November 28, 2014

Bears 21, Buccaneers 13: Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Team With More Touchdowns

November 23, 2014

Bears 21, Buccaneers 13: Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Team With More Touchdowns

The NFL is sort of like a nudist colony in that you always hope to find someone who looks worse than you.

And so for the second straight week the Chicago Bears discovered the football equivalent of that fat naked guy with more hair on his back than his head and, for the second straight Sunday, the Monsters of the Slowly Upward Mobility squeaked out a victory.

This time the unwashed farm animal was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; a team that makes a corpse look spry, as the Bears won 21-13 at Chicago’s soggy Soldier Field to improve to 5-6.

But even though the Bucs are sloths with thigh pads the Bears once again had to fight back. The Bears, because they’re silly little rascals, again started out a bit sloppy and unsure and trailed 10-0 at halftime, just as they did the week before against the Vikings at Soldier Field but, just like they did against the Vikes, Chicago rallied in the second half and even beat Tampa by the exact same 21-13 score that did in the Vikings.

Marc Trestman’s halftime speeches must be getting quite saucy.

To say that the Bears needed this victory is like Aron Ralston saying he’s really glad he didn’t have to cut off his other arm, too, because while the Bucs are bad they’re a different kind of bad. The Bucs came to Chicago coached by Lovie Smith, the man who roamed the Bears’ sideline for nine years and took Chicago to a Super Bowl after the 2006 season, and Tampa is quarterbacked by Josh McCown, who was Jay Cutler’s backup with the Bears last year and often was much better.

If the Bears had lost to those guys Chicagoans would not have been clamoring to get them back, they would have been clamoring for an icicle in the eye.

If you look at (some of) the numbers, McCown looked better than Cutler again on Sunday, compiling 341 yards through the air with two touchdowns while Cutler only put up 130 yards and one score. But McCown, whose greatest trait with the Bears last year was probably that he almost never turned the ball over, was picked off twice by the Bears on Sunday while Cutler was not intercepted at all.

McCown also lost a fumble, so did Cutler, so the old pals have something to talk about.

Chicago’s defense, which has more haters than Nickelback, kept the Bears in the game, bending but not breaking and making some big plays until the offense awoke in the third when Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery for a two-yard score. A few minutes later it was ‘ol reliable, running back Matt Forte, who scampered for a 13-yard TD run and then, after a Ryan Mundy interception of a poorly thrown McCown pass deep in Bucs’ territory, it was #22 again, this time for a one-yard TD, and the Bears suddenly led 21-10.

See, that’s how you do that.

This was one third quarter we were glad not to be stuck in the bathroom.

The Bears dodged the rain and fog and a few threats from Tampa in the fourth, most notably forcing Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson to fumble at Chicago’s seven yard line, killing a great scoring chance, before the clock eventually hit zeros and could it be that these Bears are really still alive?

Sure, they’re beating bad teams but that’s what not-bad teams do.

Our Bears are 5-6 and now head to Detroit for Thanksgiving to break bread with the Lions, a team with a lot of star power but not a lot of consistency. Sound familiar?

After that the Bears host the Saints, then the Cowboys, then are visited by the Lions before finishing 2014 in Minnesota.

The Bears need to win all of those games to finish 10-6 and have postseason hope. So which one of those games is a probable loss? Which of those teams is absolutely better than the Bears?

The answer is: the Cowboys. But that game will be in Chicago, at night, in December.

These Bears cannot do it, can they? They cannot make it three straight victories by winning in Detroit and keep alive the prayer of winning seven straight to rally from the depths of football folly to reach the playoffs.

They just can’t, they can’t and they can’t.

Can they?

It’s worth watching.

Bears 21, Vikings 13: Minnesota is the Best Medicine

November 16, 2014

What do you feed an ailing football team?

A healthy dose of purple.

The Chicago Bears snapped their three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Vikings 21-13 at Soldier Field on a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon in Chicago. The victory is Chicago’s first of the year in front of the home fans and also, at 4-6, moves the Bears past the Vikings for third place in the NFC North, which is a sunnier way of saying the Bears are no longer in last place.

After three straight ugly losses, including two that were nastier than a smoker’s x-rays, the Bears finally struck at least a passing resemblance to the team we hoped they would be by piling up a lot of offense along with just enough defense.

Twenty-one points does not sound like a lot offense but quarterback Jay Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall combined for 225 yards receiving and three scores and Matt Forte ran for 117 yards along with 58 yards receiving.

These are the type of numbers we expected in August only with more points as a result. The reason the Bears didn’t find the endzone more against the Vikings is that, while playing much better, they were unable to completely shake their recent troubles of penalties, wasted timeouts and turnovers.

There were a lot of these gaffes early on, including three flags on the Bears’ first drive alone, forcing Marc Trestman’s little monsters to settle for a field goal. Which they missed.

Just a few plays after that the Bears were fooled by a fake punt, then the Vikings scored and suddenly the good guys trailed 10-0 and it all felt déjà-screw all over again.

What happened after that? Was there a bit of magic dust in the light but steady snow that was falling along Chicago’s lakefront? Maybe not, but those flakes did taste good when we licked a few off the curb while bending over for our nicotine gum.

No, what happened next is the Bears did not give up. This is a talented but bedeviled team that has been through football hell this season and against the Vikings, who are not good, the Bears were able to move the ball steadily and not get flustered, frustrated or flaky.

Cutler, who gets more bad reviews than a kazoo musical, guided a 27-yard TD strike to Jeffery who was double-teamed in the in endzone, for Chicago’s first score. This was the type of pass that if Cutler made against the Dolphins, Patriots or Packers would have been intercepted with extreme prejudice. But against the Vikes, who do actually have a decent defense, it worked just as it was planned.

Cutler then found Marshall for a gorgeous 44-yard TD strike late in the second quarter and the Bears went to halftime with a 14-10 lead, which was nice but almost uncomfortable. Sort of like when your friend’s mom keeps complimenting your ankles.

The Bears and Vikings’ offenses both boycotted the third quarter and Chicago’s third and final score came when Cutler hit Marshall with a four-yard how-do-ya-do in the fourth. The Vikings got a field goal from Blair Walsh a few minutes later to narrow it to 21-13 but by this time the Bears were feeling more confident than Julia Roberts at the dentist and our pals hung on to win for the first time in a month.

The Bears outgained their purple guests 468-243, dominated the time of possession 38:38-21:22, ran 28 more plays and averaged a yard more per play.

This game should have been 41-13.

But the Bears committed seven penalties for 63 yards, missed a field goal, wasted some timeouts, threw two interceptions, showed no sense of urgency late in the second quarter when they had a great chance to score before halftime, got stopped on fourth-and-goal in the third, and forgot a few times they were playing a team that probably wouldn’t qualify for the college football playoff.

But forgive us for nitpicking. The Bears scored more than the Vikings and, unless the NFL starts hanging around with the gals in my bridge club and decides to change the rules while we’re in the bathroom, then scoring more points is the only thing that matters. The Bears won and, if nothing else, at least temporarily restored some pride and enthusiasm to a season that has been as unkind as unexpected.

So, our Bears soldier on. Next up is a visit from the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a game that will be weird no matter what as Tampa is helmed by former Bears coach Lovie Smith and quarterbacked by our old pal Josh McCown.

The Bucs, despite a nice win over the Redskins on Sunday, are bad. But they are also a tremendous threat because, in some regard, losing to a team led by the coach many appreciated and the quarterback many preferred could be the worst blow of all in a season overflowing with them.

Packers 55, Bears 14: The Worst of all Worlds

November 9, 2014

Packers 55, Bears 14: The Worst of all Worlds

The 2014 season effectively came to an end for the Chicago Bears on Sunday night when they lost to the Packers 55-14 in Green Bay in a game that made us wish the universe had never come into existence.

The Bears trailed 7-0 after Green Bay’s first drive, 14-0 after the first quarter, 42-0 at halftime and at that point we had no tears left to cry, no cigarettes left to puff, no booze left to bathe in and we were only, seriously, hoping the Packers would not break the Bears’ NFL record of most points scored in a game.

That number is 73 and came when the Bears blasted the Redskins 73-0 in 1940. The Packers might have actually reached that mark in this one but they, mercifully, pulled quarterback Aaron Rodgers and some other starters from the game midway through the third quarter. This was after Rodgers had thrown six touchdown passes, all before halftime, while barely sweating a cheese curd.

The Bears are the first team in 90 years to give up more than 50 points in two straight games, after their previous 51-23 loss to the Patriots. And, going back to last season, the Bears have allowed more than 50 points in three of their last 11 games.

And this was after the Bears had a bye week. Imagine if they’d had three weeks to get ready.

What other numbers are there? Do they even matter?

We, truly, are not trying to be cruel but the fact is the Bears were massacred so thoroughly that NBC executives were left scrambling for their copy of “Heidi.”

The Bears are 3-6. They have talent but the team is going nowhere and, to listen to Chicago fans, the only thing that can be done is to make wholesale changes to the roster, the coaching staff, the front office, Soldier Field and maybe the Bill of Rights.

We still love these damn Bears. The Bears are in our Chicago blood. That’s why this hurts so much. Foolish as it might seem, we are not giving up on them. We just hope they haven’t given up on themselves.

 

 

 

The Fiendish Plot To (Sort Of) Discredit Peyton Manning

November 6, 2014

The Fiendish Plot To (Sort Of) Discredit Peyton Manning

When baseball’s regular season awards are handed out there will be a sparking of the age-old debate as to whether it is appropriate to give a Most Valuable Player Award to a pitcher.

This is because pitchers, as we know, do not play every day and thus some cannot help but question how valuable such a player can be, no matter how good they are. And there is also the matter of the Cy Young award, which honors the top throwers in the American and National Leagues.

The question persists: should pitchers be eligible for MVP? Or should that honor be strictly for position players?

This query brings us, understandably we believe, to football.

In baseball pitchers can win both awards but maybe football should set an example by splitting them. First, we must create a separate trophy for you know who: the quarterbacks.

Since 1957 when the first Associated Press NFL MVP was handed out, to Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown, quarterbacks have gone home with the shiny object 38 times, including years when a QB tied with either another QB or a player from another position.

Since 1987 the only players to win MVP have been QBs and running backs with QBs winning the vast majority of the time. So is it time to put quarterbacks where TV analysts have been putting them for decades – in their own special world – and simply give QBs the football equivalent of the Cy Young and make running backs, receivers, and defensive players, (seriously) offensive lineman and special teamers (not quite as seriously) the only ones eligible for MVP?

Yes, we have Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of The Year and as we recently discussed on Leatherheads sometimes OPY can and truly should be distinct from MVP. But we like awards and don’t you agree the world is appallingly low on things named in honor of Dan Marino?

Under our plan, each season the top QB in the NFL would be given the Dan Marino while all the other positions fight it out for MVP as well as defensive and separate offensive honors. A QB could win the Marino and Offensive Player of the Year, they just couldn’t win MVP.

Not only is this a matter of getting our favorite former Dolphin the respect he deserves but also this acknowledges that QBs not only have the deck stacked in their favor in the MVP race but also have all the chips and the only comfy chair.

And with quarterbacks not in the running might it not open up the voters’ eyes not to just other offensive skill players but to other positions as well? Could we someday see a left guard as MVP?

Quarterbacks, except for maybe Marino, probably won’t like our thoughts. But everyone else might.

 

 

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 first with 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