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.
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.