July 11, 2014

Superstars Leave, Children Believe

March 12, 2014

Superstars Leave, Children Believe

Only God, and probably Ditka, know if the Chicago Bears will be better in 2014 than they were in 2013 but we all have knowledge that the Monsters of Merriment will be a bit younger and, at least to start, a tad less conspicuous.

The Bears have said goodbye to Devin Hester, the perennial All-Pro kick returner, future Hall of Famer and the closest thing to Bruce Lee the NFL has ever seen.  Hester is the greatest return man ever but he’s 31 which is like Abe Vigoda in special teams years and it long ago became apparent that when it comes to doing anything besides returning kicks Hester is really, really good at returning kicks.  So, the Bears thanked him for his broken records and Hester, in a very classy way, thanked Chicagoans for all their money and support and he is now standing at the goal line of free agency waiting for some new team to form a wedge and bring him in.

A couple of days ago, after being told by the Bears to pack up and hand in his key card, Hester referred to himself as the best all-around player in the NFL.  Hester also considers Keanu Reeves to be Hollywood’s most versatile actor.

It cannot be denied that Hester has been one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL over the last seven years and is one of the most exciting players in league history.  Bears fans of a certain age and alcohol dependency will likely rank Walter Payton as the greatest Bear of them all but Hester is neck-and-neck with Gale Sayers as the most entertaining guy to ever wear the orange, blue and blood.

When boys grow up they want to be Devin Hester.  There is nothing more electrifying than watching a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown.  Seeing the blocking form in front of a returner, watching him dart back and forth before finding a crack of daylight and accelerating toward green is a thrill matched only by donuts and Schlitz with the woman you love.

You will be missed, Devin.

Hester is leaving Chicago and he might be hitching a ride with Julius Peppers.  The Bears are not bringing back the Pro Bowl defensive end, a move that will save them $9.8 million against this year’s salary cap and at least that much money in Q-tips.

Just as important as Peppers’ salary is his age, 34, which is the age most pass rush specialists consider switching to a different position called “guy who doesn’t play in the NFL anymore.”

Some other germane numbers in the Peppers discussion are 7.5, the relatively low number of sacks he registered last season, and 30, which was what the Bears ranked on defense in 2013.  Peppers is a good guy, a legendary player, and probably still has gas in the tank but he’s expensive, he’s elderly and the Bears’ defense was as solid as the U.S. speedskating team in Sochi so things probably can’t get worse without him.

Everyone in Chicago, in between cursing the latest snowstorm and sucking down a French fry, believes Hester, Peppers and other ex-Bears or soon to be ex-Bears will end up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a reunion with former Bears coach Lovie Smith.  If so they’ll be following the lead of a defecting Bear whose departure could end up being the one that truly stings: Josh McCown.

McCown had the best job in the world last year.  He was a backup quarterback who played great and when you do that everyone loves you, except for the starting quarterback.  McCown was terrific in place of Jay Cutler in 2013 throwing 13 touchdowns against just one interception and throwing for 1,829 yards while seeing action in eight games.

But almost immediately after the Bears’ season ended the team announced a long term deal with Cutler, committing to a younger guy with a better arm and, from almost all perspectives, a brighter future.  Still, McCown said he wanted to come back but at age 34, he’ll be 35 in July, he knows that this is likely his last chance to cash in so he took more money, two years $10 million, from Tampa and also received a promise that he is now the starter.

More money, a better job, a warmer city.  Well done, Josh.

If Cutler is healthy and the Bears’ offense plays as well as it did in 2013 and there’s every reason to believe it could actually be better with one more year of studying Marc Trestman’s playbook, no one in Cook County will even remember Josh McCown.  But Cutler has only played all 16 games one time in his five seasons in Chicago (OK, OK, he’s played 15 games twice) but he played just 11 games last season and 10 in 2011.  There were those who believed, and still profess, that the Bears should have let Cutler go and saved on his new $18 million a year salary.  They could have given McCown about $5 million a year, what he’s getting in Tampa, and the Bears would have had that much more money to rebuild the defense.

It makes sense.  We’ll find out if the Bears made the right move or not this coming season.  Or it could all become apparent on one afternoon when the Bucs visit Chicago.

The Bears are not just saying goodbye (they are also not bringing back punter Adam Podlesh, running back Michael Bush and a few others) but are also bringing in some new guys, now that they have the locker space.  They have signed defensive end Lamarr Houston from the Raiders, safety Ryan Mundy who was with the Giants, linebacker-special teamer Jordan Senn of the Panthers and safety M.D. Jennings, formerly of the Packers.

Take two puffs of your cigarette if you’ve heard of any of these guys.

Just kidding. These gentlemen are not All-Pros but are all solid players who are getting a lot of good press and there’s no doubt the Bears need help in all the areas they specialize in.  The Bears seem determined not to break the bank in free agency but to be sensible by bringing in solid players while looking to build primarily through the draft, which is how they should be doing it.

But wouldn’t Darrelle Revis have been nice?

Mr. Revis was let go by the Buccaneers because he’s making more money than Sandra Bullock and he was not available for long, quickly signing with the New England Patriots who needed him after losing their top cornerback, Aqib Talib (who also used to play for Tampa), to the Broncos who have also added former Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware. (Though Denver has lost receiver Eric Decker to the Jets.)

This is why the Broncos and Patriots are always good: they have great quarterbacks and they do not mess around.  When they want a guy they either go get him or say mean things about him.  –TK

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

March 13, 2014

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

The University of Alabama wins all the time now.   On any given fall Saturday predicting the Crimson Tide will win a football game is about the safest bet in all of sports.  This past season, Alabama actually lost twice and did not play for the national championship but it took one of the craziest plays in college football history, in a loss to Auburn, to stop them and Florida State’s eventual national title almost doesn’t feel whole because the Seminoles didn’t have to fight through Nick Saban’s bunch to get it.

That’s not fair but for many of that’s just how it feels.

But there was a blip in time not so very long ago when Alabama was not a juggernaut.  A decade ago Alabama had fallen far from its Bear Bryant-Gene Stallings’ perch and had not yet brought in the southern St. Nick and was actually just another college football team that won some, lost some, and did not attract much attention outside of Dixie.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a reminder of those days and a study of the obsession that many sports fans have, the good and the bad and the bad of it.  The book is written by ‘Bama fan Warren St. John who spent the 1999 season diving deeper into his lifelong love than ever before.

During the ‘99 season Alabama actually had, by most metrics, a quality season but as we quickly learn in Rammer Jammer, if we were not aware already, winning for Alabama fans is not winning unless they win it all.  Everything.  In convincing fashion, loudly and unapologetically.

St. John already knew this from the time he got his photo taken with Bear Bryant as a kid in 1982 until he was a grown man living in New York in the 1990s, still living and dying with every ‘Bama game even while 1,100 miles away.  But even he did not realize how engrossed in, how defined by, some people allow themselves to be by the outcome of a football game until he spent the better part of four months driving from game to game throughout the Southeast, tailgating with ‘Bama diehards, jousting with fans other schools and generally marveling at the relentless spectacle of college football Saturdays.

In short, think of spending a very hot and sunny day next to a very loud person.  If you have enough sunscreen and fluids and that person is interesting, that day is just great.  If you’re getting sunburned and that loudmouth has no idea what they’re speaking of, it’s a sentence in misery.  When Alabama wins, St. John’s days are the former.  When they lose, or don’t win in the most convincing fashion, they’re the latter not solely because of his feelings for Alabama – the very point of his book is to study his own behavior and that of others – but because so many Crimson Tide fans are inconsolable and, worse, unbearable if you even so much as suggest that losing a football game is not so bad. There really, really are worse things in the world.  No, traitor, there aren’t.  This is what St. John encounters time and time again.

How do you explain obsession?  Why is it that the result of young men playing a game defines so much else?  Why do we let this happen?  Why do we this to ourselves?

St. John asks these questions over and over again and his smartly researched effort, not just examined by his own empirical efforts but by citing numerous studies on sports fans throughout the world, spends 275 lively and entertaining pages searching for the answer just as Alabama spends the 1999 season battling for victories while head coach Mike DuBose struggles to keep his job.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer causes us to cringe at times when considering the behavior of fans, especially how they so quickly turn on those they once supported.  And at some junctures, Rammer Jammer makes us very ashamed of ourselves when we realize it isn’t just Alabama fans who are, at times, boorish, unfair, prejudiced and makers of mountains out of molehills, but all of us who have ever spent three hours screaming at the TV or in the bleachers because God and the guys wearing the uniforms we like better are not giving us the results we desire.

Unsurprisingly, the opinion here is that books about football are best enjoyed by those who love football.  But just as obvious is the conviction that nearly every one appreciates good writing.   Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is a smart, passionate and a very honest book that’s very well written and refreshingly sincere.  If you love sports and have a particular unwavering affection for a team then Rammer Jammer is a long, candid, humorous look into the mirror.  Sometimes it’s a funhouse mirror, but it’s still your own reflection.

If you don’t like sports, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer serves as a glimpse into the inner workings of those goofy people you know who shout at the TV, wear faded t-shirts and never stop hoping that the next Saturday just might be the best one yet.  And it may make you decide to spend more time sitting next to them. — TK

Packers 33, Bears 28 – Agony and Epitaph

January 3, 2014

Packers 33, Bears 28 – Agony and Epitaph

Any good will Chicagoans enjoyed on Christmas was quickly destroyed when the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers, 33-28, in the season-ender at Soldier Field, a defeat which kept the Bears out of the playoffs, put the Packers in, and made Aaron Rodgers laugh harder than Kim Jong Un watching The Killing.

We know how it happened and really don’t want to talk about it but maybe doing so will be somehow therapeutic, like hitting oneself in the face with a chunk of yellow ice.

The Bears led, 28-27, with 46 seconds to play.  The Packers had the ball on Chicago’s 48-yard line.  It was 4th-and-8.  The Packers had already converted twice on fourth down on that drive.  Rodgers goes back to pass, the Bears blitz, the season and the good grace of God are on the line and then how the hell did Randall Cobb get so wide open?

Packers 33, Bears 28.

Once again the Bears’ defense found a way to not find a way and the result was the saddest Sunday night in Chicago history.

The Bears had an 8-6 record and were in the NFC North driver’s seat.  All they had to do was win of their final two games and they were in.  Instead, they drove Mom’s Pinto straight through the doors at 7-11 and asked for a rancid Slurpee.

The defeat to the Packers came 50 years to the day after the Bears won the 1963 NFL title by defeating the New York Giants at Wrigley Field and two days before the 25th anniversary of the “Fog Bowl” playoff win over the Eagles at Soldier Field.

This means there were Bear ghosts all over the place but, painfully, none of them could play safety.

A season that had such promise ended with a kick in the crotch, a pinch on the nose and a promise to aim better in the bathroom the next time.

One year after going 10-6 with a good defense and a suspect offense the Bears, in their first year under head coach Marc Trestman, slid to 8-8 with a good offense and a defense with slower reactions than a drunken gang of sloths.

The Bears finished with 445 points this year, second most in the NFL.  They surrendered 478 points, tied for second worst in the league.  They are schizophrenic, bipolar and odd.

So, what do the Bears do?  The very thing they should have done.  They re-signed quarterback Jay Cutler.

Some Bears fans love Jay Cutler, some hate him, and all would like to borrow some money from him.  The Bears gave Cutler a new seven-year deal worth at least $50 million and are counting on him to continue to learn Trestman’s offense and become the Pro Bowl championship quarterback we have been waiting for for nearly 30 years.

Cutler is not as good as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Amy Adams but he’s good enough.  The Bears have a dynamic offense and, in Cutler and Josh McCown, two good quarterbacks.  The Bears did the right thing.  They did not waste time.  They are going head-on into their offseason with no uncertainty on offense and a determination and focus on using the draft and free agency to make the defense, seriously now, mediocre.

If Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and the offensive line perform as well in 2014 as they did in 2013 and, seeing as it will be their second season in this offense there’s every reason to think they might get even better, then all Chicago’s defense will need to do is be OK.

Cutler is coming back, so are guard Matt Slauson and cornerback Tim Jennings but many others will likely go, especially on defense and especially because Lovie Smith now coaches the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and will likely bring in some of his old pals.

Bears defenders Chris Conte, Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are likely gone, but Brian Urlacher is coming back.  Just kidding.

The Bears will look a lot different the next time they take the field.  They are heading into a brave new world of offensive football but cannot, like they did this year, completely leave their defensive roots behind.  They must think back to that ’63 team that won by hitting hard.  They must remember that ’88 team that won in a fog.   The Chicago Bears must push on through the cloud of the future and the hiss of the past.

They must win 12 regular season games.

They must win the Super Bowl.

They have two more seasons of reasonably expecting this offense to be dominant.  Two more seasons to fix the defense.

After that, the fog gets thicker.  The past grows less forgiving.  The future becomes stuck in fear.

 

 

Eagles 54, Bears 11: The Christmas Crapathon

December 22, 2013

The Chicago Bears were given an early Christmas gift by the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers on Sunday when both teams lost, opening the way for the Bears to clinch the NFC North.

All the Bears had to do was beat the Philadelphia Eagles.

Final score: Eagles 54, Bears 11.

Repeat: Eagles 54, Bears 11.

What went wrong on this unseasonably warm night in Philadelphia?

Everything.

Breaking down this defeat is like contemplating your navel lint in a dark room while getting hit over the head with a pillowcase full of nickels by Santa’s elves.

No, it’s more difficult than that.

This was a farce, a fart and not at all funny.

This was…aw hell fellas, how did this happen?

The Bears were dominated from start to finish.  This was like watching a clown lick a kitten.  This was the worst primetime offering on NBC since “The Jay Leno Show.”

Everyone can have a bad day.  Tell that to the captain of the Hindenburg.

Oh, let’s stop.  Here’s what happened: the Bears have the worst run defense in the NFL and the Eagles have the best running game in the league.  The result was Philadelphia disemboweled the Bears for 289 yards on 36 carries.  The Eagles did what you’re supposed to do against the Bears, which is run, run, run, take a sip of eggnog and run again.

Giving up 8.2 yards per carry isn’t the only reason the Bears lost – Jay Cutler wasn’t good, Matt Forte was so-so and they were outcoached – but the defense was the biggest reason.

But, disturbingly, the only thing more absent than good tackling was passion.  From the outset, the Eagles were determined to punch the Bears in the mouth and the Bears appeared dead set on lifting their jaws.

This was the second worst defeat in Bears history but might be the single most confounding.

It’s just one game, though.  All is not lost, though it certainly feels like it.

The Bears, because they have played well at stretches this season and because the NFC North is weak, can still win the division.  They can still make the playoffs.  It’s all still there for them like the last spoonful of Christmas pudding screaming, “Eat me, Tootsie-Ray!”

Sorry, that was inappropriate.

But it is all still there.  All the Bears have to do is beat the Green Bay Packers in Chicago on Sunday.  That’s it.  Beat an ordinary Packers team they’ve already beaten once.  Beat your oldest and most hated rival.  Line up and hit, feel the cold and hear the roar and a disastrous night in Philadelphia will suddenly be forgotten.

Just do it.

What’s that?  Aaron Rodgers might play?

Good.  Bring ‘em all on.  Just dig deep.

And watch the tape.  Don’t burn it.  Watch it over and over and over and over again.  Learn from your mistakes and punch those Packers in the jingle bells.

Please.

Bears 38, Browns: 31: Suddenly the Cool Winds Blow Victory

December 16, 2013

The Chicago Bears went to Cleveland on Sunday, which is something no self-respecting person should do without getting paid for it, and came away with something no self-respecting football team should deny themselves: a victory over the Browns.

With the 38-31 triumph in the cold, the Bears proved they’re the best team in the AFC North having now gone 4-0 against the Browns, Ravens, Steelers and Bengals.  The problem is the Bears play in the NFC North but the Monsters of the Maybe are also now the top team in their own division thanks to the Ravens and the Lions.

Baltimore’s 18-16 victory over the Silver-Blue Kittens in Detroit on Monday night dropped Detroit to 7-7 and so the 8-6 Bears are now alone in first place with the 7-6-1 Green Bay Packers sandwiched between Chicago and Detroit like a pickpocket on a crowded subway car.

So this is what it is: if the Bears win their final two games of the season they’re division champs and are in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

And there will be much rejoicing.

Maybe the Bears don’t deserve to be in such a fortuitous position but then again I have hairs on parts of my body that are so obstinate they might actually be self-aware and I don’t deserve that so piss on who did that and who deserves what and just appreciate the fact that in northern Illinois it suddenly looks like there’s plenty of Figgy pudding for believers and heathens all.

The Bears’ triumph over the Browns featured the return of Jay Cutler at quarterback after missing four straight games and five of the last six with various injuries and visions of Josh McCown dancing in his head.  Cutler was not great on Sunday against the Browns but he was good enough, overcoming two first half interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) which weren’t entirely his fault but mostly were, to finish 22-of-31 for 265 yards and three touchdowns.

Two of those TD strikes came in the fourth quarter when the Bears outscored a scrappy Cleveland squad, 21-7, to erase a seven-point deficit and make Barkevious Mingo feel as dejected as his name is silly.  It’s far too early to say Bears coach Marc Trestman made the right move by putting Cutler back under center in place of McCown who wasn’t just capable but great during his stint as starter, but at least we can say Trestman’s move hasn’t backfired yet.

But didn’t we see McCown warming up at one point on Sunday?  Perhaps he was just trying to stay warm on a day when the wind off Lake Erie was colder than Martha Stewart’s laugh.

The Bears beat the Browns despite another kinda crappy but at least not abysmal effort by the defense which broke a streak of allowing a 100-yard rusher for six straight games.  In fact, the Bears actually for a bit, looked a little bit like those Bears D’s of the good old Lovie Smith days, or even earlier this season, as cornerback Zack Bowman notched a 43-yard interception for a score off of Jason Campbell in the third.  Bowman is a decent player but is only playing because All-Pro Charles Tillman is injured and word came down Monday that Tillman will not return this season even if the Bears go deep into the playoffs.

And probably the only way the Bears can go deep in the playoffs is if they have Tillman and injured linebacker Lance Briggs who might return for Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia.  As the Bears are presently composed it’s difficult to imagine them knocking out more than one win against some combination of the 49ers, Panthers, Seahawks, Saints and Eagles in the postseason.  With Briggs and Tillman it’s remotely conceivable, without them, call Wallace Shawn.

But let’s dwell on the positive.  The Bears got a third straight 100-yard game from running back Matt Forte and continue to get solid protection from their offensive line and outstanding contributions from wideouts Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery (who made a 45-yard TD catch that only could have been caught by two people: Alshon and Jeffery) and Earl Bennett who each caught a TD pass and tight end Martellus Bennett.  Martellus did cough up a fumble in the third quarter that the Browns returned for a TD but that’s one of the few mistakes he’s made all season.  Plus, he’s funny.

Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free.”  Sartre, it’s little known, said this to a skinny lady in a bakery and never meant for anyone else to know about it but his words apply perfectly to our Bears.  They win, they’re in.  They win, they’re in.  That’s it.  No excuses, no dawdling, no Lion-watching.  Beat the Eagles, beat the Packers and you’ll host a playoff game.

And maybe a miracle can happen.

Here’s what we hope for this coming weekend: the Bears beat the Eagles, the Packers top the Steelers and the Lions lose to the Giants.  If so, the NFC North will go to the winner of the Bears-Packers game in Chicago on the final Sunday of the season.  It would be a lot easier if the Bears had 11 or 12 wins by now and had things sewn up but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.  This is what we want it to be, Bears V. Packers in the cold, snow and fury.  And we really, really hope Aaron Rodgers is back.  Seriously.  Be careful what we wish for, right?  We’re also hoping for a free back wax coupon for Christmas.  We want Rodgers.  We want the best.  We want to beat his ass.

But first, the Eagles.  They’re 8-6.  They’re good.  But they just lost to the Vikings, just like the Bears did a couple of weeks ago.

All eyes on Philadelphia on Sunday night.  Thank you, NFL and NBC for flexing your broadcast and marketing muscles and making this a primetime event.  Let all the world see the Chicago Bears go for their third straight win in the snow.  Let the world see what these two old rivals might or might not be made of.  Let a kid named Alshon run far and fast, arms spread wide, searching for a football in the Christmas sky.  — TK

Bears 45, Cowboys 28: A Night of Flakes, Stars and Legends

December 10, 2013

The Chicago Bears defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 45-28, at Soldier Field on Monday night proving that the only thing more fun than playing in snow is winning in snow.

The Bears dominated this battle between two contending teams with good offenses and bad defenses with the Bears scoring on their first eight possessions and it would have been nine if the clock hadn’t finally decided to hit zero and run indoors for a cup of cocoa and a snuggle with the closest fat person it could find.

The Bears won because their offense was efficient, effective and relentless, racking up 490 yards, 33 first downs, five touchdowns and relegating punter Adam Podlesh strictly to the role of holder on extra points and field goals.  Adam’s a good guy.

The reasons the Bears’ offense was more breathtaking than Scarlett Johansson in an elf costume are numerous.  One, Chicago, believe it or smoke it, has the best tandem of wide receivers in the NFL.  Read that sentence again and then look out the window to make sure pigs aren’t eating the sun.

Alshon Jeffery caught five passes for 84 yards including another amazing touchdown catch, something he does more routinely than Gene Wilder bakes cupcakes.  Jeffery is emerging not only as the Bears’ best receiver but one of the best playmakers in football.  He has big hands, big dreams, speed, and a certain adhesiveness you just can’t teach, coach or buy legally outside Utah.

On the other side there’s the old pro, Brandon Marshall, who hauled in six Josh McCown passes for 100 yards and threw a block on Sean Lee that left the Cowboys linebacker wishing he had stayed in dental school.

McCown also continues to excel in place of the injured Jay Cutler and anyone who thinks there isn’t a quarterback controversy in Chicago is also in the camp that believes Jerry Jones still has his original nose.

Cutler is due to return this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns but everyone in Chicago, Halas Hall and certain trailer parks in Texas know that the Bears would probably fare better by sticking with McCown who gutted Dallas for 348 yards, four TDs, no interceptions (though in fairness to Dallas, the Cowboys should have had two picks, one was dropped, another nullified by a penalty.  Even when the Cowboys’ D does good it does bad.) and a passer rating of 141.9.  That QB rating by McCown for Week 14 was second only to Ace Sanders, a guy who either plays receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars and threw one pass for one TD against Houston or is the star of a new action movie franchise.  Let’s hope he’s both.

Here’s the scoop, and we reserve the right to change our mind before the season ends and maybe even before this paragraph ends, the Bears are contending for a playoff spot and their quarterback is playing great and the guy who is supposed to be the starter was having a good season but he’s always been injury prone and so, dang it, stick with the hot guy and see where he takes you and if he takes you far give him the big bucks and let Cutler go.

And if he falls on his face you’re only stuck with a 34-year-old cheap QB and you’ve let a major talent get away and OK maybe it’s time to change our mind.  Put Cutler back in.

It’s not easy.  Perhaps you need to do both things.  Give Cutler the start but if he stinks it up and the game, and thus the season, is slipping away, bring in McCown because if you do it the other way Jay is not going to want to come back no matter what.

But where else would he want to go?  The Bears, and I still can’t believe these words are being typed, have just about the most promising offensive future in the league.  Great receivers, a great line, a versatile running back, a monster tight end and a coach who knows offense, understands QBs and is, perhaps, learning to never let up on the gas.

Of course it’s easier to keep the pedal to the medal when you have nothing in front of you but road kill with starry helmets.

Enough about cloudy futures, though.  Monday night was magical in Chicago. There was snow on the ground and the temperature was hovering around zero.  You could not only see your breath you could set your beer on it.  It was Bears-Cowboys outdoors in the elements on national TV.  And, at halftime, the most Beary Bear of them all was honored as Chicago finally retired Mike Ditka’s #89 jersey.  Ditka was emotional, he was sincere and he was appreciative. And it was all so perfect.

Unless you’re Tony Romo.

The Bears are now 7-6 and tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North.  The Lions swept the Bears and thus own the tiebreaker but we have about as much trust in the Lions as Kim Jong-un has in unmarked aircraft.

We need to think cold thoughts, run tight routes and keep the bus rolling.  Let’s fight to Christmas.  Let’s go down swinging in the cold.  And laughing in the night.

A Husky Heisman

 

lynch-jordan-11-23

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch is the best player in college football and deserves to win the Heisman Trophy.

Lynch ran through bitter cold and persistent snow for 321 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-14 victory over Western Michigan in DeKalb on Tuesday night, breaking his own NCAA record for single game rushing yards for a QB.

Lynch now has 1,755 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns for the season and, with Tuesday’s victory, the Huskies completed a 12-0 regular season and will face either Bowling Green or Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference championship game on December 6.

Number 6 also threw one TD pass against the Broncos, giving him 22 for the year against just five interceptions and he has passed for more than 2,200 yards.  Lynch is now just the fifth FBS quarterback with at least 4,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards passing for his college career.

NIU never lost a home game with Lynch at quarterback, has never lost to a MAC opponent and he is 24-2 overall as a starter.

Jordan Lynch is tough as a bull, nimble as a deer and humble as a Buddhist.  His teammates love him and he makes everyone better.

No team in the nation relies on one player more than Northern Illinois leans on Jordan Lynch; therefore he’s the most valuable player in college football.  Or does that just reflect the thinking that NIU is in a lower-tier conference and if Lynch played in the SEC he would be a second-string fullback?

Lynch is six-feet tall, 216 pounds and routinely outruns defensive backs.  They are MAC defensive backs but he’s more than the MAC Daddy.  There are 71 MAC players on NFL rosters this year including last spring’s top overall pick, Eric Fisher.  The MAC is a good conference and Lynch is a transcendent player.

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron has a better team than Lynch, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel has more press, (good and bad) so does Florida State signal caller Jameis Winston.  They are great players, as are many others.  But Lynch has outplayed all of them.

The Heisman Trust says the Heisman Memorial Trophy “annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.  Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work.”

In other words: Jordan Lynch.

 

Rams 42, Bears 21: Dome and Doubtful

The Chicago Bears played their worst game of the season on Sunday, losing 42-21 to the Rams in St. Louis but still held ground in the playoff race because the NFC North is about as solid as Derrick Rose’s knees.

The Bears should have won this game if you consider several things: One, they were playing the Rams.  Two, they were playing the Rams.  And three, Bears quarterback Josh McCown completed 36 of 47 passes for 352 yards, two touchdowns and one interception whereas Rams signal-caller Kellen Clemens completed just 10 passes for 167 yards, one score and no picks.

McCown’s rating was 102.4, Clemens tallied 86.7.

The NFL is supposed to be a pass-happy, quarterback league and when your guy nearly doubles the other guy you should win.  However, someone forgot to tell the Bears that you can still do something called run the ball and the Rams obliterated their northern visitors in this regard, outrushing Chicago, 258-80.

The Rams rush parade began on the their third play from scrimmage when receiver Tavon Austin sprinted untouched for a 65-yard score leaving Bears defenders grasping and gasping in his wake.  It was pretty much downhill from there.

Actually, the Bears didn’t play too badly for stretches of this thing.  McCown, whose solid play is now expected and not surprising, kept Chicago close and the Bears were only down by six with seven minutes to play after Michael Bush ran for a one-yard score.  But it was a run by Mr. Bush a few minutes previous which may have sealed the Bears’ fate.

The Bears trailed 24-14 midway through the third quarter when, after a very long, impressive drive to open the second half, they had first-and-goal from the St. Louis four.  What followed was two incomplete passes, a McCown scramble to the one and then a Bush run.  Or rather, a Bush pancake.  Michael got hogtied and assaulted by Rams linebacker Jo-Lunn Dunbar for a four-yard loss.  The Rams took over on downs and marched for a field goal and a 27-14 lead.

Can’t score from the four?  Can’t get it in from the one?  Didn’t want a good ‘ol field goal?  The shame in this for the Bears is it keeps happening.  Two weeks ago the Bears lost to the Lions, 21-19, because they couldn’t convert a two-point conversion when Bush got destroyed in the backfield.  The Lions seemed to know exactly what was coming and the Rams must have watched enough tape because Dunbar did, too.  Bears coach Marc Trestman has made his bones over the years by authoring solid passing attacks and making smart decisions.  He hasn’t suddenly gotten dumb but he is suddenly being caught making the wrong call far too often.  And when you keep making the wrong call it looks like you’re guessing.  And guessing badly.

It seemed over at this point but it wasn’t.  Devin Hester came to the rescue when the future Hall-of-Famer returned a punt 62 yards for a score to make it 27-21.  But wait, there’s a flag.  Holding on Bears blocker Craig Steltz.  The Bears would then end up scoring on that drive on Bush’s touchdown but it was seven minutes later.   And Bush’s TD was a minute after a McCown TD pass was called back because of a holding penalty.

The Bears racked up 84 yards in penalties on Sunday to just 39 for the Rams.  This was one week after the Bears out-flagged Baltimore 111-46 (but won.)  The Bears suddenly look like a sloppy team.  And, considering the Bears’ onslaught of injuries, when you put sloppy on top of unlucky you either get a really funky sandwich or a suddenly slipping football team.

Those injuries are a big part of the reason the Bears cannot stop the run.  It’s a reason, but not an excuse.  And if it is an excuse, well then just shut up because this is the NFL which stands for No excuses you whining little Fink, you just Lost again.

A St. Louis gentleman by the name of Benny Cunningham ran 13 times for 109 yards and a score against the Bears.  He then signed up for two weeks of standup in the Catskills.

Cunningham is a rookie out of Tennessee State who had never run for more than 72 yards in an NFL game.  His jersey number is 36.  And he torched the good kids for 109 yards?

Zac Stacy dinged the Bears for 87 yards and a TD on just 12 carries.  At least he wears #30 which looks a little more like a running back number and less like a third string safety.   Stacy is also a rookie.  From Vanderbilt.  Ouch and ouch.

Next week the Bears go to Minnesota to play the Vikings and a certain chap named Adrian Peterson.  Mr. P. ran for 146 yards against the Packers in a 26-26 tie on Sunday, (Sidebar: How do you feel about ties?  Who wants to sit in the cold for four hours in Green Bay and then go home not a winner nor a loser but just a victim of frostbite?  This, of course, almost happened in the Broncos-Patriots game as well but, thanks to Wes Welker, someone finally lost.  Sorry, Wes.  You’re a good player.  Still can’t decide, though, whether New England’s victory was epic or Denver’s collapse was pathetic. But should the NFL change to college rules for overtime?  Heck no, Old Man NFL doesn’t like things like that.  Why not?  It would be fun as hell to see teams trade scores.  The league wants to emphasize offense anyway so why not?)

…Anyway, where were we?  Oh yes, Adrian Peterson, who is second in the league in rushing, ran for 100 yards against the Bears in September and had two 100-plus yard efforts against Chicago last year when the Bears’ defense was actually good.  So what can happen this coming Sunday?  There is serious discussion among Bears fans (and probably Vikes fans, too) that Peterson could do something historic or, from the Bears’ perspective, tragic, and run for 300 yards.  This would break his own NFL record by four yards and, obviously, make him the first 300-yarder in league history.  Will it happen?  The Bears are allowing 145 rushing yards per game, worst in the NFL.  It can happen.

Despite Sunday’s kick in the grizzlies, which dropped the Bears to 6-5, they are not out of the playoff race.  In fact, they’re right in the thick of it because no one in the NFC North won on Sunday.  As mentioned, the Vikings and Packers settled for a draw and the Detroit Lions lost to the suddenly seaworthy Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-21.  The Lions might be better than the Bears, they beat them twice, but they’re not good.

But in the NFC North good might not be needed.  Last year the Bears won 10 games but were left home for the playoffs.  This year, nine wins might get you fitted for the NFC North crown.  Maybe eight.

It’s a hill, not a mountain. But it’s full of rocks, broken glass, cigarette butts and bleeding dreams.  Be careful where you step.  But start running.  Tackle, too.

****Extra Football Writing At No Charge****

Let’s give some credit to Jeff Fisher’s Rams. They’re without their top QB, Sam Bradford, but have won two straight (including a 38-8 thumping of the Colts two weeks ago) and are now 5-6 and possess an outside chance at the postseason. Too bad they play in such a tough division.

Speaking of the Colts, what has become of them?  They were swinging big balls all season long but have now lost two of three, the blowout against the Rams and then this weekend getting eaten alive, 41-11, in Arizona by the Cardinals.  Let’s talk about those Cardinals.  How many NFL fans outside of Arizona, maybe even inside Arizona, realize the Redbirds are 7-4?  Problem is, like the Rams, the Cardinals are in the NFC West behind the Seahawks and 49ers.  Arizona plays those two teams in the last two weeks of the season and playoff possibilities could be at stake for all involved.

This past weekend’s NFL games were played in the aftermath of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Back in ’63, Commissioner Pete Rozelle made the decision to play a full slate of games two days after the President’s death and was roundly criticized then and in the years after and Rozelle later said he made a mistake.  Rozelle had been told that JFK would have wanted the games played.  The young President loved football.  He was due to flip the coin for the Army-Navy game that weekend.  That game was delayed.

Eventually everything went back to normal.  But it never went back to the way it was.   — TK

 

Bears 23, Ravens 20 – Strange Winds Were Blowin’

The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens took a side trip through the Land of Oz on Sunday and their return ended in a wet and weird 23-20 overtime victory for the Bears that kept them in the hunt for the playoffs and left the Ravens in a very bad spot.

But none of that really matters.

It was just a football game but it could have been catastrophic and was, indeed, deadly for some people just several hundred miles away from Chicago’s Soldier Field.

The Ravens led 10-0 in the first quarter when severe winds, rain and dark clouds that looked like they were drawn in hell descended upon Chicago’s lakefront having already, in the form of tornadoes, cut a deadly path through southern and central Illinois, ripping houses to shreds, tossing cars like blades of grass and killing at least eight people.

No one at Soldier Field knew at that moment that the weather had killed people but everyone was well aware of the potential danger and the game was, rightly, delayed.  The officials sent the players into the locker rooms and Soldier Field staff told the 62,367 fans to move inside.  The delay lasted one hour and 53 minutes.

Then, it was time for football again.

The Soldier Field grass, which is widely considered the worst playing surface in the NFL, had been transformed into a muddy bog of potholes and the game became a test of which team could better handle the delay and navigate the striped minefield.

It proved to be the Bears.  It was close, but we’ll take it.

Josh McCown was at quarterback again for the Bears in place of the injured Jay Cutler and Mr. McCown continued to impress, playing about as well as a QB could amid challenging conditions and against a depleted but proud Ravens defense, completing 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and, amazingly again, no turnovers.

In #12’s four games of action he has completed 60.4% of his passes for five scores, no turnovers, and a quarterback rating of exactly 100.0% which is higher than Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Alex Smith and, among others, Tony Romo.  If McCown keeps playing – Cutler is expected to be out at least one more game – he will certainly, at some point, throw an interception and make bad decisions.  But for now, he’s a joy to watch.  He’s precise and cautious, yet completely unafraid.  The Bears want Cutler back, to be sure.  But if Josh has a few more good games they might not be so vocal about it.

McCown’s best play of the game came in overtime when he connected with tight end Martellus Bennett for 43 yards setting up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 38-yard field goal about six minutes into the extra quarter.  Sixty-two thousand Bears fans, most of whom had gutted out the rain and wind, celebrated wildly and the Bears had their third victory of the year against the AFC North.

But the heroics of McCown, Bennett and Gould would not have been possible if the Bears’ defense, which has been criticized more than Rob Ford, had not come up big.

Chicago’s first touchdown came when defensive end David Bass intercepted Joe Flacco for a 24-yard interception return in the second quarter.  It was the fifth defensive touchdown for the Bears this year.  Since 2005, the Bears are 25-2 when the defense scores and have won 11 in a row when getting a defensive TD.

Those TDs are nice but you also have to do it the old fashioned way sometimes and just stop people, and the Bears, who are still missing Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Shea McLellin and just about every other defender who’s making big money, did that, too.

Baltimore won the coin toss to start overtime and the Bears were able to hold Joe Flacco and Ray Rice’s crew to one first down before forcing a punt.  Prior to that the Bears defense did allow Baltimore to drive down 96 yards at the end of the fourth quarter for the tying field goal. That cannot be denied.  But the Bears at least were finally able to come up with some clutch tackles and kept Baltimore out of the end zone.  Maybe they shouldn’t have been in that position but they were, and they got it done.

The Bears’ defense still has much to answer for.  Ray Rice, who is having a terrible season, got healthy on Sunday running for 131 yards and a score against the Bears who have running backs all over America licking their chops. The Bears are allowing 133.9 yards rushing per game, second worst in the NFL, and have given up 11 rushing scores, which is tied for fifth worst in the league.  Oh Henry Melton, where art thou?

The Bears are now muddied, bloodied, battered and 6-4.  The Detroit Lions lost on Sunday to drop to 6-4 and the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers also fell and are 5-5 so Chicago’s chances of winning the NFC North, which it will probably have to do to qualify for the playoffs, remain ripe.

The campaign continues with a trip to St. Louis to face the 4-6 Rams.  Some of the Illinois tornadoes struck near St. Louis so that city is feeling the pain of what happened on Sunday just as much as Chicago is.  Hopefully this coming Sunday’s game will help fans in both cities gain some solace and, at least for a few hours, forget a terrible afternoon when thousands had to take shelter.

 

Lions 21, Bears 19: It’s Better To Be a Wounded Bear Than an Annoying Lion

Just when the Chicago Bears thought they had it all figured out they get kicked in the groin, bitten on the ankle, pinched on the triceps and spat upon by a gang of worms.

The Bears followed up their electrifying Monday night victory over the Packers in Green Bay by returning to Chicago and falling to the Detroit Lions, 21-19, thus losing a chance to control the NFC North and giving Nick Fairley an ego boost he normally only receives in a buffet line.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was back in the saddle after missing the Green Bay victory with a sore groin and came out smokin’ – throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall on the Bears’ first drive for a 7-0 lead.

After that, it got a little grisly.

Cutler seemed out of sync and the Bears offense was stuck on “stun” and managed just two field goals for most the rest of the game.  Finally, with two minutes to play and trailing 21-13, Cutler, hobbled by a gimpy ankle, gave way to Chicago’s newest folk hero, Josh McCown.

McCown, who played like the tallest kid on the block against the Packers and Redskins, engineered a precise two-minute drill, hitting Brandon Marshall for an 11-yard score with 40 seconds to play.

Then, with math being the obstructionist it often is, Chicago needed a two-point conversion to tie and that’s when Fairley, the Lions defensive tackle and the toughest guy in Michigan not named Suh or Seger, mugged Bears running back Matt Forte, threw him to the ground, said a few things about his hair and possibly his heritage, then performed a disturbing kick-type dance that would have been funny if the chunky Soldier Field turf wasn’t soaking with Bear blood.

The Bears should have thrown the ball on the two-point try, which they actually did do the first time, and failed, but a penalty gave them a second shot.  They should have tried again.  That’s easy to say now and many would say it was easy to see on Sunday.

The Bears also should have pulled Cutler earlier or maybe they never should have played him at all.  Cutler is a tough dude, a gamer, a warrior, a fighter and a bit bedeviled.  He actually wasn’t that bad for most of the afternoon but anyone could see he was hurting and, since the Bears lost, and just barely, (just “bearly?” just “Fairley?”) we cannot help but jump on the bandwagon that waves the banner that McCown should have started and Jay should have been given another week off.

There was more to the game than that, but not much more.

The Bears defense, which has been more maligned than healthcare.gov, played better than in previous weeks and only gave up the winning score on a pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson with two minutes to play in part because Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was hurt.  Really hurt. More on that in a minute.

But a team that has known nothing bad luck all year can’t afford a game with bad decisions and the Bears made a few of them.  First, the Cutler thing.  Then, within and around that, one week after heroically converting on fourth down against the Packers, the Bears went for it in the second quarter against the Lions on fourth-and-one and didn’t make it when a 44-yard field goal attempt was an easy option.

When you pass on a three-pointer and end up losing by two that’s tough to explain to the judge.  Fat, drunk and two points short is no way to go through life, son.

The Bears should have beaten the Lions because they were at home, have a better coach and a generally more pleasant disposition. Life’s tough when you play outside.

The Bears are now a very pedestrian and troubling 5-4 and can still make the playoffs but those who are betting on that are the same people who are determined to be Facebook friends with Abe Vigoda.

Up next for the Maybe Nots of the Midway is a visit from the Baltimore Ravens who won the Super Bowl last season but are now just 4-5 and refusing to answer Ed Reed’s text messages.  Cutler won’t play against Baltimore.  That’s OK.  He needs to rest and McCown knows how to drive stick shift, parallel park and only uses GPS at night.  But Tillman is also out, and he’s gone for the rest of the season.

The Bears defense has now lost Tillman, Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Nate Collins, D.J. Williams and all their magic beans.  Cutler might be the Bears’ most important player but Tillman is their best player.  He’ll probably be ready for the playoffs but, again, think Abe Vigoda.

Or maybe not.  The Lions, c’mon comrade, are still not that good.  The Packers, at 5-4, are still without Aaron Rodgers.  And Green Bay is the only opponent in the Bears’ final seven games with a winning record.

A lot can change in a week.  Seven weeks can change a lifetime.