whiskey-breath. What we’re saying is, neither of those teams played masterfully but the Bears made the Jets make more mistakes and while that sounds like saying your girlfriend is not nearly as homely in person as she looks on Facebook, it really is a compliment.

Jay Cutler, for the second straight week, did not throw an interception. The Bears, despite drawing a few too many flags, played disciplined and within themselves as that whole out-of-body thing just doesn’t suit them. Chicago’s performance might not have beaten the Seahawks or the Mean Machine, but it was good enough to top a Jets team that hits hard but doesn’t dance well, sort of like Rocky against Spider Rico. (Shouldn’t all NFL teams have at least one guy named “Spider”?)

And, the Bears are also a popcorn pleaser, which Chicago is getting used to as all three of its games this season have gone down to the wire. This one was not decided until the final minute when the Bears defense – a battered but game bunch to be sure – stopped the Jets on downs at the 9 yard line, once again bending but not breaking in the redzone.

Hang on to the ball, make the other team settle for field goals, spit with the wind and you’ll probably be OK.

To say this was a huge win for the Bears might be an exaggeration but we sort of like hyperbole so let’s say this was a huge win for the Bears because it not only makes them 2-1, not only gives them confidence, not only showed a national audience for the second straight week that they can be grizzly tough when it counts but it’s also large because the Packers now come to Chicago and the Bears will probably lose.

Why did I have to write that? Not nice at all.  The thought here should be that the Bears are riding high and ready sink a 1-2 Packers team that couldn’t do diddly against the Lions. But we can’t look you in the eye and say the Bears will beat the Packers because, simply, they usually don’t and do we really expect Aaron Rodgers and his merry band of pass catchers to have two straight bad games?

If they do, splendid. The Bears will be 3-1; the Packers 1-3 and those numbers need no addendum.

But the Bears are still bleeding with injuries and their run game is stuck in Bourbonnais – they ran for just 60 yards against the Jets – and their special teams are more specious than special so far.

But it’s Packer Week and, for Chicagoans, beating Green Bay is more fun than licking frozen doorknobs. Therefore let’s be optimistic yet stoic. Let’s be like a large clown statue that can see from sea to shining sea. Let’s get a bit healthier and watch that tape of how the Lions beat the Packers and hopefully glean a few things.

Let’s scratch that Packer itch. Let’s be 3-1.

Bears Show Heart in San Francisco (Actually, it’s Santa Clara Now, Isn’t It?)

 

September 14, 2014

Bears 28, 49ers 20 – The Good Guys Beat the Bad Guys

The Chicago Bears defeated the San Francisco 49ers 28-20 in the inaugural regular season game at the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night in a contest that was at times sloppy, ugly and weird but was, ultimately, shocking, significant and wonderful.

Just as no one thought the Bears would lose to the Buffalo Bills a week ago, few sober mortals gave the Bears much of a chance to win this one, especially since most Bears’ games by the Bay are uglier than a Kardashian in the morning.

This was the Bears’ first victory in San Francisco since 1985, the only season the Bears won the Super Bowl. And with the way the Bears looked against Buffalo and they way they started out in this game, it appeared that unfortunate drought would continue.

The Bears began with a three-and-out series, got their punt blocked and quickly give up a three-yard scoring pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and just like that it was 7-0 San Francisco before most 49ers fans had even taken their first sip of Chardonnay.

This game was so messy and mistake-prone early on that it felt more like a Dane Cook movie than a football game.

By the end there would be a total of 26 penalties called, 16 for the Niners, 10 for the Bears, and that was only the infractions that were accepted. There were more flags flying in the wind on Sunday night than outside the United Nations on moving day. It seemed as if the officiating crew found something wrong on every play. This must be what it’s like to have a mother-in-law who drinks, farts and owns fish.

The Niners made fewer mistakes in the first half than the Bears, whose offense was slowed by numerous injuries including starting wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery who were moving slower than Jack Benny reaching for the check after an expensive meal.

So it was the Bears defense – yes that Bears defense – the one that has fewer friends than North Korean censors, which stepped up and played well, if not heroically, and kept the Bears alive and the fact that it was only 17-0 in the second quarter felt almost like a victory because believe me you pal for a few minutes there it looked like it was going to be 77-0.

To be fair, and honest though, the Bears also had very little good fortune on their side. San Fran’s first TD should not have counted as the play clock expired before the ball was snapped. A Charles Tillman interception was waved off after review which was probably the right call but still bad luck, and a terrific 22-yard catch by Martellus Bennett from Jay Cutler for a first down early in the second quarter would have put the Bears in prime redzone real estate but the catch was waved off after review which was like getting a red light camera ticket for going 55.2 in a 55 mph zone.

Yes, there were bad calls, bad breaks and blustery winds blowing all over the beloved Bears in this one but they did not give up. They also, I’m pretty sure, kept whispering to the Niners “We got the Star Wars Museum and you didn’t. Chumps!”

Then, finally, the Bears offense stepped on the clutch after getting hit in the chest. It was just before halftime and Cutler got rocked by 49ers defensive end Quinton Dial who lowered his helmet and planted his medulla oblongata right on Jay’s #6, leaving Mr. C. staggered and slobknockered. This was the type of hit that sends lesser men to the sidelines and sends many fellows to the morgue. But Jay Cutler – love him, hate him, or, like Santa Claus, just don’t believe in him – has guts and stayed in there and three plays later, connected with Marshall on a beautiful 17-yard scoring strike.

It was a precise throw by Cutler, a terrific catch by Marshall and it was suddenly 17-7 at halftime and the Great San Francisco Massacre of 2014 was officially on hold.

What happened in the second half was a full-on headfirst dive into the football rabbit hole.

The Niners got the kickoff and marched down the field taking their sweet 49er time but the Bears defense, which by the time this game was over was playing without starting cornerback Charles Tillman, starting safety Chris Conte, (who had a brilliant first half interception) defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, cornerback Sherick McManus and probably a few other guys, again was stout, holding San Fran to a field goal after a drive that lasted more than nine minutes.

The Niners led 20-7 and would not score again and the Bears would not stop scoring.

Chicago responded with a gutsy, ballsy, Bearsy 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Cutler finding Marshall again, this time on a five-yard strike in traffic as he was pinballed by two defenders. It was 20-14 and Chicagoans put down their Old Styles and said “Holy Joe, we might be able to win this thing.”

And now, friends, this is the part of the story when we introduce you to a nice young fellow named Kyle Fuller.

Mr. Fuller is a defensive back and was the Bears’ first round draft pick this past spring. And on the Niners’ next possession he stole the ball from Crabtree for a brilliant pick deep in 49ers territory and Kaepernick, whose nickname is not Captain Cool, used a cuss word and drew a flag to move the Bears to the Niners’ three. Cutler hits Bennett in the corner and you bet your sweet Tony Bennett the Bears had a 21-20 lead.

And Kyle was just getting started.

San Fran gets the ball back (because those are the rules) and a few plays later Fuller made another daring jump on the ball, he read it perfectly, and the rookie from Virginia Tech suddenly had his Bears team in position to put this thing away. And that they did. This Cutler-Marshall thing seems to work well for Chicago, and this time it was a three-yard connection on a pass to Marshall’s outside shoulder that was timed and placed precisely so only he could catch it. I guess they practice these things.

Bears 28, 49ers 20.

The only bad part at this point was the 49ers had plenty of time, more than six minutes. They marched down the field, but the Bears held, finally breaking up a fourth down pass in the endzone.

And there it is, the Bears are 1-1 and Chicagoans are still looking forward to hockey season but aren’t getting silly about it.

The Bears won this game despite rushing for 46 yards. Total.

The Bears won this game despite playing without two offensive starters, two others who were hobbled and losing four defensive players throughout the course of the game.

The Bears won this game on the West Coast while on the East Coast Kira Kazantsev of New York was being crowned Miss America which was fitting because this Bears-Niners game was no beauty.

Except it was.

Sure, Niners supporters and other oddballs will say Jim Harbaugh’s kids gave this one away with all their penalties, turnovers and unsightly tattoos. But all three of Kaepernick’s interceptions came on great plays by the Bears. The Niners didn’t cough up the ball so much as the Bears, just like they used to, took it from them.

The Niners were sloppy but the Bears got screwed on several calls which, had they been called properly, could have changed the whole course of the game early on. Imagine if Luke Skywalker hadn’t been knocked out by the Sand People. He could have gotten home to save Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Or maybe, like Obi-Wan said, the storm troopers would have just killed him, too.

The Bears won because they stuck to the run even when they weren’t gaining ground. It’s often said that it doesn’t matter how many yards you rush for just so long as you keep running. The Bears beat the Niners because Cutler had good protection and when guys were covered he threw it away. The Bears won because Brandon Marshall made some sick catches. The Bears won because Kyle Fuller made two brilliant interceptions and the defense, overall, played with pride, discipline and urgency.

This was a fun football game. This was what Sunday nights in America should be. This was two storied franchises with playoff expectations punching each other to the end.

It wasn’t always pretty. It was far from heaven but it was also far from last week, which, for the Bears, was hell.

Bears 28, Evil Niners Empire 20. A great flight home. A promising week ahead?

Buffaloed: Bills 23, Bears 20 (OT)

September 7, 2014

 Buffaloed

The Chicago Bears dropped their season opener to the Buffalo Bills 23-20 in overtime at Soldier Field on Sunday, a result that, for Chicagoans, was as shocking as it was vexing.

No one expected this, no one wanted this and we’re all trying to forget it.  About the only thing Bears fans can salve themselves with is the knowledge that one game cannot sink a season unless you let it.

How does a team that has playoff aspirations and Super Bowl dreams fall to a squad that plays occasional home games in Canada?  

This isn’t just un-American, it’s unholy.

Give credit to the Buffalo Bills.  They opened a new season forgetting they’re supposed to be bad.  And wag your finger at the Bears maybe not for taking the Bills lightly but for simply not executing when it counted.

Things started well enough.  It was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day in Chicago, the type that will soon become an endangered species now that September is here and the Bears, after an inspirational rendition of the national anthem by Blackhawks’ tenor Jim Cornelison and a flyover of vintage military planes left over, it appeared, from the 1893 World’s Fair, took the opening drive and matriculated down the Soldier Field turf with urgency, ending with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Martellus Bennett for a 7-0 lead and much merriment.

After that, it got unfortunate.

The Bills, who are truth be told a bit of a rough and crude bunch, scored the game’s next 17 points, causing 60,000 at Soldier Field to think that if this were a movie the screenwriter should have his WGA card revoked. Maybe not everyone felt this way as there were a few Bills fans in town.  We saw one several hours after the game relaxing in a car near the lakefront looking satisfied.  If he had asked us for directions we would have charged him a quarter and then lied.

The Bills’ sudden return to the early 90s was aided in large part by three Bears turnovers: two interceptions by Cutler and a fumble by Brandon Marshall, resulting directly to 13 points on the day. 

The Bears did put up good offensive numbers, though.  Cutler threw for 349 yards, Matt Forte ran for 82 and received for 87 but this is a Bears offense that is supposed to carry the team, not pace it.

The Bears defense wasn’t that bad, really, as head coach Marc Trestman said afterwards if they give up 17 points or so that’s in the ballpark.

But overall it was just a “Buffalo is cold and lonely but better than Chicago” kind of afternoon.

This was supposed to be the “gimme” on the Bears early schedule.  Next up is a trip to San Francisco.  After that, it’s onto New York to play the Jets then home to host the Packers then two more road games.

What will these Bears be?  Was opening day an aberration and an anomaly or an omen on top of an eye gouge?

 

 

You Name It: The Football Four

So far it appears that the name for college football’s new playoff format is, flatly, the “College Football Playoff.”

Makes us want to watch from before kickoff to after probation.

Granted, it’s football and people will watch it even if it’s called by some other lame name like “night golf” or “neck shaving.”  But can’t we come up with something a little spicier for the loudest thing to happen to football since the tear-away jersey?

Regrettably, “Final Four” has long been appropriated and so has “Frozen Four” which would not make a lot of sense for football anyway but is still a splendid name.

 

What can we come up with?

 

“The Football Four.”  Simple, direct, honest, old school.

 

“The Pigskin Quartet.”  It has a classy ring to it but also would be a reminder that an animal, many animals, died for us to have so much fun.

 

“The Chosen Foursome.”  This sounds like something out of a martial arts movie or a religious ceremony, two things which, when combined, create football.

 

“The Stanley Cup.”  Umm…

 

“The Bryant-Schembechler-Rockne-Roosevelt.”

 

“Last Four Leatherheads.”  (Imagine the marketing!)

 

“January Is Not For Juco.”

 

“Quarternity For Eternity.”

 

“Ha-Ha, Boise State Will Never Be Here.”

 

“Alabama-FSU-Auburn-Ohio State.”

 

“Sugar Rose Cotton Orange.”  Who, incidentally, is the protagonist in a Faulkner novel.

 

“Joe Namath.”

 

“The Gorgeous Four.”

 

“Proof That Your Vote Counts.  Especially If You’re From a Power Conference.”

 

“For God and Saban.”

 

“Nobody Cares About Basketball Until After the Super Bowl, Anyway.”

 

“The Fonzie Four.”

 

“Keyser Soze.”

 

“As Above, So Below.”

 

“The Jim Thorpe Four.”

 

“Alabama Plans a Parade.”

 

“E Pluribus Champion.”

 

“We Don’t Call It Soccer.”

 

“The Freedom Four.”

 

“Four Teams and a Cloud of Losers.”

 

“The Few, The Proud, The SEC.”

 

“Four.”

 

“The Only Four.”

 

“Death Race 2015.”

 

“Union?  We Don’t No Stinking Union!”

 

“ESPN.”

 

“Eight Is Too Much, Three Would Be Silly.”

 

“The Four With More.”

 

“IV, But Not the Ivy League.”

 

“IV.”

 

“The Glory Four.”

 

“The Righteous Remaining.”

 

Any others? Surely you can do better. Send us your thoughts. Let’s give the event we’ve been waiting for a name worthy of the mighty stage. Just, please, don’t use the words “Super” or “Packer.”