December 16, 2017

Bears 18, Chiefs 17: Just Bearly

As 37,182 runners struggled to the finish line at the Chicago Marathon, our beloved Bears were 500 miles away in Kansas City struggling to keep their season relevant.

Marathons are normally giddy at the beginning, ugly and insane in the middle and heartfelt and life-changing at the end. And this was sort of how it was for the Bears against the Chiefs.

OK, the beginning was not so hot as Kansas City sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in the first quarter and Ramik Wilson pounced on it for a touchdown. So it was 7-0 in favor of the Chiefs and the Bears looked lost, felt desperate and no one in the land of Stram & Honey was going to help them.

This theme continued for most of the rest of the afternoon and the Bears found themselves trailing 17-3 at halftime and 17-6 with less than four minutes to play.

So, of course, they ended up winning.

Cutler, playing with fill-ins on the offensive line, backups at wide receiver, Rosary beads in his pocket and a song in his heart, orchestrated two late scoring drives which featured two amazing TD passes and, after Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos’ 5,000-yard field goal attempt at the final gun wobbled feebly to the ground like a chubby Irishman trying to keep up with a Kenyan Olympian, Chicago had an improbable 18-17 victory, a 2-3 record and a whole bunch of good vibrations.

We shall be honest about our situation. The Bears have played three good teams this year – the Packers, Cardinals and Seahawks (the Seahawks are good, right?) – and lost convincingly each time. And the Monsters of Sudden Merriment have played two bad teams – the Raiders and Chiefs – and won by a very short, pimply nose both times.

So, the Bears could easily be 0-5 and feeling worse than the guy who forgot the Gatorade at Mile 23. But they’ve gutted out two straight wins despite a bunch of injuries and, unlike last year, they never, ever show signs of giving up.

And it’s easier not to give up when you’re well coached, have a sound game plan and the Chiefs and Raiders are kind of stupid.

Now it’s on to Detroit to face the Lions who are 0-5 and need a victory worse than a dying mouse needs fresh cheese and a cigarette. The Bears are already believers. A win in Detroit makes them 3-3. It makes them contenders. — TK


Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

December 15, 2014

Saints 31, Bears 15: The Unholy Season

The Chicago Bears handed out aprons to the first 40,000 loyal souls who walked into Soldier Field on Monday night and they were quickly put to good use catching tears and other fluids flying around a frustrated stadium as the Bears were damned by the New Orleans Saints, 31-15 in another nationally televised kick in the crotch.

It started ugly, stayed ugly and ended ugly, emblematic of an intolerable season that now has the Bears at 5-9 and questioning their choices, their path, their pride and their religion.

The Bears took the opening kick and committed a penalty. Their first play from scrimmage was a two-yard run, followed by an incomplete pass and then a Jay Cutler interception, the first of what would eventually be three on this cold, rainy night that made even Santa Claus a doubter.

The Bears did manage to get the ball back two plays later by forcing a fumble but refused to take advantage of this rare bit of good fortune and instead responded with a weak five-play drive that included a curious incomplete Cutler deep pass on 3rd and 1 and, well, we were really glad we had those aprons.

The Saints, an NFC South powerhouse at 6-8, are not very good either and, like the Bears, couldn’t do much early on as the first quarter of this contest looked less like an NFL game than a shoving match between a bunch of fat guys in a yard full of reindeer droppings.

Alas, New Orleans’ badness was not as bad as Chicago’s and Drew Brees and his fleur de leaf helmeted pals put up 14 points in the second quarter to lead 14-0 at halftime and if it hadn’t been for a spectacular fireworks show, and those awesome aprons, probably many more fans would have left an already sorry crowd that had about 11,000 no-shows at kickoff.

There were actually a lot of Saints fans in Chicago for this game, which proves that people will follow football anywhere, even if it’s bad December football.

The Bears were outgained 443-278 on the night and those numbers would have been far, far worse if it wasn’t for a couple of Bears touchdowns on garbage-time drives in the fourth quarter by which time our hot chocolate was cold, our aprons were soiled and our souls, in tatters since the Green Bay game five weeks ago, were in need of serious spiritual reconstruction if not an outright exorcism.

The Saints committed three penalties for 25 yards. The Bears were flagged nine times for 74 yards.

The Bears turned the ball over three times, the Saints just once.

Drew Brees averaged nine yards per pass attempt; Jay Cutler averaged four.

Brees was sacked twice by the Bears; Cutler bit the turf seven times.

Thank God for those aprons.

The Bears have dropped three straight games giving up an average of 35 points per game and, for the season, are surrendering an average of 29 points per contest, worst in the NFL.

Chicago’s offense through 14 games is scoring at a pace of 21.6 points per contest, 19th best. This, from a team that was expected to have the best offense Chicago has ever seen. The Bears have seen a lot of great offense this year, wearing the other jerseys.

When it was all (officially) over on Monday night we the few, the proud, the cold, the downtrodden, trudged out of Soldier Field into the dark, misty, wintry air and perhaps the most troubling thing was that no one seemed surprised, or even disappointed. Those reactions were all used up against the Panthers, Patriots, Packers and Lions.

At this point, Bears fans are just tired, with no one even heard firing back at the “Who Dat?” chants from New Orleans fans echoing into the cold December night.

Instead, we clutched our aprons and checked our phones for the Bulls score.

They lost, too.

Cowboys 41, Bears 28: Thursday Night Badness

Offense. Defense. Special Teams. Coaching. Actuary.  You name the category and the Dallas Cowboys were better in it than the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, as the Bears fell 41-28 at Chicago’s frigid Soldier Field.

Dallas dominated from kickoff to kneel-down in this one, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, making better adjustments, sticking with a solid game plan, (having a solid game plan) and performing better in all pertinent areas.

The Cowboys came in with a poor run defense and the Bears responded by running the ball just 15 times.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas entered with one of the league’s top running games and the Bears got gouged for 194 yards, including 179 on 32 carries for DeMarco Murray who routinely was provided with holes wider than the Eisenhower Expressway to run through.

The Bears made a superstar of a man named Cole Beasley.

The whole evening was ugly, sad, and, worst of all; typical of one of the most abrasive seasons in Chicago sports history.

This was the second straight Thursday nationally televised game for the Mopers of the Midway and once again an entire nation saw a Bears team that has talent but lacks focus, has ammunition but no fire, and possesses potential but no pass rush.

The Bears must be given some credit, though. They trailed 35-7 in the fourth quarter and even the most loyal Bears fans were either headed for the exits or flipping the channel to see just what particular brand of hot water Gilligan was getting into, but the Bears did not give up, putting up 21 points in the final frame to make the score at least look respectable when in fact the game was not.

Did a few of us think when Jay Cutler was throwing into the endzone with two minutes to play that the Bears might score and recover the onside kick and throw a bomb into the endzone and pull out a miracle of miracles? Yes, a few of us did. We’re hopeful, holiday people, so forgive us.

Cutler was intercepted.

The Bears did not surrender when the chips were down and all appeared lost and that’s a bit heartening. But there’s not much else to build on as we approach the season’s final three games starting with, mercilessly we must add, a third straight national game, on Monday, December 15 when they host the New Orleans Saints.

The Bears are 5-8 and their fans want blood. They want answers. They want Butkus, Sayers, Payton and McMahon.

The Christmas season is a time for remembering, certainly. It’s also a time for looking ahead. And hoping. And huddling against the winter cold and wondering if it’s all worth it. –TK

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

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.

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, 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.


Redskins 45, Bears 41: The Sum of All Fears

Three weeks ago the Chicago Bears were 3-0, healthy and hopeful.  Now, after Sunday’s 45-41 loss to the Redskins in Washington, the Monsters of the Misfortune are 4-3, battered, skeptical and likely to get nothing but stale popcorn balls and black licorice for Halloween.

October, you see, has been no fun at all for the guys who wear orange and blue.

The Bears lost to the Redskins because their defense is so porous you can use it to drain spaghetti.  Then, adding injury to vacuity, the Bears lost Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs to an injured shoulder and All-World cornerback Peanut Tillman to a bad knee.  The Bears’ two best players were thus standing on the sidelines, like statues at a clown slaughter, as Robert Griffin III marched the Redskins down the field for the winning score in the final minutes.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if Briggs and Tillman were healthy as the Bears couldn’t stop the Skins all day long, yielding 499 yards of offense, allowing a gentleman by the name of Roy Helu to score three touchdowns and generally looking like a defense that is aged, injured and wearing roller skates.

If it wasn’t for Devin Hester’s 81-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter (tying him with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for most return scores all-time with 19, actually Hester has 20 if you include the playoffs and further actually he has 21 if you include that return of a missed field goal against the Giants in 2006) and Tillman’s first quarter interception return to Washington’s 10-yard line this game might have been 59-27, Redskins, or worse.

Many will say the big blow in this one for Chicago was not the loss of Briggs and Tillman and maybe even not the loss of the game itself, but the injury to quarterback Jay Cutler.  Cutler left the game in the second quarter grimacing in pain and it turns out he has a torn groin muscle (which must be as agonizing as it sounds) and we learned Monday he will be out at least four weeks, as will Briggs.  Tillman, thankfully, should be back sooner.

Cutler wasn’t having much of an afternoon in this one anyway, going 3-of-8 for 28 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, which was returned for a touchdown.  Once he went down Josh McCown stepped in and played very well, actually played great under the circumstances considering he hadn’t played in two years, and finished 14-of-20 for 204 yards, one TD, no interceptions, a QB rating of 119.6 and kept the Bears in it until the finish.

So maybe losing Cutler really wasn’t so bad for a day.  But anyone who thinks the Bears will be better off with McCown at QB for a four-week stretch is either crazy or goes by the name “Mrs. McCown.”  To be sure, McCown is tough, smart, experienced and doesn’t make many mistakes.  He’s sort of like Alex Smith lite.  But with the Bears defense in about as good shape as the health care exchange website, the Bears are going to have to win shootouts like the one they lost in Washington to have a chance of even being 6-4 when Jay returns.

Luckily, and this is the first bit of luck the Bears have had since “Gravity” was released, Chicago is now in its bye week so at least McCown has a little more time to get comfortable in the offense and newly-signed backup Jordan Palmer, who was with the Bears in training camp, can put his football shoes back on and break them in.  Most important, the week off gives the Bears time to heal up and it means Cutler and Briggs will miss one less game.

The Bears weren’t great with a healthy Cutler and Briggs but they were good.  The Bears weren’t a powerhouse before defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins and linebacker D.J. Williams were lost for the season but they were in first place and showed glimpses of being elite.  So, what are the Bears now?  Do they have a chance at beating the Packers in Green Bay on Monday, November 4?  Does Heaven have any mercy for those who drink beer, devour potatoes, bleed blue and, lately, piss blood?

There is still a lot to feel good about.  Running back Matt Forte ran for 91 yards and three scores on Sunday on just 16 carries, Alshon Jeffery caught four passes, Brandon Marshall hauled in six, Earl Bennett caught three, Martellus Bennett made his one catch count for a TD and Hester is returning kicks like the good old days.  The offensive weapons are there and Marc Trestman seems to know how to use them.

But that defense.  Ouch.  Chicago safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright seem to have taken a step back, as they are always a step behind in coverage.  Maybe that’s because the Bears have an anemic pass rush – they recorded one sack on Sunday – and so now opposing QBs have that much more time to just sit in the pocket and wait for their receivers to get open.  Which they are doing.  Griffin’s 45-yard TD pass to Aldrick Robinson early in the fourth quarter looked like a wing and a prayer, he just heaved it up there, but he seemed to know that if he threw deep enough no one in the Bears’ secondary would get there.  He was right.

A lot goes in to winning and losing a football game and in the case of Bears kicker Robbie Gould he almost always goes into winning it.  Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and, considering he kicks at windy Soldier Field, also one of the most underappreciated.  But in the third quarter he missed a 34-yard field goal attempt that could have closed the Bears to within 24-20.  The Bears ended up losing by four, yes, but if they’d trailed 45-44 on their final drive instead of 45-41 perhaps knowing they only needed to get into field goal range would have been a boost.  Many watching Sunday’s game thought that whoever had the ball last would win (and let us not forget to say that, maybe more important than anything else, this was one hell of a fun football game) and if Gould had connected earlier that might have proven true.

It’s far too early to say the sun is setting on the Bears’ 2013 season but it might be time to put away the lawn chairs and get out the leaf blower.  They’ll play tough against the Packers in part because Green Bay, at 4-2, is good but not great (though the Pack have won three straight) and the Bears have to be sick and tired of losing to the Packers having not beaten them since 2010.  That’s six straight losses (including the NFC Championship game after the 2010 season) but, then again, being tired of losing to Brett Favre never meant much.

Get healthy.  Wrap.  Tackle.  Pass the ball and tell your receivers to run slowly to eat up the clock.  Try anything.  The ship is taking on water and no one can hear your cries through the dark.

Extra Points:

It is very sad that the football world has lost Bud Adams, Bum Phillips and Don James and let us not forget Ed Lauter.  Lauter was the stone-faced character actor who appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows and we remember him most fondly for “The Jericho Mile” and, of course 1974’s “The Longest Yard” in which he played a prison guard who played quarterback and tormented Burt Reynolds.  His character in that film was tough as nails and, at times, outright abusive.  But by the end he learned to show compassion, or at least common sense, and respect for toughness and humanity that surpassed his own.  You can learn a lot on a football field.

Death To The Purple People

The Chicago Bears are 2-0 after their thrilling, last minute 31-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at soggy Soldier Field and sit grinning atop the NFC North like a homeless guy pissing on an unoccupied cop car.

It’s called getting away with things while you can.

Actually, the Movin’ On Ups of the Midway are winning by staying cool, showing resilience and meshing the old with the new, the Lovie and the Trestman, the past and passing.

It was a particularly beautiful 16-yard bullet pass from Jay Cutler to tight end Martellus Bennett, perfectly thrown where only Bennett could catch it, with 10 seconds left that tipped the scales in this one which had been a wet, back-and-forth tussle and at least two hornfulls of fun.

If there’s one thing different about this year’s Bears compared to the last few years – and there are many things – it’s the presence and play of Bennett, who gives the Bears something they have not had in a long time: a tight end who can catch, then run.  It seems simple but it in Bearland it’s not.  Mr. Bennett, who is in his first year with Chicago after spending four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and last year with the New York Giants, scored twice on Sunday and has ten receptions for 125 yards and three scores in just two games this season.  The Bears’ starting tight end last year, Kellen Davis, caught 19 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns the entire season.

Jay Cutler loves Martellus Bennett in a very clean, church-approved, masculine, sincere way.

Bennett and Cutler needed to save the day in the drenching final seconds because Jay spent earlier parts of the afternoon unwillingly collaborating with the visiting purple jerks.  Cutler threw two interceptions and also lost a fumble, which ended up in the greedy hands of Vikings defensive end Brian Robison who huffed and puffed 61 yards for a score.  That happened in the second quarter, allowing the Vikings to tie the affair at 14 after their first score came on a 105-yard kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson on the first play of the game.  So at that point the Bears defense had yet to allow a point but Minnesota still had double digits on the board.  That’s just bad planning.

The Bears defense eventually surrendered a TD pass from Christian Ponder to Kyle Rudolph late in the first half but only after Bears cornerback Tim Jennings revived his 2012 self and picked off Ponder for a 44-yard score.  In the second half both teams were a little tired after all that first 30-minute frolicking, and also very wet, and the Bears were able to keep the Vikes out of the end zone, holding them to three Blair Walsh field goals of, respectively, 28 yards, 28 yards, and 22 yards.  So, the Bears must be given credit for bending but not breaking.  The Vikings were knocking on the door and could have blown this thing more wide open than the gap between a Minnesota hillbilly’s teeth, but the Bears held strong.  Or perhaps the purple kids just didn’t call the right plays.

It doesn’t matter now.  What is germane is the Bears are still doing the things they did well in the Lovie Smith era – forcing turnovers and playing good special teams (Patterson’s opening return score was pretty much negated by Devin Hester taking the ensuing kickoff 76 yards setting up Cutler’s first TD pass to Bennett and Hester finished with a career-best 249 yards on kickoff returns so take that to the Mall of America and suck it!) – while also learning the Canadian ways of Marc Trestman by throwing the ball to different receivers,  recognizing the tight end’s right to a decent standard of living and recognizing Cutler’s right to life, liberty and uprightness.  Behind Chicago’s revamped line and Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s play calling, Cutler has been sacked just once this season.  Last year, Jay got buried 38 times.

It all adds up to two exhilarating wins so far against two good teams.

Now, the Bears go Pittsburgh on Sunday night to face a Steelers team that is 0-2, cannot run the ball, has scored just 19 points this year and is certain of nothing outside of Brett Kiesel’s beard.  The Steelers lost to the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend, and the Bears beat the Bengals in Week 1 so you know what that means?  You guessed it: zippo, baby!  Succeeding in the NFL is sometimes like making love to a really fat person with the lights on: it’s not easy.  You have to earn everything, every week, every play, every moment.  You have to protect your assets.  You have to find your openings.  You have to bear down and believe.


Good New Bears

Super Bowls aren’t won on the first day of free agency but bad memories can, temporarily at least, be pushed from a row boat with a cinderblock tied to their neck.

The Chicago Bears are wearing out the Blu-ray of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and trying to write a sequel called The Solved Mystery of the Distant End Zone by ridding themselves of players who refuse to move their lawn chairs from their comfy spot at midfield and replacing them with guys who like to block, catch, run and snuggle against the goalpost with ball in hand as cheers and cash rain down.

Toward those ends, when the NFL free agency period officially opened on Tuesday the Bears pounced like a fat guy on a dropped Twinkie.

The Bears addressed two dire needs by signing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett, two gentlemen who are expected to, respectively, help quarterback Jay Cutler stay on his feet, and catch the ball that Cutler will then have a much better chance of throwing since he won’t be choking on a defensive end’s fist.

Bushrod made the Pro Bowl twice with the New Orleans Saints and has started the last 54 games, which means he’s good, he’s durable, and will probably jab a thumb in your eye if you make any jokes about his name.

Bushrod will start at left tackle with the Bears replacing J’Marcus Webb, a chap whom, the last few seasons, was the weakest link on an offensive line that offered less protection than a drunk panda with a wet noodle.

Bennett moves into the starting tight end position, bringing with him a resume that includes 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns last season with the New York Giants.  That’s about twice as many catches, yards and scores as all the Bears’ tight ends last year combined.

Somewhere Mike Ditka is punching a snowman.

Are Bushrod and Bennett – besides providing hours of alliterative silliness – the keys to turning a decent Bears team into a Super Bowl winner?  Yes.

When we wrote “yes” a second ago we meant to write “Hell yes.”  Just kidding.  The Bears still need to figure out what to do with their own free agents – including Brian Urlacher – and also still need to draft a solid pass rusher, remember Matt Forte’s phone number, and hope that new head coach Marc Trestman really is as smart and innovative as only the Bears seem to think he is.  But, for the first time since coming to Chicago in 2009, Cutler now has a Pro Bowl receiver – Brandon Marshall, a Pro Bowl running back – Forte, a bona fide Pro Bowl blocker – Bushrod, and a tight end – Bennett – who was the last three Pro Bowls still saved on his DVR.

Free agency has just begun, the draft is more than a month away and the regular season doesn’t start until September.  But the Bears are off to a good start.  They are acting with urgency.

Super Bowls aren’t won in March but momentum is built.  So build that thing, Bears.  Grab a hammer and tell the children to get out of the way.  Spit a nail into the wind and bleed into yesterday.

Chicago 28, Minnesota 10: Veni, Vidi, Vikings

The Chicago Bears looked more like the Monsters of the Midway on Sunday, and less like the Maginot Line, beating the Minnesota Vikings, 28-10, at Soldier Field to improve to 8-3 and were promptly rewarded with a return to first place and all the leftover cranberries.

Lovie Smith’s little fellas needed this one badly having come in with two straight losses including last Monday night’s 32-7 eradication in San Francisco in which the Bears looked less interested than the ghost of Paul Lynde at the Tilted Kilt.

Chicago won by returning to its core principles of forcing turnovers, running the ball and playing a team that probably isn’t very good.  The Vikings entered Sunday’s challenge with a record of 6-4 but every American over the age of 21 knows that the only people who ever succeed while wearing purple are Prince and Elton John.  True, Prince is from Minnesota but do any of you honestly profess that a man who celebrates the wearing of raspberry berets drinks from the same fountain of fortune as you?

The Vikings aren’t very good.

The Bears are good when they have Jay Cutler and the salty QB was back in the office Sunday after sitting out the San Francisco slambake with a concussion.  Cutler’s absence left more Twizzlers for everyone else on the bus but it also exposed just how bad the Bears offensive line really is as his backup, Jason Campbell, was sacked 73 times last week and then moved to Canada and changed his name to Mrs. Bloodyfeather.   No, Campbell didn’t really quit but one of his beleaguered protectors, guard Chilo Rachal, did after being demoted.  Rachal officially said he left the team for “personal reasons,” those reasons being he didn’t like his coaches telling him that he floats like a butterfly and blocks like a matador.

Chris Spencer, who had the job at the beginning of the season, replaced Rachal on the offensive line and the Bears also sent tackle Gabe Carimi to the bench and brought in Jonathan Scott.  The shuffles appeared to work as the line gave Cutler just enough time on Sunday to stave off, at least for another week, being asked to audition for a background role in a remake of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Cutler completed 23 of 31 passes for 188 yards for one touchdown and one interception.  True, those are numbers that Drew Brees can put up with one eye closed and one hand on his birthmark, but they’re perfectly acceptable for anyone with a fancy orange “C” on the side of his head, especially on the heels of a game in which the offense was about as productive as NHL labor negotiations.

The Bears had a lot of fun in this one.  Cutler was penalized for taunting.  And (tee-hee!) he deserved it.

The Bears blocked a field goal.  So did the Vikings, of course, but the Bears did it first which just proves that not only are the Vikings mediocre but also garishly unoriginal.

The Bears also, just to be funky and all about what you don’t think they’re all about, faked an extra point in the second quarter and had punter Adam Podlesh run it in for a two-point conversion on a direct snap.  Perhaps the Bears did this as an apology to Adam for recently inviting some free agent punters to practice and allowing them to ask Adam where he parks his car.  Most punters don’t have friends.

This victory may be a costly one for the Bears because while Cutler left the game walking, breathing and talking just like Rory Calhoun, several of his teammates did not.  Spencer and the Bears other starting guard, Lance Louis, both left the game with injuries and receiver/returner Devin Hester, running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs all got hurt as well.  Oh yeah, and Ditka had a stroke two weeks ago.

So, the black, orange and blue Bears who, not so long ago, looked like a conquering army steamrolling dandelions and Gabberts, now instead proceed into winter resembling a bedraggled gang of malnourished tollbooth attendants dragging a groggy Billy Gardell into the shower.

This is November football.

For Chicagoans, the only thing better than watching the Bears win is buying tripe half-price.   The next best thing after that is watching the Green Bay Packers lose and the whole football nation witnessed that Sunday night as the Packers were brutalized by the New York Giants, 38-10, in New Jersey.  That means Aaron Rodgers and his mustache are now 7-4 and the Bears are one game ahead with the Seattle Seabiscuits coming to town.  Are the Bears back on the right track, or are they still just a missed block away from a memorial service and a winless December?

8-3.  The Bears are guaranteed of being officially no worse than so-so.  So-so ain’t so bad after two weeks of oh, no.  So-so knows the way to OK.  So-so feeds the bulldog.