June 28, 2017

Bears Lose And Get A Week to Wonder Why

Lions 37, Bears 34 (OT): The Blue Lions Laugh Last

If the Chicago Bears had beaten the previously winless Detroit Lions they would be heading into their bye week with a three-game winning streak, a 3-3 record and a whole lot of sunny thoughts.

Instead, a 37-34 overtime loss in Detroit puts the Monsters of the Melancholy at 2-4 and facing a playoff road steeper than Daniel Murphy’s future contract demands.

Without including division leaders, there are five NFC teams with better records than the 2-4 Bears and another, the Seahawks, with the same 2-4 record. And the Bears lose any tie-breaking scenarios with the Seahawks by virtue of having lost to them in Week 3.

Having already made several in-season trades, do the Bears now approach the November 3 trade deadline as sellers? Could running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett or kicker Robbie Gould be getting ready to say goodbye? (Does anyone ever trade for kickers?)

Or do the beloved Bears look over their final ten games in which they will play four teams with current winning records – the Broncos, Packers (both unbeaten) and Vikings (twice) – and a bunch of strugglers and keep trying to improve and hope some dominoes in front of you sprain a few MCLs and fall down?

From our vantage point, these are more intriguing things to consider than the X’s and O’s of the loss to the Lions because while the game was high-scoring and went into overtime and was against two ancient rivals it really wasn’t that good of a contest.

Neither team played particularly well, there were 19 penalties, the Lions fumbled three times, losing two of them, there were questionable coaching moves on both sidelines and it took 13 and-a-half minutes into overtime before someone finally scored.

Ties don’t just make Duffy Daugherty cry.

Yes, the Bears did march down the field in the final moments of regulation to tie it at the gun and send it into the fifth quarter and that was darn fun at the moment, but so was that flower you sniffed just before stepping in raccoon poop.

What are the Bears planning during their week off? What does the rest of 2015 look like? A tunnel? A train? A Jared Goff primer? –TK

The Long View: Bush and Hawk Get Cut

The Green Bay Packers cut linebacker A.J. Hawk on Wednesday, the same day the Detroit Lions said goodbye to running back Reggie Bush. If this is the end for them it’s fitting that they go out together because they came into the league together, burdened with huge expectations.

Did they meet them?

Bush, a Heisman trophy winner at Southern Cal, was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. Hawk went to the Packers three picks later, fifth overall.

When a player is picked in the first round they’re expected to be a Pro Bowler. When they’re taken in the top five the hope, and the hype, is that they’ll end up in the Hall of Fame. Bush and Hawk have zero Pro Bowls between them and neither will make the Hall of Fame.

But are they busts?

Bush, who has been a hybrid in the NFL playing running back, receiver and returning kicks, accumulated 1,326 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns his rookie year and helped the Saints reach the NFC title game for the first time in franchise history (they lost to the Bears.)

Bush, despite battling injuries, contributed more than 1,000 yards in total offense in each of the next two seasons for the Saints (including three punt return TDs in 2008) and was a vital contributor in 2009 when the Saints advanced to their first and only Super Bowl, pulling off a huge upset of the Indianapolis Colts.

In 2011 Bush went to the Miami Dolphins and did something many thought he could not, rush for a thousand yards, 1,086 to be exact while also catching 43 passes for 296 yards and seven total touchdowns, numbers that he almost duplicated the next season in Miami.

Bush’s first year with Detroit in 2013 was the best of his career, statistically, with 1,512 yards from scrimmage and seven scores. This past season Bush appeared in just 11 games for Detroit with 550 total yards.

On draft day nine years ago if you had a crystal ball and saw that Reggie Bush would never win a rushing title, never make a Pro Bowl and play for three different teams you might have said he was going to be a disappointment.

But what if you looked into that very same mystical forecaster and saw that Bush would last nine seasons in a league when most players (especially small running backs) don’t last half that? And what if you were also told Bush would help a moribund franchise play in two conference title games and win one Super Bowl?

A.J. Hawk joined the Packers in 2006 and started all 16 games with 82 tackles, a number that he would never reach again.

But there are other numbers. Aaron James Hawk appeared in every game his rookie year and would do that again every year of his career except 2011 when he missed a grand total of two games.

Hawk was a starting linebacker in 136 of the 142 regular season games the Packers have played since 2006. He never had fewer than 53 tackles in a season, compiled nine career regular season interceptions and 19 sacks.

With Hawk, the Packers had the league’s second best defense in 2009 and fifth best in 2010, the year Hawk helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Let’s jump in the wayback machine and break out that crystal ball again. No Pro Bowls for Hawk, never led the league in tackles, didn’t create a lot of turnovers…but nine years as a starter means something. It means a lot of things.

If you’re still not impressed with Hawk or Bush we understand.   If you’ve read this far you’re obviously the demanding type and we respect that.

So let’s see how Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk measure up with other first rounders from 2006.

The first overall pick that year was defensive end Mario Williams who went to the Houston Texans. Williams played in two Pro Bowls for the Texans and two more since joining Buffalo in 2012 including the last two seasons and appears to still be going strong.

The third overall pick was quarterback Vince Young who went to the Titans. He was the offensive rookie of the year and appeared in two Pro Bowls. But his career came to an end with the Eagles in 2011.

Offensive Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson went fourth overall to the Jets. He has made three Pro Bowls and is still going. Other future Pro Bowlers in the 2006 first round were Vernon Davis, Jay Cutler, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Antonio Cromartie, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, Jonathan Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Williams, Nick Mangold and Joseph Addai.

They all made at least one Pro Bowl but we confess there are a few in that group we’ve never heard of. And more importantly, perhaps, which one of those would you have rather had than Hawk or Bush? Ngata and Mangold almost certainly. The others spark a good debate.

The last player taken in the first round of 2006 was defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka who went to the Giants. Like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka was released this week. And like Bush and Hawk, Kiwanuka has a Super Bowl ring. Two of them.

Bush and Hawk might have a kindred spirit in Keith Van Horne, the All-American offensive lineman from Southern Cal who was taken by the Chicago Bears with the 11th overall pick in 1981. Chicagoans expected Van Horne to be a stud, a killer, an All-Pro, a legend.

He wasn’t. He was, however, a very solid football player, starting 169 games from 1981 until 1993. The Bears had great teams with Van Horne, making the playoffs seven times and winning one Super Bowl. There may have been other right tackles the Bears could have plugged in and had the same success. But the point is they didn’t need to look for another tackle because they had a good one.

Van Horne, Bush and Hawk are on the football’s Mount Rushmore of “take the long view.” All first round picks are expected to be great. Everyone wants a Lawrence Taylor, Peyton Manning, Patrick Peterson or J.J. Watt. But just because a first rounder doesn’t become a star doesn’t mean he was a bad pick. We all want winners, we all want stars and we all want it now. But patience can pay off. Availability, durability and determination cannot be measured at the combine.

Or maybe they can be and that’s really why Reggie Bush and A.J. Hawk were taken so high, and lasted so long.

The future…what can you do with it?

 

Cowboys 24, Lions 20

The fourth and final game of wildcard weekend featured the Detroit Lions heading south to Dallas, Texas to take on the Cowboys.  The Cowboys started at their 20-yard line and had a quick three and out.  Punter Chris Jones hit a 41-yard punt that was downed at the Detroit 38-yard line.  On second and ten from the 49, quarterback Matt Stafford went deep for wide receiver Golden Tate and he hauled in the pass for a 51-yard touchdown.  Kicker Matt Prater made the point after and the Lions jumped out to an early 7-0 lead with 11:22 to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys managed to get a first down on their next possession, but the drive came to a halt when quarterback Tony Romo couldn’t complete a pass on fourth and seven to wide receiver Cole Beasley.  Jones punted and the ball was downed at the Detroit one-yard line.  Three plays netted five yards and the Lions were forced to punt.  Punter Sam Martin’s punt went out of bounds at the Detroit 44-yard line.  Wait a minute.  There’s a flag on the play.  The Cowboys were flagged for running into the kicker and that gave the Lions a first down at the 12-yard line.  A short pass to Tate and a scramble by Stafford netted a first down at the 23-yard line.  An 11-yard carry by running back Joique Bell, a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson and an 18-yard pass to Bell moved the Lions into Dallas territory.  Two more carries by Bell put them at the 18.  From the 18, running back Reggie Bush ran up the left side for a touchdown to cap a 99-yard drive.  Prater made the point after and the Lions were up 14-0 with two minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Cowboys still couldn’t get the ball rolling and ended up punting again.  As a matter of fact, there was a lot of punting going on until the 2:15 mark.  That’s when the Cowboys finally got on the board.  On third and 12 from the 24, Romo let one fly and the pass was caught for a 76-yard touchdown by wide receiver Terrance Williams.  Kicker Dan Bailey made the point after and the Lions led 14-7 with 1:37 to go in the first half.

The Lions started at their 20 and two passes to running back Theo Riddick gained 20 yards.  From the 40, Stafford completed a 19-yard pass to Johnson.  That was followed by an incomplete pass and a five-yard pass to wide receiver Corey Fuller.  That set up a third and five from the Dallas 36.  Stafford completed a pass to Tate that was ruled short of the first down marker.  But replay showed that the yardage gained was good enough for a first down.  Stafford completed a nine-yard pass to Bush as time was running short.  With three seconds to go in the half, Prater made his 39-yard field goal attempt and the Lions led 17-7 at halftime.

Things got off to a great start for the Cowboys in the second half.  Stafford looked for Tate over the middle and the pass was picked off by linebacker Kyle Wilber.  That gave the Cowboys the ball at the Detroit 19-yard line.  But on third and one from the ten, Romo was sacked for a loss of 13 yards by defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.  Well, Bailey is a good kicker.  He shouldn’t have much trouble with a 41-yard field goal.  Wrong.  The kick sailed wide right and the Cowboys failed to cash in on a golden opportunity.

The Lions took over at their 31 and on second and six, Stafford found tight end Brandon Pettigrew for a gain of 11 yards.  After a short carry by Bush, Stafford looked for Johnson again and found him for a gain of 28 yards and a first down at the Dallas 26-yard line.  But the drive would stall at the 19-yard line.  Prater came on again and his 37-yard field goal attempt was good.  That gave the Lions a 20-7 lead with 8:41 to go in the third quarter.

The Cowboys took over at their 20 and moved the ball with running back DeMarco Murray.  Murray had three carries and a seven-yard reception.  That gave them a first down at the 50-yard line.  On third and ten from the 50, Romo threw a short pass to his left that was caught by wide receiver Dez Bryant.  Bryant turned on the speed and weaved his way through several defenders.  He was finally dragged down at the seven-yard line.  Murray took it the rest of the way on the next play, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on the Cowboys.  From the 17, Romo found Beasley across the middle for a gain of 15 yards.  From the two, Romo completed a short pass to tight end Jason Witten, but he was stopped short of the end zone.  On third and goal from the one, Murray ran up the middle and was stuffed for no gain.  That brought up a crucial fourth and goal from the one.  The Cowboys decided to go for it and Murray ran off left tackle for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Lions lead was now 20-14 with 2:54 to go in the third quarter.

The Lions had a quick three and out on their next possession and the Cowboys took over at their 31.  They quickly moved to mid-field as Romo found Beasley for a gain of 19 yards.  Murray ran for five more yards and on second and five from the Detroit 45, Romo completed another pass to Beasley.  This one was good for 12 yards.  Then another flag was thrown.  Unnecessary roughness was called on the Lions and the Cowboys now had a first down at the 18.  That’s when the Lion defense stepped up.  Murray was stuffed for no gain and Romo was sacked on back to back plays.  That was meant it was time for Bailey to try another field goal.  His 51-yard attempt was good and the Lions led 20-17 with 12:16 to go in the game.

The Lions got the ball back at their five-yard line.  On second and 12 from the three, Stafford completed a 21-yard pass to Fuller for a first down at the 24.  A short run by Bush and a 19-yard pass to Johnson moved the Lions to the Dallas 45-yard line.  From the 45, Bush ran for a gain of four yards.  Bell got the call on the next play and ran for five yards.  That made it third and one from the 46.  Instead of running it again, Stafford threw to the left side for Pettigrew.  The pass was incomplete due to the fact that Pettigrew was interfered with by linebacker Anthony Hitchens.  The flags flew and it looked like the Lions would have another first down.  All of a sudden, the flag was picked up and the zebras reversed the call.  You’ve GOT to be kidding.  Actually, when it comes to the NFL, hardly anything I see the zebras do shocks me.  Still, that was definitely pass interference.  That made it fourth and one from the 46.  All the Lions needed to do was get one yard to keep the drive alive.  Instead, Stafford tried to draw the Cowboys offside.  In other words, he didn’t snap the ball and took a delay of game penalty.  Lions, you baffle me.  You really do.  To make things really incredible, Martin shanked the punt.  It went TEN freaking yards.

Starting at the 41, the Cowboys went to work.  A 13-yard pass to Murray got them into Detroit territory.  That was followed by a few short runs by Murray and Romo completed a 21-yard pass to Witten on fourth and six.  The pass to Witten gave the Cowboys a first down at the 21.  A defensive holding on the Lions netted another first down at the 16.  The next two plays gained three yards and on third and seven, Romo completed a short pass to running back Lance Dunbar, but he was thrown for a loss of two yards.  Wait a minute.  There’s another flag on the ground.  This time, it was defensive holding on linebacker DeAndre Levy.  That gave the Cowboys a first down at the eight-yard line.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by a five-yard run by Murray.  That moved the ball to the three-yard line.  A false start on the Cowboys moved them back to the eight.  From the eight, Romo took the snap, had time and fired a pass across the middle that was caught by Williams for a touchdown.  Bailey made the point after and the Cowboys led 24-20 with 2:32 to go in the game.

The Lions took over at their 20 and on second and four, Stafford was sacked by defensive end Anthony Spencer.  The ball came loose and it was recovered by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.  All he had to do was fall on it and that would pretty much seal a win for the Cowboys.  Instead, he tried to advance it and the ball was loose once again.  It was recovered by offensive tackle Riley Reiff and the Lions retained possession at their 23-yard line.  With two minutes to go, Stafford spread the ball around to three different receivers and moved into Dallas territory.  On fourth and three from the Dallas 42, Stafford was sacked for a loss of nine.  The ball came loose again and Lawrence fell on it.  That was the nail in the coffin.  The Cowboys came from behind and won 24-20.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 for 323 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Golden Tate led the team in receptions with six and receiving yards with 89.  On the ground, the Lions rushed for 90 yards on 22 carries.  Joique Bell was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 12 carries.  Defensively, linebacker James Ihedigbo led the team in solo tackles with seven.  Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh led the team in sacks with two.

For the Cowboys, Tony Romo completed 19 of 31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns.  Jason Witten led the team in receptions with five and Terrance Williams had the most receiving yards with 92 and two touchdowns.  DeMarco Murray carried the ball 19 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.  The only other player with any rushing stats is Romo.  He had two carries for minus two yards.  Defensively, safety J.J. Wilcox led the team in solo tackles with seven.

Up next for the Cowboys is a trip to Green Bay to take on the Packers.  That game will be on Sunday at 1:05 eastern time.

 

Lions 20, Bears 14: Santa Hates Children and Animals

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, another bad Bears QB.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…ok screw it, this is going to get old quickly.

The Chicago Bears tried to play Grinch to the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field but, despite a spirited effort, ended up being nicer than naughty and fell to those blue animals 20-14.

It’s the fifth straight defeat for the Bears who haven’t won a game since before Thanksgiving.  The first Thanksgiving.

This defeat did look different than the previous nine, however, because after much drama and many turnovers, the Bears decided this past week to sit down quarterback Jay Cutler and handed the sleigh over to Jimmy Clausen who had not started an NFL game since back in 2010, a simpler, more sanguine time in American history.

Clausen, once he wiped off the cobwebs, was not too bad, completing 23 of 39 passes for 189 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But honestly, if Cutler had put up those exact same numbers Bears fans would be spitting in his eggnog.

The Bears’ defense did an honorable job of keeping Jimmy in the hunt by coming up with two interceptions off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford who at times looked like he, not Clausen, was the quarterback who has been picking splinters since “Lost” went off the air.

2010 was also the last year the Bears made the playoffs, a drought that some hard-drinking mystics thought would end this year but, at 5-10, the only game the Bears will be playing in January will be “Avoid the Hatchet Man” but in that game most Bears supporters are not hoping for a victory.

It’s going to be a tough Christmas week at Halas Hall. The Bears will be watching other teams open postseason presents whereas the Bears will not only get coal in their stockings but a stye in the eye. If they’re lucky.

Clausen played OK, the defense tried and if not for a play here and a mistake there, the Bears could have pulled this one out. But what does any of it mean? What football Gods are being served? Are we any closer to knowing what this Bears team will look like next year or even next week?

In the season finale will the Bears turn to third string QB David Fales because what the heck, why not, we have to know our options?

This is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” but the only line from that song that’s resonating in Bearland is also the most curious lyric: There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.

Does anyone really tell ghost stories at Christmas? The Bears have been seeing scary stuff since before Halloween. Let us gather around the Christmas hearth and try not to be afraid, Bears fans. Let’s remember the glories of Christmas past and know that they can be re-lived.

Just so long as Santa brings us that VCR we’ve been asking for.

Lions 34, Bears 17: Hell With Extra Gravy and Thanks For Nothing

The Chicago Bears got off to a blazing start in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, we’re talking hotter than a rear-ended Pinto, and led 14-3 after the first quarter.

Then, the tryptophan kicked in, the Lions awoke and, in the end, the Bears looked like an Edsel with the tires slashed and lost 34-17 to fall to 5-7 and the playoffs now appear more remote, distant and delusional than ever.

The Bears knew running against the Lions would be difficult so they instead tried running from the running game, compiling just seven carries for a mere 14 yards. If you only run seven times you had better be able to throw well and the result there for Chicago was like sitting in an out-of-gas Gremlin during a snowstorm. You know, kinda cool, but ultimately very cold and pointless.

Unless you’re with a girl or have a bunch of brownies.

Neither of these were the case for our beloved Bears as Jay Cutler hoisted it an eye-popping 48 times with 31 completions, two touchdowns and two interceptions and a lot of vexation.

Was the Bears defense any better? Other than a Jared Allen strip sack of Matthew Stafford in the first quarter that set up the Bears’ second touchdown, no.

We’re saddened to be at 5-7 but not terribly surprised, at least not anymore. And, we wish we could go and hide, or at least stay out of the spotlight for a bit. The tough thing is another Thursday night awaits, and it’s bringing Cowboys with it.

The Bears don’t do well in the bright lights of primetime. Lately, the Bears don’t do well under the glow of a flashlight in a tent in the backyard with your friend Timmy, a six pack of Orange Crush and the ladies underwear section of an old Sears catalog.

The Cowboys lost on Thanksgiving, too. It’s a pity. If Dallas and Chicago had both won then this Thursday’s contest would have been a tense, chilly showdown of playoff aspirants. Instead, the Cowboys still have, at 8-4, a solid chance at playing in January but the Bears, unless some impossible math and acrobatics occur, can only be spoilers.

Sometimes the best thing for a bad mood is to spread it. The Bears will try. A win over the Cowboys would be an early Christmas gift. It would be nice because we’ll be home in January and probably next Thanksgiving, too. –TK

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.

 

Lost in Detroit

Lions 40, Bears 32: Nobody Has Fun in Detroit

The Chicago Bears had the Detroit Lions right where they wanted them on Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit; they just ran out of time.  In other words, if football games were 64 or 65 minutes the Bears certainly would have won, having mounted a courageous comeback from a 30-13 halftime deficit to make the final 40-32, Lions.

These are things that the citizens of Bears Nation are telling themselves this week, in-between horrific visions of Reggie Bush running quickly with extreme purpose the other way holding the football and possibly children’s toys.

Actually, most Bears fans are probably honest about what happened on Sunday, which was a thorough kick in the grizzlies that could have been far worse than the final score.  Yes, the Bears never gave up but neither did Custer.

The Bears lost because of Mr. Bush who ran for 139 yards and one touchdown, caught four passes for 34 yards and generally looked like the Heisman winner he was nearly a decade ago and not the effective but essentially non-threatening utility back he has been for the majority of his NFL career with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.  True, though, the Bears did all they could to help Bush with extremely poor tackling.  Reggie probably gets squeezed more at the airport than he did against the Bears.

In fairness, as well as in Detroit, Chicago’s defenders were not the only ones with cute little orange C’s on their helmets breaking their sacred football bonds in this affair.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who played great in Chicago victories over the Bengals, Vikings and Steelers, had one of those Sunday afternoons normally only experienced by atheists at a Waffle House.  He was just uncomfortable.  And flailing.  Jay threw three interceptions, lost one fumble, was sacked three times and had his LinkedIn profile hacked by Ndamukong Suh.

Many of Cutler’s troubles came in the second quarter in which Detroit scored three touchdowns in less then four minutes turning a competitive football game into something best not viewed with both eyes open.  The Bears’ second quarter made the finale of “Breaking Bad” look like the opening of “Rainbow Brite.”

The Bears did a few things right: Cutler ended up throwing for 317 yards, Matt Forte ran for 95 including a 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, five different Bears caught passes and the only serious injuries were to egos.  But the loss in Detroit not only gives the Bears their first defeat and puts them behind the Lions in the NFC North but also pinches the confidence a little bit and shines the light on some disturbing facts.  The Bears are allowing more than 28 points per game.  They have yet to beat a team that has a winning record.  They are the second worst team in the NFL covering punts and kickoffs.  Their punter, Adam Podlesh, had the worst day of his career on Sunday and is sixth worst in the league.  Brian Urlacher and Gale Sayers are not coming back.

And, perhaps most troubling, the 4-0 New Orleans Saints now come to Soldier Field.  If Reggie Bush can carve up the Bears, Jimmy Graham might do things that will lead to a U.N. tribunal.

Thankfully the forecast for Chicago on Sunday is cool with maybe a little rain.  If it gets soggy, Bears win.  Maybe.  If it doesn’t, 3-2 could be true.

Paper Lion 50

NFL teams have left training camp and are back to their normal routines at their everyday practice facilities, gearing up for the start of another season.  They have left behind the small colleges and other remote, humble locations that house them during the hot days of August during camp, a time when dozens of players from schools big and small, with resumes impressive and obscure, fight and hope for a chance to make a living by running, tackling, and aching.

Most of them, of course, never make it.  The final cuts have been made and teams have their 53-man rosters ready to go and those who were either too small, too slow, or too Tim Tebow are now looking for work and probably will never again get a realistic shot at the NFL.

Fifty years ago one guy walked away from training camp having not made the team but he never expected to.  No one expected him to, and that was the plan all along, to just see what it would be like for an ordinary Joe to get into the arena with the gladiators, and then write about it.  He was George Plimpton and his short summer stint with the Detroit Lions became Paper Lion, one of the greatest sports books ever written and simply a great book in its own right.  If you like a good story written by a passionate, talented writer, you will like it, to be sure.  If you like football, you’ll absorb it.

Plimpton was 36 years old and an established writer, editor, actor and society man in 1963 when he arranged to spend training camp with the Lions at Cranbrook, a private boys school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  Some knew who Plimpton was, having already made his name in a job he largely invented, the “participatory journalist,” but most of the Lions thought of him only as a strange, aged interloper with a patrician dialect who, despite being six-feet-four inches tall, did not cut an imposing figure as he was thin and not terribly athletic.

Still, George was no slouch.  He had guts, he had verve, and he was armed with curiosity, and it is his tireless quest to learn more about the game he had seen played so many times before that makes Paper Lion move.  How much do any of us really know about football?  About anything we love?  Can you break it down?  Can you explain it?  Do you blindly immerse yourself in it?

Plimpton’s report from the great American game’s frontlines and his discipline to let no detail escape is the brains of the Paper Lion, but the heartbeat is his writing, his ability to capture the feel, the spirit, and the striking, distinct sense of place and time: I heard the elevator doors sigh open…  The fireworks lit her, and she looked up, her face chalk white in the swift aluminum glare.  I looked at her out of my helmet.  Then I lifted a hand, just tentatively

Nineteen-sixty-three was a long time ago and so reading Paper Lion now also serves as a history lesson.  In Plimpton’s time a 250-pound lineman was considered big.  After a hot practice players were rewarded with lemonade.  Lions players hoped for a chance at driving a Ford, without charge, during the season.  On the NFL Champion Chicago Bears that year the average player earned $16,000.  The team photo of the ’63 Lions shows only a handful of black players and a half-dozen coaches.

Reading a yellowed, knackered paperback of Paper Lion places the reader back into the days of chalkboards, ink pens and middle class athletes.  To read Paper Lion on an iPad would be like meeting a girl on the Internet instead of a bar.  It can work, but sometimes the old ways are better.

George Plimpton had an ego.  He was smart, privileged, tall, talented, and he was friends with famous people but Paper Lion is not about him.  It’s about a time and a place that are both gone forever, yet evergreen.  Football has changed immeasurably in 50 years but it is still a game.  It is still about hot summer days filled with sweat, frustration and visions of cold, successful fall Sundays.  At the base of it… Plimpton writes after getting his first true test of NFL combat and getting expectedly knocked around, …was the urge, if you wanted to play football, to knock someone down, that was what the sport was all about, the will to win closely linked with contact.

Football in 1963 was very popular but it wasn’t until a few years later when championship contests became Super Bowls, when games became events, when “Monday Night Football” and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders became part of the American lexicon, that the NFL surpassed baseball as the true American pastime.  Now, as successful as the league is there are also dangers.  The NFL has just settled a titanic lawsuit with former players who are suffering from concussions and many honest observers openly question how long the sport will continue to exist in its current form.  The urge to hit has become too much when the players are bigger, faster and more well equipped than the ’63 Lions ever could have imagined.

George Plimpton died ten years ago this month.  He did a lot in the 40 years after the season of Paper Lion: writing, acting, trying other sports and almost always was the smartest, or at least one of the more distinguished, people in the room.  He was friends with the Kennedys and saluted the birth of Patrick Kennedy, President and Jackie Kennedy’s son who was born while Plimpton was with the Lions on August 7, 1963, and then mourned the infant’s death two days later.  Three months after that as Plimpton was writing Paper Lion he grieved over the murder of President Kennedy and then, five years later, Plimpton helped wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after he shot and killed Robert F. Kennedy.

By the time Paper Lion was published the summer of ’63 must have seemed like a distant past.  But the past has life on its pages.  Paper Lion is a study of football, humility, the end of summer, and the welcoming of a new season.  It is the smell of grass and the feel of fire in your lungs.

The girl whose face glowed under the fireworks on the football field, the one whom Plimpton waved to sheepishly after his plunge into football’s perilous world, said something to him before he waved.  She said, “Beautiful: It was beautiful.”

Bears 13, Lions 7: A Monster Named Suh

Gentle souls and kindly critters shutter to think of the horrors Ndamukong Suh commits away from the football field when the cameras are off, the referees are absent and Jay Cutler isn’t such an easy target.

Mr. Suh, the defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions and a target of government drones and audits, hit the Bears quarterback and, with the crafty use of his legs and arms, tossed him to the turf during the second quarter at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Monday night in such an earnest and truculent manner it scared grownups and cracked statues.

Ndamukong Suh is bigger than Kirstie Alley and meaner than Leonard Nimoy.

Jay Cutler survived Suh’s savage tackle which, in fairness, was perfectly legal.  But keep in mind, please, that many monstrous things are within the rule of law including corduroy and Dane Cook concerts.

Cutler bounced back – not just from the ground – and hung in there as the Bears went on to beat Detroit, 13-7, for their fourth straight win to improve to 5-1 which are also the odds against Suh being invited to Jay’s next weenie roast.

Suh did ask Cutler if he was OK.  Japan also apologized for Pearl Harbor.  Eventually.

Perhaps too much is being made of Suh’s savagery, just like some people are still hot and bothered over that whole silly financial meltdown.  Chicago’s victory was about more than just that one play, it was about a defense that forced four more turnovers, came about 30 seconds away from pitching a shutout, and now leads Made in Jersey in voting for “The Most Frightening Thing on the Planet.”

The signature play of this game was not, in fact, Cutler getting rag-dolled by Mean Mr. Number-90, but rather came in the third quarter when Bears cornerback Charles Tillman punched the ball out of the hands of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson in the end zone in an act that, had it occurred on Michigan Avenue instead of inside Soldier Field, would have landed Charles in jail.

On the very next play, Lions running back Joique Bell forgot that humans, at least humans named Joique Bell, cannot fly and so his attempt to cross the goal line from roughly the Illinois-Indiana border was thwarted and he coughed up the ball like a cat that just licked up a cigar.  The Bears recovered and it was all very appropriate and funny.

The Bears have allowed 78 points this season.  No other team has allowed less than 100.  Bears cornerback Tim Jennings was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and Tillman might win it for October.  Or maybe Lance Briggs will.   Or Julius Peppers.  What does it say about the Bears defense when Brian Urlacher might be its fifth best player?  Might be.

The Bears are 5-1 and afraid of nothing mortal nor helmeted.  But, the victories they’ve accumulated so far have come against teams with a combined record of 12-19.  Looming in the second half are the 5-2 49ers, the 6-1 Texans, the 5-2 Vikings (twice) the 4-3 Cardinals and the 4-3 Packers.  But first, the Bears get a home date with the 1-5  Carolina Panthers and then a road trip to the 3-4 Tennessee Titans.

There’s nothing like eating SpaghettiO’s before going off to fight the Huns.

The Bears could, and should, reach the season’s 50-yard line at 7-1.  They’ll need to be because even if they continue to play well it’s easy to see them going 4-4 down the stretch.  But winning, like Liam Neeson movies, tends to be habit-forming so maybe there’s no need to fret about those mountains ahead.  Maybe they have flowers.  Maybe there are goats that can’t kick.  Maybe Suh really is sorry.

 

Saints 45, Lions 28

Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz had to be feeling good about his team early in this game.  The Lions got the ball first and marched right down the field to take an early 7-0 lead as quarterback Matthew Stafford found tight end Will Heller for a ten-yard touchdown.  The defense also forced two fumbles in the first half.  When you’re playing the Saints, you have to capitalize on the opportunities that are given to you.  Unfortunately for the Lions, they couldn’t capitalize on those turnovers.

After a two-yard touchdown run by running back Darren Sproles tied the game at seven, the Lions came back with a 14-play, 87-yard drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Calvin Johnson.  The score remained 14-7 until the Saints took over at their own 16 and moved the ball to the Detroit six-yard line.  The drive stalled there and kicker John Kasay made a 24-yard field goal to make the score 14-10 in favor of the Lions at halftime.

The Saints got the second half off to a fast start when quarterback Drew Brees tossed a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Devery Henderson and a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the Saints on top 24-14.  The Lions still had some fight in them as Stafford took his team on another 80-yard drive and capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 24-21 at the end of the third quarter.

However, the fourth quarter belonged to the Saints.  They picked Stafford off twice and outscored the Lions 21-7 with a 17-yard touchdown run by Sproles, a 56-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Robert Meachem and a one-yard touchdown run by running back Pierre Thomas.  Calvin Johnson did manage to catch a 12-yard touchdown pass late in the game, but it was too little and too late to mount a comeback.

For the Lions, Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 43 for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  He spread the ball around to seven different receivers and Calvin Johnson led the team with 12 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.  The Lions finished the game with just 32 yards rushing as a team.  Kevin Smith led the team with 21 yards on six carries.  Linebacker Stephen Tulloch led the Lions with eight solo tackles, two passes defensed and one tackle for a loss.

For the Saints, they were never forced to punt and Drew Brees had another outstanding game as he completed 33 of 43 for 466 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  He spread the ball around to eight different receivers with Marques Colston leading the team with seven catches for 120 yards.  The Saints rushed for 167 yards as a team.  Pierre Thomas led the team in rushing yards with 66 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.  Cornerback Tracy Porter led the team with seven solo tackles.  The Saints had possession of the ball for 37 minutes, ran 81 plays and racked up a total of 626 total yards.

The next game for the Saints is next Saturday at 4:30 P.M. Eastern time against the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers.  The 49ers pride themselves on having the number one run defense and the Saints won’t have the comfort of their dome to protect them from the temperamental  Bay Area weather.  It will definitely be a game worth watching.