September 2, 2015

The Cardinal Coach

July 28, 2015

Welcome, Jen

It is not as if we needed one more reason to praise Bruce Arians and (quietly) root for the Arizona Cardinals, but now we do have another one: The Cardinals have hired the first female coach in NFL history.

Jen Welter has been added to Arizona’s staff as a training camp/preseason intern coaching inside linebackers. And while that’s a long way from wearing the headset on Sundays, this one small step on the field is a huge leap for equality and instantly makes the NFL a bit of a better place.

No, we shouldn’t applaud someone just for being female (though most females qualify, to be sure) and it would be naïve to think the Cardinals are not doing this in some part for the publicity. But, as Arian said himself recently, all any football player wants (besides hitting other football players and drinking diet Dr. Pepper with Tony Dungy) is to learn how to be a better football player. And Arians, who might be the best coach in the NFL and one of the few humans who can really pull off the beret look, would not hire Jen Welter if he wasn’t confident she can teach his players a lot.

Welter has played football and coached football and has the backing of the man in charge. Will that be enough to convince players to listen to her?  Can she hold up to the scrutiny?  Most NFL coaching interns don’t give interviews or sign autographs.

We are going to find out.

We already know that Becky Hammon is proving to be a successful assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, even coaching the team’s summer league team to a title.  This is great progress and makes sense in part because women excel at basketball, and hoops is very much a people sport.

But football is, bear with us a moment, a man’s sport through and through.  Women play it, yes, but not nearly on the level that men do and it’s impossible to imagine a woman ever playing in the NFL.

Which, of course, should mean absolutely nothing because by our count of the 32 current NFL head coaches only 11 of them actually played in the NFL.  And those who did do not include last year’s Super Bowl coaches and two of the best in the business: Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll.

So welcome, Jen Welter. Make those guys play. Make us all listen. –TK

The Longest Yard

July 24, 2015

The Longest Yard (1974)

Sometimes being a man means doing something stupid. Most women would probably agree that’s the case and, upon honest reflection, most men may very well concur.

The Longest Yard is all about men doing dumb things. Men committing crimes, treating people poorly, defying social order, betraying friends, farming shame.

And it’s also about playing football, which some might opine is also not the wisest thing.

This 1974 film showcases Burt Reynolds in perhaps his finest, most unfeigned role as a former NFL quarterback whose life has fallen apart and he lands in jail. His character, Paul Crewe, is quickly exposed to a prison environment in which he is abused and revered, shamed and put-upon as he tries to survive his new reality, and perhaps find a shortcut out of it.

The prison warden is played by Eddie Albert who engineered to have Reynolds behind his bars because of his football skills. Eventually, Reynolds, instead of playing for the prison, essentially plays against it – or is the other way around? – as he forms a team of inmates to play the guards.

The result is a quest for the inmates to find humanity and respect, while the guards and the warden want to flex their muscle and create humiliation.

Certainly in real life we would pull for the guards, wouldn’t we? But this is a movie and it’s Burt Reynolds and what makes The Longest Yard not just a fun, and funny, action movie but a terrific study in power, character and manhood is that it shows us the lines between good and bad are often not nearly as thick and sturdy as prison bars.

It is a movie about men doing dumb things to satisfy their egos and get an extra scrap. It is a movie that reminds us that you can accomplish a lot when you don’t give a damn. You can also create a lot of pain.

Ed Lauter, the late, wonderful, Ed Lauter, plays a prison guard and is perfect. So are Joe Kapp, Ray Nitschke, Michael Conrad, Harry Caesar and James Hampton under Robert Aldrich’s direction of Tracy Keenan Wynn and Albert S. Ruddy’s screenplay.

Men spend half their lives doing dumb things and the other half trying to atone for them. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a football game in the mud. It’s a long, tough fight.


When J.J. Met Jennifer

July 23, 2015

When J.J. Met Jennifer

It is nice to know that even giants can be humble, bashful and shy. Of course most any man would be humble, bashful and shy around Jennifer Aniston.

We were happy to learn that the best player in football, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, got all weak-kneed and googly-eyed when he recently got to meet the would-be love of his life, Ms. Aniston.

J.J. apparently has been in love with Jennifer his whole life. Many of us can say that but for J.J. it’s actually close to true because Mr. Watt was just four years old when Jennifer swooped into the hearts and dreams of American men when Friends debuted 21 years ago.

So for J.J., Jennifer Aniston is like Lynda Carter or the late, great Farrah Fawcett was for so many of us who grew up in the 1970s. But even we are who are the same age as the 46-year-old Aniston still love her but probably not as much as the guys whose first ideas of beauty were based on that smile, that hair, those eyes, and oh God this is getting creepy.

One more prurient thought: imagine Jennifer Aniston as a Houston Texans cheerleader. I am certain J.J. has.

NFL players, as I understand it, are normally not allowed to date their team’s cheerleaders but there’s a classic old photo out there somewhere in computerville that we don’t have the rights to which shows Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White giving a dramatic kiss to a Cowboys cheerleader after Super Bowl XII.

The Cowboys won that game so Danny deserved her affection. Being Roger Staubach’s backup, White only threw two passes in that game, completing one for five yards but (remember!?) White was also the Cowboys’ punter and booted it well that January day in New Orleans against the Broncos, five times for a 41.6-yard average.

Can you imagine in today’s NFL, which treats quarterbacks like family heirlooms, letting your backup QB be your punter? That would be like letting Jennifer Aniston co-star in an Adam Sandler movie.

How many NFL players would choose a kiss from Jennifer Aniston instead of a trip to Disney World or a new pickup truck for winning the Super Bowl? At least one.

Extra Points, Catching Up and Remembering #55

May 20, 2015

Extra Points, Catching Up And Saying Thanks

The most boring play in sports will be a few percentage points less boring this fall now that the NFL has voted that extra points will be kicked from the 15-yard line instead of the 2-yard line.

League owners voted 30-2 to make the change with the two teams voting against also clamoring to bring back leather helmets and stickum.

The change is welcome but a bit odd. The longer distance comes about because NFL kickers are so good (plus many of them play indoors) that they make more than 99% of their extra point conversions. But Pro Football Focus says the new distance, basically a 33-yard field goal instead of a 20-yarder, reduces kicker accuracy only down to 97.6%.

So kickers will keep converting at an alarming rate but there is some added spice as two-point conversions, which will still take place from the 2-yard line, can now be returned by the defense all the way to the other end zone for 2 points.

So, with kickoff and punt returns being diminished because of concussion fears picked off 2-point conversions might provide the only opportunity for NFL fans to see a guy take one the length of the field for a score. How many of these players will be huffing and puffing and then get to the 40 and realize that all this running will only get them two points and say “the heck with this” and take a knee?

And what happens when a defensive player intercepts a 2-point conversion pass and then fumbles and the offensive team gets it back? Do they get a point for that? Or can they run it into the end zone and still get the original 2 they were hoping for?

All this confusion and Sturm und Drang will probably force NFL coaches to just stick with the 1-pointer more than ever.

Oh, and are you allowed to squeeze the ball a little tighter on an extra point?

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t do anything that bad, did he? When Brady and Peyton Manning campaigned to get control of their own team’s footballs before the game didn’t everyone know it was to tweak the game balls a little bit?

There are those who say “cheating is cheating” which is a phrase I often heard flowing up from the living room during my parents’ bridge night with friends in the 1970s followed by some other phrases which cannot be repeated here followed by punches and broken gin bottles and shattered friendships.

But, while deflating footballs is certainly done to get a competitive advantage that the rules do not allow for it’s a lot different than a pitcher scuffing a baseball because, in that case, the hitter, the opposing team, is directly getting screwed. But in football, the other team’s QB has always been welcome to doctor the footballs as well. What? Think Tom Brady is the only one who does this? That is, of course, in all seriousness and fairness, if he did it. He says he didn’t and he has his right to appeal.

If Brady is guilty then he should have said, back before the Super Bowl “Hey, I have always looked at this as more of a guideline, not a hard, steadfast rule. This is something quarterbacks and kickers have long done but now I won’t do it again. Now stop staring at my wife.”

There are those, possibly Patriots owner Robert Kraft among them, who might say Brady should just admit guilt now and perhaps that admission and, likely, contrition, might lead the NFL to lessen his four-game suspension. Kraft seems to be thinking along those lines as he says he will no longer fight the NFL’s punishment of a $1 million fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-rounder the next year.

But Brady, it seems, despite some troubling evidence, is going to keep fighting. Is he a guilty man who refuses to pay for his crime because he either really doesn’t think it’s a crime or because, hey, doesn’t everyone know I’m Tom Brady? Or is Tom Brady really an innocent man battling to clear his name?

How will the Patriots be if they have to play their first four games without Tom Brady? Brady wins about 77% of his games (best of any QB in NFL history) so it’s safe to say the Pats would probably go 3-1 with him in the lineup. If they go 2-2 then in the long run, Brady’s absence probably won’t matter. But what if the Super Bowl champs with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, go just 1-3 or, gasp, 0-4, against the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys? If so then the defending champs will probably miss the playoffs.

If New England isn’t a playoff team this year than that first-round pick they don’t have next year will be that much more valuable. We don’t yet know where next year’s draft will be held but Chicago certainly made the case this year that moving the draft out of New York and giving other cities the spotlight is only good for the league.

Chicago enjoyed beautiful spring weather and thousands of fans crowded the Auditorium Theatre and Draft Town in Grant Park for the three-day pigskin celebration. By all accounts it was fun, it was cool and, the NFL being the rock star that it is, it doesn’t matter where it performs, the fans will find it, watch it, love it and sponsors will pay for it.

The last time the NFL draft had been held in Chicago was 1964, back when the league’s annual selection process was less like a reality show and more like roll call. Two years after that draft the Bears selected a skinny linebacker out of Louisville named Doug Buffone. The Monsters of the Midway plugged in #55 and he was a mainstay on the Bears’ defense through 1979.

Doug Buffone was talented and tough as nails and was one of those guys who, had he played on better teams, probably would have gotten a few Pro Bowl honors. Instead, he played on just two winning teams and made the playoffs just twice, both first-round losses.

So Doug Buffone never became a superstar, a legend or a millionaire. He was simply Doug Buffone, the old Bear. Or, as generations of Chicagoans knew him simply as, “Buffone.”

After his playing days he went into broadcasting and he and fellow former Bear Ed O’Bradovich’s analyses of the Bears in good times and bad were heartfelt, funny and priceless.

Doug Buffone left us suddenly and far, far too early when he died last month at the age of 70. I watched Buffone play, remember his final game and listened to him for a long time but never met him. I did see him in the building once as we worked for sister radio stations and I nodded and said hello and he said hi and smiled and, I’m not kidding, he really seemed to mean it. He appeared genuinely happy to see me even though he had never seen me before.

I have told others who did know Doug Buffone that story and they say that’s exactly how Doug Buffone was. More than being talented, strong, tough, loyal and entertaining, he was nice.

And that never fades. –TK


Logan’s Run…From Football

March 17, 2015

In the 1976 movie “Logan’s Run” life is exciting, beautiful, sweet, fulfilling and fun. The only drawback is everything comes to an end when you’re 30.

There are fears that such a preposterous storyline might become a reality for the NFL.

Before this week most football fans had not even heard of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland but Borland’s shocking decision to retire from the NFL at the age of 24, after just one (very solid) year in the league has made the former Wisconsin Badger both suddenly famous but also, to some, an unlikely hero, a “Logan” for a new age of football and sport.

Borland told ESPN he was hanging it up because of his fear of concussions, of one day suffering serious brain damage because of NFL violence. And, as David A. Graham wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, what’s most surprising is “how quickly fans and fellow players seem to have accepted Borland’s decision.”

Indeed, Twitter is aglow with praise and understanding from fans and other players. And some players are doing the same thing.

Borland’s fellow Niners linebacker Patrick Willis, a five-time first team All-Pro, is also quitting football. He’s 30. Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker is hanging it up at the ripe old age of 26.

A decade ago the thought of walking away from millions of dollars at such a young age would have seemed crazy. Now, the prevailing belief seems to be not that he who hangs on the longest and gets the most money wins but he who gets what money he can and then walks away on his own terms, of sound mind and body, is the true victor.

“For me it wasn’t worth the risk,” Borland told ESPN. “I could be wrong…but for me it was the right decision.”

And a decision that has many people wondering what to decide about their own future in football.

And about the future of football itself.

The Bears and the Fox

January 22, 2015

The Bears and the Fox

The Chicago Bears’ season ended on a cold day in Minnesota and not long after the team plane touched down back in Chicago the team fired head coach Marc Trestman and the man who hired him, general manager Phil Emery.

Trestman coached just two years in Chicago, going 8-8 and then 5-11, presiding over a team that had talent but was in a tailspin, seemingly going a thousand miles-per-hour in the wrong direction. The disaster was not all Trestman’s fault but what type of progress could he honestly say he made?

Phil Emery made a lot of good moves at Halas Hall including acquiring offensive lineman Kyle Long, cornerback Kyle Fuller and receiver Alshon Jeffery but apparently stumbled on the two biggest decisions a GM has to make: the coach and the quarterback, as Jay Cutler, given a $126 million dollar contract after last season, responded with the worst campaign of his career.

Chicago erupted with applause at Emery and Trestman’s departure, with most fans not wanting, it seemed, to wish ill-will on either of these decent gentlemen but after a fourth straight year without the playoffs and with few beams of sunshine pouring onto Soldier Field everyone believed changes had to be made.

When the Emery-Trestman regime was sacked Chicago wondered where the Bears would turn next, as a swarm of dancing ping-pong balls bubbled out of fate’s lottery machine, each containing the name of a possibly promising offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, assistant GM, scout or superhero, men whose names we usually hear of only during a coaching or front office search.

Everyone in Bearland fully and reasonably expected Chicago would turn to a young and-or inexperienced GM and coach, someone who had been rising through the ranks of either the Bears or some other team and whose proverbial “time had come” and, unspoken by the team but uttered by everyone else, had come cheap.

This prediction came true when the Bears hired 37-year-old Ryan Pace away from the Saints front office and named him General Manager. No one can say for certain how Pace will be, though he comes with promising credentials, and neither can anyone attest to whom Pace had hoped or planned to hire as head coach the day he took the Bears job.

What we do is Mr. Pace, whatever his plans were, did not object to seeing them disrupted because when the Denver Broncos decided to let John Fox go Pace and the Bears did exactly what they should have done: they pounced.

In hiring Fox after a tornado of activity in the days following Denver’s playoff elimination the Bears did something the team had not done since the 1950s; hire a head coach who had previously been an NFL head coach.

The Bears, as we have said, have a tradition of opting for the up-and-comer when it comes to coaches and GMs perhaps because that’s frugal, perhaps because they don’t like retreads and maybe because they, unlike their fans, the Bears honestly don’t see Chicago as the ultimate destination. And maybe coaching candidates have not always seen Chicago that way, either.

But it’s not as if the Bears always erred in hiring neophytes. Jack Pardee, Neill Armstrong, Mike Ditka, Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and Lovie Smith each took the Bears to the playoffs. Smith reached two NFC title games and a Super Bowl. Ditka reached three title games and won a Super Bowl and, thirty years later, remains Chicago’s most-beloved sports figure.

But the three decades since the Chicago Bears last were kings of the NFL seem more like three centuries. The Bears have been champs three times since World War II ended, twice since Kennedy was shot and never since we started using the Internet. Seriously.

The team the Bears defeated in Super Bowl XX, the New England Patriots, was, like the Bears, appearing in its first Super Bowl that day in January 1986. Now the Patriots are playing in their eighth.

Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback, was born in 1977 and he has 20 career playoff wins. The Chicago Bears, born in 1920, have 17.

New England’s opponent this time, the Seattle Seahawks, are in their third Super Bowl. The Seahawks were born in 1976 and have now reached more Super Bowls than the Bears, the NFL’s charter franchise.

Chicago’s most bitter rival, and the bitterness resides mostly south of Kenosha these days, is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have 18 playoff victories…since the 1993 season…the year after the Bears fired Ditka.

John Fox has no magic stardust in his playbook to reverse all these negative numbers but he does have experience. He has taken two franchises from mediocrity to the final Sunday. He stresses discipline, accountability and tackling. He has made mistakes. He has learned. It is far too early to wager that the Bears will win a significant number of more games under Fox this coming year than they did with Trestman this past year but it seems a safe bet that Chicago will play better football and will be on a more steady path to perennial contention.

A good coach without a quality general manager is like a fine-tuned convertible with holes in the top. Will Pace be good? His pedigree is intriguing. First off, he played defensive end at the quiet cradle of NFL success: Eastern Illinois University. Seriously, EIU has produced many NFL players and coaches including Saints head coach Sean Payton; whom Pace worked with for many years, former Broncos Super Bowl winning coach and former Raiders and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan; whom many thought might be a good fit for the job John Fox now has, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Still, a marketing degree from Eastern and a senior year captainship were not enough to get teams knocking down Pace’s door. So, 14 years ago Pace paid $50 to attend a job fair and applied for an internship with the Saints. He got it and has spent every day since learning and climbing.

And he apparently learned to go with an obvious thing. When the Bears hired Marc Trestman out of the CFL two years ago no other NFL teams were fighting for him. Sometimes when you’re the only one who sees something you’re a genius. Other times you’re crazy.

Long before Trestman’s two seasons in Chicago were complete everyone wondered just what glasses Phil Emery and the Bears brass were wearing when they went after Trestman. The result was a lot of people lost their jobs. If Fox fizzles with the Bears no one will turn to Ryan Pace and ask him what the heck he was thinking. In other words, he will probably get a second chance at picking a head coach, which is rare among NFL GMs.

Does Pace know how to draft? Can he see the difference between burst and speed in a 22-year-old kid? Does he know the difference between who can play and who will play? And can he pick over the pile of NFL discards and find those guys with something left in the tank, that linebacker or wideout who just needs a different setting or system?

If Bears fans had a magic wand, and perhaps a few of us do but we just don’t like to use it much, many of us would have raided the Baltimore Ravens and taken GM Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. That, apparently, was never even a remote possibility. So the Bears, like many other teams, sought the next best thing to getting the best GM-coach combination in the league and hoped to woo Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta, but he was not interested, likely knowing Ozzie’s office will someday be his.

What’s also interesting is whom the Ravens brain trust has now turned to run the offense: Marc Trestman. Maybe with just one job, with a couple of really good bosses and a stacked roster Trestman will enjoy the success in Baltimore that he hoped for, worked very hard for, but could not achieve in Chicago.

In Baltimore Trestman will be working with quarterback Joe Flacco who, by all rational accounts, is a significant upgrade over Bears QB Jay Cutler, which brings us back to Pace. Pace has a lot of work ahead as the Bears need help at every position. But in fairness, there is not a single NFL team that is not one or two injuries away from needing help at just about every single position. Men are breakable, veterans are expensive and rosters are fluid.

But quarterback is the big tuna. Pace will have to draft a quarterback this year but the question is how far will he reach for one? Let’s put on the crazy hat for just a moment. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the top pick in the draft and there is copious speculation they will choose Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. What about the Bears offering Cutler, their first round pick (7th overall) and a first rounder in 2016 to Tampa for that top spot? Cutler would be reunited with Lovie Smith, his former coach with the Bears, the Bucs would have plenty of picks to rebuild their roster and the Bears would get the most gifted and polarizing player in college football.

Insane, we know.

Pace isn’t likely to pull such a blockbuster move if, for no other reason, the Bucs would never go for it. Maybe that’s just as well as it seems as if few NFL champs are built on blockbuster trades. Instead, it’s smart moves here and there, the researching of players who put their pads under the other guy’s pads, the painstaking film study, the tireless analysis of salary, scheme and attitude that usually builds a winner.

Pace should look north. The Bears hate looking up to the Packers but Green Bay, maybe even more so than Baltimore, New England, Seattle or Pittsburgh, knows how to make the draft your friend, not your downfall.

The Packers roster is almost exclusively made up of guys who have only played for the Packers. The Packers don’t draft well, they draft superbly.

The Bears will draft a quarterback this year, for sure, but whoever that is he might not be the guy to eventually replace Cutler and they cannot insist that he be. Cutler, it has been said many times, is just good enough to get you fired. That won’t happen to Fox or Pace. They’ll handle him for one season, maybe even two if that’s what it takes to make sure they get a better quarterback ready, one who will go a large way toward defining Pace and Fox’s legacies in Chicago.

Other than quarterback the Bears need, literally, everything. Offense, defense, special teams, cheerleaders and maybe even a psi gauge.

Pace and Fox are not starting from ground zero, though. The Bears have talent on both sides of the ball and NFL rosters can be rebuilt quickly. And free agents must know they could do far worse than playing in Chicago for a coach who has been to Super Bowls.

So our beloved Bears head into a mysterious winter and spring after a calamitous, embarrassing fall. And they do so with a fan base that is impatient, demanding and angry, yet also forgiving. And forever ready for the next fight.

And now all of Chicago moves ahead armed with a young gun. And an old Fox.

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