August 19, 2017

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.

Football Players of a Lesser God

If the season was on life support for the Chicago Bears before Sunday’s 38-14 eradication at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field in Chicago, then that means the plug has now been pulled and it’s now just a matter of harvesting the organs.

A season which showed such promise four weeks ago has now been diverted from the Yellow Brick Road onto Skid Row as the Bears have dropped four straight to fall to 7-7 and look as if they would have a tough time covering the spread against Tom Brady’s shadow.  I shan’t bother terrorizing you with the details of Sunday’s washout because my stomach just can’t take it.  If you’re a masochist or a Brandon Browner fan, you can watch the highlights yourself on the Internet or you could also pop in a DVD of Inglorious Basterds and fast-forward to all the Christoph Waltz scenes.  Yes, it was like that.

The Bears were playing their fourth straight game without quarterback Jay Cutler and with quarterback Caleb Hanie who, by this time next year, will either be working as a shopping mall Santa Claus or as one of George Toma’s sod boys.  Mr. Hanie is an athletic and diligent young fellow but he’s regressing with each week and he also has very little help because the Bears were also, once again, without running back Matt Forte.  The Bears without Cutler and Forte are like Larry without Moe and Curly.

Chicago’s offensive line cannot sustain blocks and the receivers cannot get separation.  The Bears defense at this point of the year is sort of like Kirstie Alley’s girdle at a smorgasbord: it can only do so much before there’s an explosion of flesh, flatulence and general horror.

Bears coach Lovie Smith must accept some of the blame for driving a team bus that now smells like it was carrying around a herd of goats that have been feasting on Newt Gingrich’s socks but no coach – not Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichik or even Hayden Fox – could win, or win often, with the current lineup sported by the Meltdowns of the Midway.  The dissection of the Bears disaster has already begun and includes many calls for Lovie’s bald head along with that of General Manager Jerry Angelo who is blamed for not getting a top-notch receiver or putting together a passable offensive line.  Those are legitimate criticisms but it must be acknowledged that four weeks ago the Bears were 7-3, riding a five-game winning streak, and might not have had the Packers, Saints or 49ers looking over their shoulder but at least they could see the Bears in the rearview mirror, honking the horn and waving a pink bra.  Angelo compiled a good team that went south only after it lost its two best players along with two starting offensive lineman, one of whom, rookie first round pick Gabe Carimi, barely had a chance to prove his worth.  If Cutler, Forte, Carimi and left guard Chris Williams were still playing the Bears would probably be 9-5 at worst and might be 11-3.

But they’re not and the Bears aren’t.

What Angelo truly must face the music on at this point is that after Hanie’s second start, an icky 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was clear that a change was needed at quarterback.  But, instead of going after Donovan McNabb or even Jeff Garcia, Angelo and Lovie chose to stick with Hanie as the starter and Josh McCown, who was signed when Cutler got hurt, as the backup.  It should have been abundantly clear to Messrs. Angelo and Smith that their squad cannot win with their current crop of QBs, which also includes rookie Nathan Enderle.  They should have gone out and signed another quarterback two weeks ago when there was still hope to go 10-6 and reach the playoffs at which time Cutler and Forte might have been able to return and the Bears would be entering Youneverknowland.  The injuries have been devastating to the Bears but you don’t respond to cancer with aspirin.  Alcohol and porn, maybe, but not aspirin.

What the Bears have done, with a little help from the Green Bay Packers, is ruin Christmas.  Weeks ago this coming Sunday night’s Bears-Packers primetime affair at Lambeau Field looked like it would be one of the great games of the season and another colorful chapter in pro football’s longest and most choleric rivalry.  Now the NFL’s only Christmas Day game will feel like a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys and will likely have fewer viewers than that night’s rerun of Doctor Who which is also what Caleb Hanie is thinking of changing his name to.

Despite the Bears’ dilapidated state, the Christmas showdown would still have been worth watching if only to see if Chicago might pull off a Christmas miracle and end Green Bay’s perfect season.  But then those rascally Packers went out and got bopped by the Kansas City Chiefs for their first loss in more than a calendar year.  Back when the Packers last lost a game Glee was good, Tim Tebow was bad and Chaz Bono couldn’t pee standing up.  It was quite a year.

The Bears aren’t mathematically out of the playoff race and I, mathematically, stand a chance at taking the place of Thomas Vonn.  If Chicago wins its final two games, the Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seabiscuits must still drop dead for the Bears to reach the second weekend of January.  It’s not going to happen.

It has been a December not to remember in Bearland. Rudolph has been shot, Santa has hemorrhoids and Elvis is hoping they don’t let Kim Jong Il inside.  Bring on basketball.  Bring on 2012.  Bring us some figgy pudding, light a cigarette and shut the door.  We want to be alone.

 

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kevin Kolb returned last week and the Cardinals won, but Kolb still didn’t play all that well. He was constantly throwing passes into the ground…..RB Beanie Wells is battling knee, thumb and hamstring injuries which has limited his practice time this week, but he still should play versus the 49ers on Sunday.

Atlanta Falcons: QB Matt Ryan has just not been able to take that next step this season. For the Falcons to advance deep into the playoffs, they will need him to do so or they will have no chance of beating the Packers or Saints…..RB Michael Turner is dealing with a groin injury that certainly seemed to slow him down last week, but the Texans’ defense may also have had something to do with his performance. This week he gets the Panthers, a much better matchup.

Baltimore Ravens: Some consider the Ravens to be the best team in the AFC, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m not sure I trust QB Joe Flacco to raise his game to an elite level when it matters. Even though the Ravens beat the Steelers twice, I still think the Steelers may be the best overall team…..LB Ray Lewis still isn’t practicing due to turf toe and is unlikely to play once again on Sunday.

Buffalo Bills: The injuries just keep coming for Buffalo as TE Scott Chandler won’t play this week due to an ankle injury and K Rian Lindell was officially placed on IR, ending his season…..LB Nick Barnett has had a very good first season for the Bills, already racking up 97 tackles. He would seem to be a must play in IDP leagues.

Carolina Panthers: WR Steve Smith’s production has been down of late even though the Panthers running game has picked up. Smith could certainly use some help to take the defense’s attention off of him. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give QB Cam Newton another target to throw to, not to mention Smith is getting up there in age and could see a drop off in his numbers at any time.

Chicago Bears: Things just keep getting worse and worse for the Bears. First they lose QB Jay Cutler with a thumb injury, now they may have lost RB Matt Forte with a knee injury…..What makes the Forte injury even more interesting is that this is the last year of his contract as he and the Bears have been at odds all season long on an extension. It would seem business wise that it would be a good decision for Forte not to rush himself back, making sure he’s 100% healthy next season.

Cincinnati Bengals: It seems the sand may be running out in the hourglass for the Bengals as they were wrecked last week by Pittsburgh. They’re going to be a good team, but they still need time…..RB Cedric Benson is dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss practice Thursday. He could still play though as he missed practice last Thursday as well.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are going to have to make a decision this off-season. Do they believe in QB Colt McCoy, or do they draft a QB in the first round of April’s draft? They should have a top ten pick and could select one of the more highly rated quarterbacks that will be available. Of course they still need WRs and may need a RB also if Peyton Hillis leaves. Yeah, they don’t have many playmakers on this team.

Dallas Cowboys: Head coach Jason Garrett has been lit up this week for “icing” his own kicker. That isn’t actually what happened. You can clearly see special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and kicker coach Chris Boniol ask Garrett to call timeout…..What Garrett should be taking criticism for was not calling a timeout after WR Dez Bryant caught the pass at the Cardinals 32-yard line with 26 seconds left. Dallas had two TOs left and should have used one there so they could run a couple more plays to get in better FG range. It wasn’t like K Dan Bailey was having a great day. He missed a FG earlier in the game from 50+ and banked another one off the goalpost, not to mention the league percentage on 50+ yard FGs is 50.2. This is the reason why it’s extremely bewildering that Garrett keeps insisting that he didn’t make an error. Garrett has cost the Cowboys two games this season with conservative play calling (New England). If they miss the playoffs, the blame should fall squarely on him…..The good news is that WR Miles Austin should return this week as should FB Tony Fiammetta.

Denver Broncos: It is hard not to be a believer in QB Tim Tebow after last week’s performance. I know it came against a terrible secondary in Minnesota, but still this was the first game that Tebow had to win with his arm and not his legs…..The Broncos have to be considered the favorite to win the AFC West. Scary I know, but I still think they are one-and-done as they will most likely play Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the 1st round.

Detroit Lions: Head coach Jim Schwartz has done a great job of turning around the Lions, but he needs to get control of his team. They make way too many personal foul penalties and are playing way out of control which may be costing them games as well as yardage…..RB Kevin Smith is still being hampered by an ankle injury and is having a difficult time finishing games. He also hasn’t practiced this week which could lead to RB Maurice Morris having a bigger role this week.

Green Bay Packers: That’s 18 straight wins now for the Packers if you count the playoffs. The only team that I believe can beat them would be the Saints in a shootout. It might just come down to which team had the ball last or who had to kick a FG instead of a TD in a cold weather playoff game in Green Bay that hindered the passing attack (think Brett Favre versus the Giants when the G-Men last won the Super Bowl – it was close to zero degrees that night).

Houston Texans: The Texans just keep finding ways to win even without their best players. WR Andre Johnson’s return to the lineup was short-lived as his hamstring acted up once again and he had to leave the game last week. He has already been labeled as out for this week’s game. The Texans may want to keep him out multiple weeks to get him as healthy as they possibly can for the playoffs…..Another player who is really banged up is LB Brian Cushing who is dealing with injuries to various parts of his body. He’s not going to miss any game time, but certainly won’t be anywhere near full strength either.

Indianapolis Colts: I know the final numbers for QB Dan Orlovsky looked good, but keep in mind a good percentage of those numbers came when the game was out of hand and basically over…..The Colts have finally admitted that it is unlikely QB Peyton Manning returns this season. It seems we have known that for months, yet they still haven’t placed him on IR. It should be very interesting in early March when Manning is due a $28 million bonus. It will be decision time!

Jacksonville Jaguars: It is hard to believe that RB Maurice Jones-Drew leads the league in rushing on a team with virtually no passing game. QB Blaine Gabbert had what may be his best game of the season Monday night versus the Chargers yet was only 19 of 33 for 195 yards and two scores. That is hardly lighting up the scoreboard, but every journey starts with a first step. Hopefully, that’s what this is for the Jaguars and Gabbert.

Kansas City Chiefs: So much for QB Kyle Orton. He comes in for one play, a flea flicker, gets hit and dislocates a finger on his throwing hand. Now he is questionable at best to play this week…..My first question would be if Orton was mentally prepared enough to come in the game in the first half, why didn’t he start? Were the Chiefs really thinking Tyler Palko was going to improve?

Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas has played better of late, but RB Reggie Bush has so far proven that he can be an every down back. He’s not posting out of this world numbers, but they are solid numbers week in and week out…..LB Kevin Burnett is starting to justify his contract of late as his play has really picked up the past couple of weeks…..The Dolphins are playing great and are certainly one of the hottest teams in the NFL, but this still may not be enough to save Tony Sparano’s head coaching job.

Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson is questionable to play Sunday versus Detroit, but Peterson came out Friday and said he is still having a difficult time cutting on that ankle. Assuming that’s true, I wouldn’t let Peterson play. He is your franchise player and you don’t need to be risking his health in a meaningless game…..WR Percy Harvin has picked up the offense with the absence of Peterson, showing why many people believe he is a threat to score anywhere on the field when he has his hands on the ball. He did however tear a ligament in his finger. He’ll play Sunday but could have a problem catching the ball.

New England Patriots: With the Patriots’ schedule for the remainder of the season, I still believe they end up with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs…..We’ve heard a lot of news this week concerning the health of WR Wes Welker as he is dealing with knee and wrist issues. He may be banged up, but it won’t keep him from any game action.

New Orleans Saints: You have to be rooting right now for a Saints-Packers NFC Championship game. If the weather was decent in Green Bay (big if), that could be a game for the ages. It would remind me of the Cowboys versus 49ers in the 90s…..RB Mark Ingram will miss this week’s game with turf toe. This guy just can’t stay healthy. What is even more annoying is that he comes off of two productive weeks where he was finally starting to show why the Saints drafted him so early.

New York Giants: You have to admire the bravado of S Antrel Rolle. After the Giants have lost four straight games, given up close to 80 points and 1,000 yards in the past two games, he still comes out and states the Giants have a great defense.  Yeah, not so much Antrel…..RB Ahmad Bradshaw returned last week. Although his numbers were not great, he should force defenses to respect the run again and not go all out to stop QB Eli Manning and the passing game…..The Giants seemed to have every call go against them last week, including a couple that maybe shouldn’t have. Even if that’s so, it just makes up for the Arizona game where a terrible call gave them the game.

New York Jets: I’m not a big Mark Sanchez fan, but you actually hear some of the talk shows in New York mention that the Jets should sign Peyton Manning (if he becomes available) in the off-season and trade Sanchez. It seems they forget that Sanchez is coming off back-to-back championship game appearances. He must have done something right and no one will know if Manning can truly come back from his neck surgery until he gets into a game, plus it’s not like he’s going to come cheap.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders look like they are in the middle of a late season collapse. They barely showed up last week, getting crushed by Miami, and now they get the Packers. Sure they have injuries, maybe even more than most, but you still have to play the game…..Speaking of injuries, RB Darren MacFadden is out once again this week. This is longest day-to-day injury I’ve ever seen.

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Michael Vick and WR Jeremy Maclin are both expected to return this week. This should give the Eagles’ offense a boost, and it will certainly be interesting to see if Vick does play with more caution as he stated he will earlier this week…..How much money has WR DeSean Jackson cost himself with his play and attitude so far this season?  Jackson is still signed for another season, but the Eagles can’t go through this again. They either need to sign him to a long-term deal and make him happy or ship him to a team that will.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I wrote earlier in this column that Pittsburgh may be the best overall team in the AFC. Well that was before QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday’s win over Cleveland. Ben probably won’t miss any game time as the Steelers don’t play again until a week from Monday, but Ben’s mobility will certainly be hampered…..Another concern for the Steelers is the health of C Maurkice Pouncey who also suffered a high ankle sprain in the same game.

San Diego Chargers: QB Philip Rivers looked real good Monday night. Granted it came against a Jaguars team that lacks a pass rush or a solid secondary, but it also shows what Rivers can do when all of his receivers are healthy…..Speaking of healthy, RB Ryan Mathews also looked good and could be a future star in San Diego…..I have a feeling the Chargers offense lights it up again this week against Buffalo, everyone else has of late.

San Francisco 49ers: Because of their record, the 49ers are listed as #2 in most power rankings. I just don’t see that and have a very strong feeling they are one-and-done in the playoffs. I think their record is more because of a terrible division and nice schedule. I love their defense, but in the playoffs you need to score points and I just don’t see QB Alex Smith being able to beat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, their most probable playoff opponent.

Seattle Seahawks: You have to love the way RB Marshawn Lynch is playing of late. He’s actually making the Hawks offense somewhat interesting…..OT Russell Okung was placed on IR this week after tearing his pectoral muscle, a tough blow for Lynch and that running game…..QB Tarvaris Jackson reported this week that his arm strength is back to 100% after his pectoral injury earlier this year.

St. Louis Rams: As if the Rams offense isn’t bad enough, there is a pretty good chance that Tom Brandstater is going to start against Seattle on Monday Night Football. I’m sure ESPN is just thrilled with this game, not to mention RB Steven Jackson can’t be very happy with seeing what is sure to be an overloaded front to stop him…..WR Brandon Lloyd should probably be benched in fantasy leagues.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Here’s a stat I didn’t see coming–the Bucs have trailed for longer this season in term of minutes than any other team in the NFL, including the winless Colts…..QB Josh Freeman missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury. His replacement, Josh Johnson, suffered a dislocated shoulder on his non-throwing arm. Ouch! Now Freeman looks like he will start this week but how long he goes is anyone’s guess, not that it matters much right now.

Tennessee Titans: Tough game for the Titans this week as they host the Saints. I doubt the Titans would have a chance if this game were being played indoors, but in Tennessee in the elements and with RB Chris Johnson looking like he has returned to his normal self, stranger things have happened. Not to mention the Titans need the game much more than the Saints. Yeah, I’m not buying that either.

Washington Redskins: As if this wasn’t a dismal enough season for the Redskins, now they lose TE Fred Davis and OL Trent Williams for violating the league’s drug policy. Apparently they were supposed to be suspended for a year but were able to get it down to four games because of a technicality (the players thought there was a grace period after the lockout–like it’s even legal to do these drugs)…..Because of their dismal finish, the Skins should be in good shape to draft a franchise QB next year.

And Just Like That, It’s Over

John Cusack is not only a great actor and overall cool cat; he’s also a Chicago Bears fan.  If Cusack were watching his beloved Bears on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field in Chicago, he was probably reminded of one of his films: “2012.”  “2012” is the big-dumb-fun thriller about the end of the world, predicted by the Mayans and a few others – including Woody Harrelson – to arrive nastily on December 21, 2012.  For Cusack’s Bears, the end of the world came about a year early on Sunday with a 10-3 loss to the Chiefs in which the Bears dropped to 7-5 and lost running back Matt Forte to a knee injury that will keep him out for at least several weeks.

This means the Bears are now without their two best players, Forte and quarterback Jay Cutler, probably for the rest of the season and it’s more likely that John Cusack will start making porno movies with Della Reese than it is the Bears will make the playoffs, or even win another game.

The Bears offense without Cutler was challenged, at best, as his replacement Caleb Hanie (11/24, 133 yards, 3 INT’s) seemed to regress in his second start.  And Hanie’s first start in last week’s loss to the Oakland Raiders wasn’t as impressive as his much ballyhooed relief appearance in last season’s NFC Championship game.  But even without Cutler, the Bears still had a chippy defense, good special teams, and Forte.  Now that Forte’s out, Chicago’s offense looks like that of the…Kansas City Chiefs, who came in with five straight losses and were nearly as victory-stricken as Tiger Woods.  Does Tyler Palko (17/30, 157 yards, 1 TD, no INT’s) know how to throw?  I think he’d better if he changed his name to “Tippy Pachinko.”

This is sort of how this game went:

Early in the second quarter the Bears had a fourth down on KC’s four-yard line and the Chiefs called a timeout.  When play resumed Hanie then called a timeout.  Huh?  And then, with all the mental cobwebs cleared, or so we thought, Hanie lofted an easy touchdown pass to Marion Barber.  Flag.  Barber, who was split-wide, was not on the line of scrimmage and that’s a no-no.  So the score was called back and Chicago settled for a field goal which would prove to be their only points.  I think it was at this point of the game that John Cusack took a swig from his flask and texted his sister Joan about dinner plans.

On second-and-12 from KC’s 25-yard line with about five minutes left before halftime, Hanie had receiver Earl Bennett wide open at the five-yard line and overthrew him badly, missing out on a sure TD.  The Bears then decided to try a field goal, then didn’t because it was actually a pooch punt but it wasn’t because the Bears were called for a penalty then they had to punt.  Ugly.

On the ensuing drive Pachinko was able to move KC down the field – working better with no huddle because, as we all know, Pachinko is a game of action, not thought – and had the Tribal Leaders in third-and-10 at Chicago’s 38-yard line with two seconds before the half.  Pachinko stepped back and lofted up a prayer into the endzone and Brian Urlacher had it intercepted but then Bears safety Chris Conte suddenly got a little too ambitious and poked his paw in there and knocked it out of Urlacher’s hands and into the very surprised cradle of Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster.  Touchdown.  Not only a touchdown but the first TD pass of Mr. Pachinko’s career and Kansas City’s first TD in 31 possessions, or since the William S. Gregory administration.  John Cusack spent halftime vomiting and muttering “Ione Skye.”

Pachinko and pals were emboldened by their good fortune and, following a Hanie three-and-out to open the third quarter, put together a six-minute drive ending in a field goal for a 10-3 advantage.  If we knew then there would be no more scoring we all could have just gone to John Cusack’s house to drink eggnog and watch “The Grifters.”

The rest of this contest was sort of like watching sand fall through an hourglass while the wicked witch cackled.  There was excitement and tension but also a lot of drip-drip-ugh.

The Bears were 0-for-11 on third down conversions in this game.

The Chiefs came into this game with 13 sacks.  Total.  That’s worst in the NFL.  They registered seven against the Bears on Sunday.

In fairness, Hanie did play better as the game went on but in critical situations either his protection broke down or he was bedeviled by drops, notably one by Roy Williams at the goal line late in the fourth that ended up in an interception.  It’s time for the Bears to thank Mr. Williams for his efforts, shake his hand, and slow down the train and kick him off.

In fairness part two: Robbie Gould missed a field goal which he rarely does.  The Chiefs defense, under Romeo Crennel, did play well, flying to the ball all day long and KC’s special teams never let Bears kick returner Devin Hester get any breathing room.  The Chiefs are bad but even the bad teams do some things right.  Especially against the Bears.

In fairness part three: The Chiefs have a defensive back named Sabby Piscitelli.  Don’t we always expect great things from men named Sabby?

There’s still some hope for the Bears.  The Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys all proved to be jolly good fellows on Sunday by losing so the Bears, at 7-5, are still in the thick of the playoff chase.  Chicago now goes to Denver to play the Broncos who have won five straight but at this point even Jesus has got to be getting tired of Tim Tebow-mania so maybe it’s time for a smiting and a Bears victory.

But it’s not looking good.  Just two weeks ago the Bears were playing great and looked as if they might run the table all the way up to that Christmas Day game against the Packers in Green Bay.  Now the Packers are 12-0, thanks to a hard-fought road victory over the Giants and have already clinched the NFC North and, by the time the Bears slide down the chimney, will probably have Aaron Rodgers on ice and be starting Robbie Bosco at quarterback just for giggles.  And the Bears will probably be 7-7 on Christmas and deserving of nothing more in their stockings than cold bratwurst.

Fortunes change quickly in the NFL and there’s always the outside chance Hanie could find some cold weather magic and if he does, maybe Chicago can still go 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs and get Cutler and Forte back by then.  Hey, why not?  We’ve reached December: a month of snow, cold, candy canes and silly dreams.

Raiders 25, Bears 20

The Chicago Bears made the trip to Oakland, California to take on the Oakland Raiders.  The Bears were coming off their fifth straight win as they defeated the San Diego Chargers by a score of 31-20  and the Raiders were coming off a 27-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Bears won the toss and elected to receive.  With quarterback Jay Cutler out with a broken thumb, Caleb Hanie got the start for the Bears.  They started on their own 18 and got a total of six yards on their first possession.  Punter Adam Podlesh punted the ball away and the Raiders started their first drive of the game at their own 29.  A quick strike from quarterback Carson Palmer to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey went for 19 yards and a 24-yard completion to tight end Brandon Myers moved the ball to the Chicago 28.  From the 28, running back Michael Bush got his first carry of the game and picked up six yards.  But two incomplete passes forced the Raiders to try a field goal.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski made the 40-yard attempt and the Raiders led 3-0 with 11 minutes to go in the first quarter.

Both teams punted on their next possessions and the Bears took over at their own 16.  After a one-yard run by running back Matt Forte, Hanie took off downfield for a gain of 17 yards.  However, a personal foul was called on the Bears and the ball was moved back 15 yards.  A false start moved them back five more yards to give them a first and 15 at their own 14.  From the 14, Hanie was flushed out of the pocket,  ran to his right and threw a pass intended for Forte.  The pass was picked off by cornerback Stanford Routt at the 33.  Routt returned the ball to the 31 and the Raiders had great field position.

A seven-yard completion to Heyward-Bey and a four-yard run by Bush gave the Raiders a first down at the Chicago 20.  But that’s as far as they went as Palmer was sacked for a loss of nine on third down.  Janikowski came on and made a 47-yard field goal to make it 6-0 with four minutes to go in the first quarter.

Chicago started their next drive at their 18. On second and ten, Forte ran up the right side for a gain of 33 to the Raider 49.  On second and nine from the 48, Hanie found Forte for a gain of 10 and another first down at the Raider 38.  Running back Marion Barber was brought into the game and got three yards to put the ball at the 35.  On second and seven, Hanie was sacked by linebacker Rolando McClain for a loss of eight.  That made it third and 15 from 43.  On third down, Hanie threw an errant pass down the middle of the field that was picked off by safety Michael Huff at the 19.  Huff returned the ball to the 43 and the Raiders started another drive with good field position.

On third and seven from the 46, Palmer found tight end Kevin Boss for a gain of eight and a first down at the Chicago 46.  A nine-yard loss on a sack by defensive tackle Amobi Okoye moved the Raiders back to their 45 and an incomplete pass intended for wide receiver Louis Murphy made it third and 19.  On third down, Palmer found Bush for a gain of eight that was well short of the first down.  Punter Shane Lechler booted the ball out of bounds at the Chicago three-yard line.

A quick three and out by the Bears gave the Raiders the ball at the 50.  Two short runs and a short completion to Murphy set up a fourth and one at the Chicago 41.  Bush ran up the left side for a gain of two and the Raiders got a new set of downs at the 39.  But, another nine yard loss on a sack by defensive end Julius Peppers and another incomplete pass set up a third and 19.  On third down, Palmer went looking for wide receiver Chaz Schilens, but found cornerback Corey Graham instead.  Graham picked the pass off at the 25 and returned it one yard.

Hanie and the Bears took over at the 26 and three runs by Barber moved the ball to the Raider 47.  A loss of three by Forte on first down and an incomplete pass on second down and a five-yard penalty put the Bears in a third and long at their own 45.  On third down, Hanie couldn’t find anyone open and had nothing but daylight to his right side.  He ran for 24 yards and gave the Bears a first down at the Raider 31.  Two short runs by Barber set up a third and eight.  The Raiders came with an all out blitz and an unfazed Hanie threw a dart to wide receiver Johnny Knox across the middle for a 29-yard touchdown.  Kicker Robbie Gould made the point after and the Bears led 7-6 with just under five minutes to go in the first half.

The Raiders took over at their own 20 and on first down, Palmer hit fullback Marcel Reece on a perfectly timed screen that went for 47 yards to the Chicago 33.  But the Raiders could only get as  far as the 24.  Janikowski was called on again and he made a 42-yard field goal.  That made it 9-7 with three minutes to go in the first half.

Return man Johnny Knox took the kickoff straight up the middle and was dragged down at the Raider 35 to give the Bears excellent field position to start their next drive.  On third and seven from the 32, Hanie completed a 16-yard pass to tight end Kellen Davis.  A four-yard completion to Forte and a five-yard penalty on the Raiders gave the Bears a second and one at the seven.  Hanie made an attempt to set up a screen to Forte, but his pass was broken up by linebacker Aaron Curry and the ball was picked off by linebacker Kamerion Wimbley.  Wimbley took off up the right sideline and was thrown out of bounds by offensive lineman Lance Louis at the Chicago 12.  Louis was flagged for a horse collar tackle and the ball was moved to the six.  It didn’t look like a horse collar to me.  Louis showed great hustle on that play and grabbed Wimbley by the jersey and threw him out of bounds.  He did what he had to do to prevent Wimbley from scoring.  So, with 18 seconds remaining in the half, Bush gets a carry straight up the middle into the teeth of the Chicago defense for a loss of one.  That was a stupid play call.  With that much time remaining, you don’t run the ball up the middle.  Raider head coach Hue Jackson called a timeout and on second down, Palmer threw a screen to Bush and he was dragged down at the one.  Another timeout was called and with only five seconds remaining, Janikowksi made the 19-yard attempt to put the Raiders up 12-7 at halftime.

The Raiders got the ball to start the second half and started out at their own 20.  On second and ten, Palmer hit Reece for a gain of 11 to move the ball to the 31.  From there, Bush ran for 11 more to give the Raiders a first down at the 42.  Palmer found Reece again across the middle for a gain of 29 yards to put the ball at the Chicago 29.  On second and nine from the 28, Palmer found Schilens for 17 yards and another first down at the 11.  A short run by Bush moved the ball to the nine.  But, a holding call on left tackle Jared Veldheer moved the Raiders back to the 19.  Three straight incomplete passes meant it was time to bring in the Polish Cannon again for a 37-yard attempt.  The attempt was good and the Raiders now led 15-7.

Three punts later, the Raiders took over at their own 38 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.  Some tough running by Bush and completions to Heyward-Bey and Schilens moved the ball to the Chicago 20.  On second and ten from the 20, Palmer found Schilens for a gain of 11 to give the Raiders a first and goal at the nine.  On second and 12, Bush had a nice catch and run and finally the Raiders scored a touchdown.  Not so fast.  A holding penalty was called on rookie guard Stefen Wisniewski and that nullified the score and moved the Raiders back ten yards.  Palmer was then sacked and a long pass to Heyward-Bey on third and goal from the 26 fell incomplete.  Janikowski was brought in again and his 44-yard attempt was good.  The Raiders now led 18-7 with 22 seconds to go in the third quarter.

The Bears started their next drive at their own 18 and Marion Barber ended the third quarter with a 22-yard run up the left side.  A gain of four by Barber and a completion to wide receiver Earl Bennett set up a third and one at the 48.  Hanie ran up the middle for a gain of one to give the Bears a new set of downs.  On first down, Hanie found tight end Matt Spaeth for nine and and Barber ran for nine more for another first down at the 40.  A short gain by Barber and an incomplete pass intended for wide receiver Roy Williams set up a third and six.  Instead of going through the air, Forte carried the ball off left tackle and was brought down short of the first down.  Robbie Gould was brought on and blasted a 50-yard field goal through the uprights.  That made it 18-10 with just under 11 minutes to go in the game.

The Raiders started at their own 20 and a 15-yard pass to Heyward-Bey was initially ruled complete.  But, a foolish timeout by the Raiders gave Chicago head coach Lovie Smith plenty of time to watch the replay.  The play was challenged and the call was reversed.  The Raiders went nowhere after that and Shane Lechler punted the ball 80 yards through the end zone.  That was one hell of a punt.

With ten minutes remaining in the game, the Bears knew they had to get going.  A short run by Forte and two completions to Johnny Knox moved the ball to the Raider 42.  The drive would stall at the 35 and Robbie Gould promptly made a 53-yard field goal to make it 18-13 with seven minutes to go.

With a five point lead and time ticking away, the Raiders knew a long drive would take some time off the clock and hopefully preserve a win.  Starting from their own 26, Palmer found Heyward-Bey for nine yards to set up a third and one at the 35.  On third and one, Bush ran up the left side for a first down.  But, another yellow flag made an appearance and a holding penalty was called on center Samson Satele.  I rarely agree with referees, but they made the right call on this one.  Satele looked like he was playing defense as he literally tackled his man to prevent him from getting to Bush.  That made it third and 11 from the 25.  A five-yard penalty was called on Chicago to make it third and six from the 30.  From there, Palmer completed a pass to Schilens for a gain of 14 and a first down at the 44.  Two runs by Bush moved the ball to the 50 and the Bears called their first timeout.  On third and four from the 50, Palmer launched a bomb up the right sideline for Louis Murphy.  Murphy got behind the defense and caught the pass for a gain of 47.  He was pushed out of bounds at the three.  On first and goal from the three, Bush finally broke down the barrier that was across the goal line for the first and only touchdown of the game for the Raiders.  Janikowksi made the point after to make the score 25-13 with 3:47 to go in the game.

Chicago kick returner Devin Hester fielded the kickoff five yards deep in the end zone and returned it to the 16.  On first down, a screen pass to Forte failed miserably for a loss of six.  An incomplete pass to Knox made it third and 16 from the ten.  Now, if you’re down by 12 points at your own ten late in the fourth quarter and it’s third and long, what are you going to do?  Run Barber up the middle? No. Try another screen to Forte? Incorrect.  My advice for the Raider defense would be to look for a long pass.  Hanie took the snap, stepped up in the pocket and launched a bomb down the middle.  Knox caught the pass and blew past Routt and safety Matt Giordano for a huge catch and run for a gain of 81 yards.  I sat there in total disbelief as I watched that play.  That made it first and goal at the nine.  On second down, Hanie hit Davis across the middle of the end zone for a touchdown.  Gould made the point after to make it 25-20 and just like that, the Bears were back in the game with 2:11 remaining.

Gould tried an onside kick and after a big pileup that took about five minutes to get cleared up, rookie tight end David Ausberry of the Raiders came away with the ball.  That gave them the ball at the 46 and Bush ran up the middle for a loss of one.  The Bears called their final timeout with 2:01 to go.  This was a perfect opportunity for Palmer to complete a pass for a first down and end the game.  The only way the clock could be stopped was the two minute warning.  But, Hue Jackson didn’t see it that way and Bush ran up the middle again for a gain of two.  On third and nine, Palmer hit Reece with a screen pass.  Reece almost broke loose, but was dragged down short of the first down marker.  A delay of game penalty moved the ball back five yards and Lechler punted the ball away.  It was a great punt and the ball went out of bounds at the four.  That gave the Bears one minute, one second and 96 yards to go.

On first down, Hanie found wide receiver Sam Hurd for eight and Williams for 22 more to put the ball at the 34 with precious time running out.  Hanie spiked the ball on first down and a pass intended for Bennett fell incomplete.  On third down, he found Forte for a gain of 12.  Forte tried to get out of bounds, but safety Tyvon Branch tackled him and kept him in bounds.  That made it first down at the 46.  Hanie took the next snap with six seconds remaining and tried a fake spike.  Then he threw the ball to the ground hoping to stop the clock.  After a zebra convention at the 42, Hanie was flagged for intentional grounding.  That meant there would be a ten second runoff.  With only four seconds to go, that gave the Raiders a 25-20 win.  The win improved their record to seven and four and kept them in first place in the AFC West.  The loss dropped the Bears to seven and four and they are tied for second in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions.

This was another hard fought and much needed victory for the Raiders.  With injuries to wide receivers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore and running back Darren McFadden missing another game, they were short handed.  Five trips into the red zone and only one touchdown didn’t help either.  But, thanks to six field goals by Janikowski, they were able to pull this one out.  Carson Palmer completed 21 of 37 for 301 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.  Michael Bush carried the ball 24 times for a tough 69 yards and a touchdown.  He also caught four passes for 24 yards.  As a team, the Raiders only had 73 yards rushing.  Marcel Reece led the team with five catches for 92 yards.

For the Bears, Caleb Hanie did a good job filling in for Jay Cutler and completed 18 for 36 for 254 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.  He also racked up 50 yards rushing on five carries.  Marion Barber led the Bears with 63 yards on 10 carries and Matt Forte had 59 yards on 12 carries.  33 of those yards came on one carry.  Total that up and the Bears had a total of 172 yards on the ground and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.  Johnny Knox led the team in receiving with 145 yards on four catches and one touchdown.  The teams combined for 13 penalties for 105 yards.  Six of those penalties were called on the Raiders and to my surprise, none of them were personal fouls.  Truly amazing!

What I liked best about the Raider defense was that they contained Forte on screen passes and only let him get loose for a long gain once.  They sacked Hanie four times and picked him off three times.  Aside from a 56-yard kickoff return by Knox, I was also impressed by the special teams coverage.  Devin Hester had seven yards on two punt returns and 39 yards on two kick returns with his longest return being 21 yards.

Granted, this was still an ugly win and there were some breakdowns in coverage on crucial plays, but at the end of the day, all that matters is the final result.  The final result was the Raiders got the win.  Up next for them is a trip across the country to sunny South Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins.  After a rough start, the Dolphins have won three of their last four games and are playing much better.  This will be a tough test for the Raiders and hopefully they’ll have all their weapons back.  It would be nice to see how they would play if every starter was healthy.  I will be going out of town this weekend and won’t be back until Monday evening.  So, look for my next article to be posted on Tuesday.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

 

 

 

 

 

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: It’s looking more and more likely that QB Kevin Kolb will miss this week’s game versus the Rams due to that toe injury he suffered against the Ravens, that would leave the Cardinals passing offense in the hands of John Skelton, ouch…..RB Beanie Wells impressed last week by having a good game against that stout Ravens defense even though he was questionable coming into the game with a knee injury.

Atlanta Falcons: Hopefully the Falcons bye win Week 8 would have allowed WR Julio Jones time to heal from his hamstring injury, also it may allow WR Roddy White to get back on track after a disappointing first half of the season…..The NFC South is shaping up to be as big a dog fight as we expected, the Falcons can’t afford any slip ups, this week’s game versus Indy has to be a layup.

Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco finally played some solid football during the second half of last week’s game versus Arizona, but his last two prime time games (Jets, Jaguars) have been pretty pathetic performances and he has another prime time game this week in the Ravens rematch versus Pittsburgh. The games between Pittsburgh and Baltimore are generally hard hitting affairs as neither team shares much love for the other.  The Ravens won the first game between these two, a second win could make life awfully tough on the Steelers.

Buffalo Bills: QB Brad Smith gets his chance to enact some revenge against his former employers when the Bills play the Jets on Sunday, think there might be a wildcat play or two designed to go Smith’s way?…..Now that the Bills have taken care of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick with a long term deal, how long before they do the same with RB Fred Jackson?

Carolina Panthers: If you’re wondering why NFL teams are wary of giving big contracts to running backs once their entry level deal expire, you need to look no further than DeAngelo Williams and Chris Johnson, both have been borderline terrible this season after signing huge deals in the off-season, do they not possess the desire to play as hard, is the offensive line not blocking as well, or did their talent leave them overnight?

Chicago Bears: The bye week has done the Bears good as the only player listed on their injury report is OL Gabe Carimi and he was a full participant in practice Thursday…..The contract situation between the Bears and RB Matt Forte could
get ugly next season, it seems the Bears do not want to give him a long term deal as they are afraid of Forte hitting the wall, so they will franchise him for the next two seasons, Forte for obvious reasons is not a fan of this and could plan on holding out next season until he gets what he wants.

Cincinnati Bengals: RB Cedric Benson returns this week for the Bengals after serving his one game suspension, team is going to need him this week when they play the Titans this week, a game that could come down to which team can run the ball more effectively…..TE Jermaine Gresham is dealing with a hamstring injury and seems unlikely to play this Sunday…..Speaking of hamstrings, Adam, formerly known as Pac Man, finally made his presence known in the NFL again with a 63 yard punt return last week, but in true Pac Man fashion, he injured his hamstring, and is also unlikely to play Sunday.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are getting pretty thin at RB, first Peyton Hillis misses time with a hamstring, and then Montario Hardesty tears a calf muscle during the 1st quarter of last week’s game, Hillis is questionable at best to play this week which could leave the Cleveland running game in the hands of Chris Ogbonnaya, they already don’t have much of a passing offense, somehow I’m not seeing them scoring to many points this weekend.

Dallas Cowboys: Not only did the Cowboys get blown out by the Eagles last Sunday but they also suffered a trio of significant injuries, ILB Sean Lee suffered a dislocated wrist and could be out the remainder of the season if he elects to have surgery, there is a chance he could play with a cast, but his effectiveness may be limited, CB Mike Jenkins is out for November with a hamstring injury, stretching an already thin secondary, and P Mat McBriar has a foot injury that kept him out of the 2nd half against the Eagles, good thing Dallas has the soft part of their schedule coming up.

Denver Broncos: I’m getting tired of dissecting QB Tim Tebow’s job performance week in and week out, listen he’s not a true NFL QB right now, might he be in the future, yes, but he would’ve benefitted sitting behind a veteran for a couple of seasons and learning the job, he’s just not ready yet…..RB Willis McGahee is practicing, but may not play this week if he can’t grip the ball in his surgically repaired hand.

Detroit Lions: For what it’s worth RB Javhid Best did not practice this week, but that was to be expected as the Lions are on a bye, so they can give him another week get over those post concussion symptoms…..1st round pick DT Nick Fairley was inactive last week after re-injuring his surgically repaired foot, this could be a bust of a season for Fairley.

Green Bay Packers: The undefeated Pack is back this week, kind of missed all those players in fantasy land last week…..FS Nick Collins may not be able to play again after undergoing cervical fusion surgery and QB Matt Flynn will almost certainly find a new home play next season, so much for that safety cushion behind Aaron Rodgers…..OT Chad Clifton is still weeks away from protecting Rodgers blind side.

Houston Texans: WR Andre Johnson is still far from a lock to play this week as his hamstring injury is not healing as quickly as the team and Johnson had hoped, seeing as though they play the Browns this week, it would seem prudent to let him rest another week anyway, not like they should need him to beat the offensively challenged.

Indianapolis Colts: It seems the Colts and QB Peyton Manning are both on the same page in that both are hoping Manning can play the last couple of games this season, not sure that makes any sense, the team is not going anywhere this season except possibly getting the 1st overall draft pick next season, it’s not like Manning has anything to prove, I know there is an out clause in Manning’s new contract that would allow the Colts to get away from the deal, but is there anyone who believes they would exercise that clause if Manning can still play?

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Mike Sims-Walker lasted all of two games with the Jags before being placed on IR, guess you can’t come home…..DL Aaron Kampman is having a hard time becoming the pass rusher the Jags need as major surgeries on each knee the past two years have really taken away his explosiveness, he might get it back in time, but right now he is nothing more than a situational pass rusher only playing about 25 snaps a game.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs were left for dead after losing their first three games, the first two by almost 100 points combined, losing their best offensive weapon in RB Jamaal Charles for the season, but after defeating the Chargers on Monday they are now technically in 1st place, guess coach Todd Haley won’t be fired after all…..WR Jonathan Baldwin looks like he finally got out of Haley’s doghouse last week and made a huge play for at TD, Steve Breaston is still the number two guy there, but Baldwin may eat into more and more of his playing time.

Miami Dolphins: RB Reggie Bush ran for over 100 yards in the loss to the Giants last week, only the 2nd time in his career that he has accomplished that feat, don’t look for it to happen again this week as Daniel Thomas should be able to play which will eat into his carries…..OL Mike Pouncey suffered a scare last week after a neck injury when he couldn’t feel anything in his arms or legs, feeling returned fairly quickly however and an MRI didn’t reveal any kind of damage so
he will play this week, which is good news for the Dolphins offense.

Minnesota Vikings:  Team owner Ziggy Wolf is in contentious negotiations with the state over a new stadium for the team, but nothing seems close at the moment, the Vikings are the one team in the NFL that can pretty much pick up and leave in a moment’s notice as they don’t have any clauses in their lease that would force them to stay, the Los Angeles Vikings just doesn’t have a good ring to it however.

New England Patriots: Have teams finally figured out the Patriots offense?, its back to back games now against the Cowboys and Steelers where the Pats offense has been bogged down, QB Tom Brady can pick apart a zone defense but man to man seems to slow him down, it’s also my belief that the lack of a true deep threat is keeping the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage making life tougher for the short passing game…..The Pats had no problems getting RB Kevin Faulk back in the mix of things as he led the team in carries last week and also caught five passes, just muddling the backfield even further.

New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram seems unlikely to play once again this week as he is still suffering from a heel injury, Darren Sproles is still going to be the main guy but don’t forget about Pierre Thomas, he didn’t rush for all that much yardage last week, but did poach a TD…..TE Jimmy Graham is dealing with an ankle injury which seems to be slowing him down of late, Saints still have their bye week upcoming so he will have time to heal.

New York Giants: RB Ahmad Bradshaw has a cracked bone in his foot, apparently he can play through it, but one has to wonder if this will hinder his performance as the season rolls on or if the injury could get worse, either way Brandon Jacobs is going to be much more valuable to the Giants during the second half of the season than they may have thought…..The Giants, like it seems most NFL teams, have become more of a passing team, but top WR Hakeem Nicks is once again not at full strength as he is dealing with a hamstring injury that forced him out late in the game last Sunday, he is supposed to play this week however.

New York Jets: Who would’ve thought the Jets-Bills game in Week 9 would be a big game, but it is, as both team are fighting for either a division title or a wildcard berth, it’s unlikely that both wildcards will come out of the AFC East, so these divisional games between the Jets, Bill, and Pats are even more important than usual…..Saw a crazy stat today, opposing QB have a quarterback rating of 2.9 when throwing against CB Darrelle Revis, fantasy players may want to take note and sit Steve Johnson this week if you have another alternative.

Oakland Raiders: RB Darren McFadden apparently could’ve used another week off to recover from his foot injury because he has still been spotted in a walking boot and is unlikely to play Sunday, what may be complicating matters is that Oakland plays next Thursday versus San Diego and my want to make sure he is as healthy as he can be for that game…..QB Carson Palmer states that he now knows the entire offensive playbook, we will find out for sure this week, although he doesn’t face the toughest of defenses in the Broncos.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles looked like they are back to being the dream team after wiping out the Cowboys on Sunday, what’s more impressive is that the Eagles went away from their bread and butter, the deep ball, and took what the defense gave them, which in this case was the middle of the field as WR Jason Avant and TE Brent Celek had big days, even better was that the Eagles seem committed to giving RB LeSean McCoy the ball, and he is having an Pro Bowl type season.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I know WR Hines Ward is a possible Hall of Famer but his absence from the lineup allows Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to be a bigger part of the offense, and at this point in their careers, Brown and Sanders are bigger threats to defenses than Ward…..LB LaMarr Woodley won’t play this week due to a hamstring injury, the Steelers are running out of LBs as James Harrison is still out with his orbital injury.

San Diego Chargers: Once again the Chargers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in their game versus the Chiefs, QB Phillip Rivers not only threw two more picks, but also fumbled a snap from center when all he had to do was take a knee and the Chargers would’ve kicked the game winning FG, yikes…..RB Ryan Matthews is likely out this week as he has yet to practice with a groin injury which will leave the running games in the hands of Mike Tolbert who missed the game Monday with injury concerns of his own.

San Francisco 49ers: Still can’t believe the 49ers may be well on their way towards a bye and home field advantage in the playoffs, just don’t really think they are that good…..WR Braylon Edwards is still not fully recovered from knee surgery, he is still playing, but it may be a few weeks yet before he is at full strength.

Seattle Seahawks: QB Tarvaris Jackson seems to have no trouble taking the Hawks up and down the field between the 20s as he continues to throw the ball for over 300 yards, problem is he can’t get the team into the end zone and turning the ball over way to frequently…..QB Charlie Whitehurst has been so ineffective under center for Seattle when called upon that one has to wonder if he will even have an NFL job next season.

St. Louis Rams: It looks like Sam Bradford will once again be back at the helm for the Rams as he has been able to do just about anything in practice, the Rams schedule gets much easier coming up and Bradford has a new toy to play with in WR Brandon Lloyd, he could look more like the QB he was last season, than the one he was earlier this season for the rest of the year.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LeGarrette Blount may now be the full-time RB for the Bucs, he may not be a great pass catcher or blocker, but the season ending injury to Earnest Graham may force him to be out there on 3rd downs…..Fantasy owners are certainly hoping that QB Josh Freeman and WR Mike Williams get back on track after their bye week, they looked like the next lethal QB/WR duo last season, but so far this season defenses have found the cure.

Tennessee Titans: I said last week that if RB Chris Johnson couldn’t get it done against the Colts that it may be time for fantasy owners to give up on him, well he didn’t get it done and that time now has come, you can’t trade him because you won’t get any value, it’s just time to reserve him, the Titans have the same problem, do they start Javon Ringer over him, or do they keep waiting for Johnson to be who he has been.

Washington Redskins: TE Fred Davis, the last offensive threat that the Skins have, may not be at full strength Sunday due to an ankle injury, it’s going to be very ugly offensively for the Skins…..RB Tashard Choice who Washington claimed off waivers from Dallas is still not ready to play after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 7, should be so much fun watching that RB carousel once he is ready to go.

Not Bloody Good, But Good Enough

The British must think we Americans are a frightening, yet silly and somewhat amusing bunch, with our gladiatorial games, hegemonic culture, economy and military and nearly naked cheerleaders.  The Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers built on these international fears and follies in Sunday’s 24-18 victory by the Bears at London’s Wembley Stadium, a place normally home to European football- which is soccer – and also rugby matches and George Michael concerts which Bucs fans were hoping to exchange their tickets for.

TV viewers were informed several dozen times, or perhaps several thousand times, that the game was being played in England and that the British – our toothless, tea-swilling forefathers – adore American football.  So much, apparently, that nearly 77,000 tickets were sold.  Unfortunately, Wembley holds about 82,000.  Nevermind that, as we know things are tough all over.  But the party line from game organizers that the NFL lockout which ended three months ago was the cause of slow ticket sales – the first time ever a regular season NFL game in Europe didn’t sell out – holds about as much water as your average set of British teeth.

But let’s be positive and, for the Bears, there was a lot of that, starting with running back Matt Forte who certainly must be a horse to watch in the MVP race and also on the shortlist as the next U.S. ambassador to the Isle of Man.  Forte got the Bears on the board and the Brits on their feet with his 32-yard TD run in the first quarter which was not only marvelously Simpsonian but also the longest TD run in international history.  Forte ran for 145 yards, which is also an international NFL record, and compiled 183 total yards which means he not only was named the “Player of the Game” but also, when he finally gets that new contract, might demand that he be paid in Euros or Chad & Jeremy albums.

The Bucs bounced back when Ronde Barber mugged Forte in his own endzone in the first quarter to make the score a curious 7-2 which sounds more like a baseball score or the British ratio of households to eyebrow tweezers.  Giving up a safety is humiliating but give praise and credit to Ronde Barber and let us take a timeout to ask: Is he a Hall-of-Famer?  Tiki’s twin made his 190th straight start on Sunday and by notching his first career safety he adds to the 14 career defensive touchdowns he’s tallied in his now 15 seasons in Tampa.  Barber would later make a brilliantly acrobatic ambush of a sack on Jay Cutler late in the fourth quarter that helped hold Chicago to a field goal and kept Tampa’s hopes alive and it was his 27th career sack, the most by any cornerback in NFL history.  The good twin has made five Pro Bowls, been first team All-Pro three times, helped win a Super Bowl and has yet to dump his wife for a young floozie or look stupid on the Today Show.  Let’s all be revved up for Ronde.

The Bears extended their lead in the second quarter when Jay Cutler (he’s really, kinda, sorta pretty good, isn’t he?) hit receiver Roy Williams for a 25-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to make it 14-2 which will also be the Green Bay Packers’ record this year even if Aaron Rodgers starts playing with his legs taped together and cheese stuck up his nose.  Unlike Forte – or most NFL players – Williams didn’t perform any crazy dances, gestures or celebrations when he scored.  That could be because Mr. Williams is a classy professional.  Or it could be that before this game he thought he was only allowed in the endzone with a passport.

At halftime the score was 14-5 and the FOX broadcast crew ran into some trouble when Heathrow Airport security realized they never should have let Daryl Johnston’s sport coat get through customs.   With all that settled, the teams took the field for the second half and the Bears eventually made it 21-5 when Marion Barber scored on a 12-yard run to cap off a seven-play, 55-yard scoring drive.  Ever since the Bears signed Barber in the offseason the hope at Halas Hall was for a balanced ground attack with Forte and Barber that would gain yardage, eat up the clock and keep Jay Cutler alive.  It’s all happening.  Barber is a great compliment to Forte and Mr. Forte seems to be well aware.  Forte is having an MVPish season because he’s healthy, he’s great, he’s trying to get a new contract and he has #24 breathing down his neck.  When the Bears finally do pry their fingers from their purse for Forte they had better save a few pennies for Barber as well.  Either that or they should buy something nice and shiny for Ronde Barber.

The Buccaneers’ defense got some pride late in the game and stymied the Bears for most of the rest of the second half and Tampa’s offense also finally decided to get off the plane as Josh Freeman threw fourth quarter TD’s to Kellen Winslow and then Dezmon Briscoe and suddenly the Brits were getting their Euros’ worth as, with the score 21-18, it was a ballgame.  The Bears responded by marching down the field and getting a 25-yard field goal from Robbie Gould who missed an earlier attempt for his first miscue of the year.  He must hate England.  Gould’s field goal should have been a touchdown but the Bears got goofy near the goal line and, instead of giving it to Forte, tried a few dumb passes and blah-blah and Ronde Barber also made his aforementioned super sack of Cutler to keep the Bears from the endzone.  But the Bears actually got another chance because Bucs corner Aqib Talib – the guy who plays opposite Ronde Barber and is basically a polar opposite when it comes to ability, class and intelligence – committed a personal foul by sticking his fingers in Roy Williams’ facemask (maybe he thought that’s how you make friends in England) after Barber had sacked Cutler.  This gave the Bears another four chances to score a TD.  They didn’t, but they did eat up about another 90 seconds of clock before Gould’s field goal and thus Tampa had less than two minutes left to go 80 yards for a game-winning TD.  They didn’t.  D. J. Moore  – the little cornerback who can – intercepted Freeman for the fourth Bears pick of the day and the Bears had the victory – and were allowed to get in line ahead of the Bucs for all of England’s finest meats and cheeses at the postgame spread.

Part of the reason the Bears won is that they employed the strategy that helped them go 11-5 and nearly reach the Super Bowl in 2010.  It’s called: getting lucky.  The Buccaneers were without starting running back LeGarrette Blount and then lost Earnest “I was already living in Florida when Ponce de Leon arrived” Graham on their first offensive series.  That left the Bucs with only the services of Kregg Lumpkin who was held to just 15 yards on eight carries.  And by the end of the third quarter Tampa was also down to its third-string center a guy who is never really a center just like the third girl you call for a date is usually a guy.  And, Tampa offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood commits so many penalties he might be the first-ever recipient of the Phil Pozderac Trophy.   On top of all that there was Talib’s big blunder and it all added up to helping out the Bears playbook which specifically states that the best strategy is to play dumb, unlucky teams.

Talib’s transgression might not have been much of a surprise because this wasn’t always a tidy game.  Late in the first quarter there were three successive plays that went like this: Interception, interception, safety.  Then in the fourth quarter there was an interception, a fumble, a personal foul and a reversal after a replay review – all on one play.  At this point a scattering of “bollocks!” and “buggers!” could be heard throughout Wembley Stadium.  Then a few moments later there were cheers, laughter and a few “wankers” when a likely over-served bloke left the crowd and pranced around the field before a few bobbies got hold of him and carried him off and made him look up Eddie Izzard’s dress.

Despite the sometimes sloppy play and disappointing attendance Europe does seem to have a thirst for our great American game.  Throughout the broadcast, FOX kept finding fans who donned not just Bears and Bucs gear but there also seemed to be supporters of just about every NFL squad.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told FOX that the league is getting increasingly popular in Europe and even went so far as to muse that London might someday get its own NFL franchise and I’m betting most people in Miami are hoping it’s the Dolphins.

The Bears now come home from England and have a bye week and I hope Johnny Knox got on the plane because if I were a British talent scout I would have had a ten million pound check in my pocket and these words on my tongue “Johnny Knox Rocks the Piccadilly Circus.”  Assuming, wildly, that didn’t happen and Johnny and friends are all back in Lake Forest the Bears know they will always have London as they set their sights on Philadelphia for their next game, against the Eagles, on Monday, November 7.   This will be another primetime appearance for the Maybes of the Midway and comes against an Eagles team that, after this coming Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, will either be back in the fight at 3-4 or ready to take a knee at 2-5.

A defeated and deflated Eagles team would be better for Chicago’s cause but the truth is it might not matter because the Bears have always done a decent job of shutting down Michael Vick.  And the Bears continue to improve at protecting Cutler and overall putting him in better position to make plays and not just because he’s standing up.  And if Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz uses the extra week of practice to remember this and not institute more no-protection razzle-dazzle and Forte spends the fortnight packed in ice and counting the money he still doesn’t have and the Bears defense continues its mini-resurgence (Turnovers! Turnovers! Turnovers!) then a win in Philly won’t just be hoped for, but expected.   If that happens the Bears will be 5-3 and, thanks to another loss by Detroit, within a Jim Schwartz swing of second place in Green Bay’s rearview mirror.  That’s another reason this victory over Tampa was so important.  There’s no way the Bears are going to catch the Packers for the division crown and another loss against a potential NFC wild-card rival would have been devastating.  As it is now, the Bears would actually grab a wild-card spot behind the Lions as Chicago is ahead of already-vanquished Tampa and Atlanta in tiebreakers.

So, yippee.  There are nine games to go and the Bears have a lot of growing to do.  They’re not where they want to be but they’re not very far from where they need to be.  They won the hearts and minds of the British and now it’s back to the new world, and a very interesting two months.

Other Thoughts:

Muammar Qaddafi got off easy compared to what the Saints did to the Colts.

I could have watched the Seahawks-Browns game but instead stood in the corner for three hours and gnawed on stucco.  I stand by my choice.  I would have done the same thing for Monday night’s Ravens-Jaguars game but the World Series was on the other channel.

Wisconsin lost to Michigan State in a thriller which means no Big Ten team will have a chance to get demolished by Alabama or LSU in the BCS title game.

Chris Johnson was the third best running back – at best – in the Titans’ 41-7 loss to the Texans.  Houston has two great running backs, a great receiver and a good quarterback.  The 4-2 Texans also have the league’s eighth best defense.  Does anyone realize this?

The NFL’s top six defensive teams are in the AFC, along with eight of the top ten.  Four of the league’s top five offensive teams are in the NFC – all except the top team, New England.

The New Orleans Saints scored more points Sunday (62) than the St. Louis Rams have scored all season (56.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Vikings, Hello London

Life for an NFL player is pretty good.  Take the members of the Chicago Bears – they beat the purple off the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football and what do they get for groin-kicking one of the league’s worst teams?  An all-expense paid trip to London!

We ordinary mortals get rewarded for doing what we’re supposed to do by simply being allowed to keep our jobs –most of the time – but NFL players are rewarded with foreign trips, contract extensions and even the occasional giggle from Suzy Kolber.  Remind me to be reincarnated with 4.4 speed.

The Bears, like most teams, were good against the Vikes compiling a 39-10 triumph over the nit-wit Norsemen at Soldier Field to improve to 3-3 and stay within a snowball’s throw of the 6-0 Green Bay Packers and 5-1 Detroit Jim Schwartzes in the NFC North.  It was a nice outing for Jay Cutler who threw for 267 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, was only sacked once and didn’t need any help finding his teeth or testicles before the postgame press conference.  The 1-5 Vikings are not good, not good, not good but they do have a talented pass rush and the Bears, with Lance Louis inserted at right tackle and Chris Spencer at right guard, did a good job of protecting Jay and opening holes for Matt Forte who put together 123 total yards and 35 more requests for a new contract.

And then there’s the man who deserves his own bubble gum card, rock opera, red Cadillac and small moon: Devin Hester.  Mister Hester, if you haven’t heard – and that probably means you play or coach for the Vikings – is quite adroit when it comes to catching the football on kickoffs and punts and took one such offering from the purple turf eaters 98 yards for a score.  Hester now has 16 career returns for touchdowns and will certainly receive at least as many votes in the next Republican straw poll.  Memo to the world: unless you’re a Rockette, don’t kick at Devin Hester.

The Bears also had a new look at safety with rookie Chris Conte – whose grandfather is the actor Richard Conte who got gunned down in “The Godfather” and that means don’t mess with this kid – getting the start alongside second-year fella Major Wright.  Messrs. Conte and Wright weren’t tested all too much by Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb who, by this time next year, will be selling McNabb Burgers instead of throwing passes – but give the young men credit for flying to the ball and helping hold Adrian Peterson to just 39 yards rushing.  Is this the time to mention that Peterson is making $14.3 million per season and Forte is making $600,000?

So now the Bears are off to England for a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and hopefully a kiss from Pippa Middleton.  This will be Chicago’s first game on foreign turf since last season when they took their troubles to Toronto and squeezed out a 22-19 decision over the Buffalo Bills.  The Bills were bad way back then but this is 2011 and the Bucs are good.  Tampa returns to the motherland with a 4-2 mark and fresh off a 26-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints.  Of course, just the week before the Buccaneers got throat-punched by the suddenly sassy 49ers, 48-3 in San Francisco, so it’s unclear which Tampa team will be eating crumpets and avoiding dentists next Sunday.

And we also have no idea how the Bears will play.  Or do we?  Chicago is basically in a pattern this year of beating poor or so-so teams – Falcons, Panthers, Vikings  – and losing to good ones – Saints, Packers, Lions.  So that would mean the Muggles of the Midway will likely get their passports punched with a loss.  But the Bears have only given up one sack in two of the past three games and are facing a Tampa team that is just 25th in defense, 15th in offense and will likely be without running back LeGarrette Blount.  The Bucs do have Earnest “I’m very old” Graham who ran for 109 yards against the Saints but otherwise don’t seem to have much of an offensive threat.  So it’s not crazy to think the Bears can beat the Bucs, improve to 4-3, rest up on their bye week, and then go to Philadelphia to pluck the flightless Eagles and enter the halfway point 5-3.

Could it be?

The Bears know that it pretty much has to be.  There are ten games left in the season but it’s already looking next to impossible to catch the Packers, and the Detroit Jim Harbaugh Haters won’t be easy to tackle either.  And having already lost to the Saints, the Bears cannot afford another NFC defeat.  So this game Sunday could be a win and really they’re all starting to feel like a must-win.  Hopefully they put on a jolly good show across the water but Bears fans will simply settle for a plain old points advantage.

And, win or lose, I suggest Lovie Smith take his Bears to visit the gravesite of Benny Hill.  Because football, you see, is just a game.  And sometimes you have to laugh even if you lose.

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: It’s only five games but so far the Kevin Kolb era is off to a slow start…..S Kerry Rhodes broke his foot during the game Sunday and will be out for a least a month…..For those of you keeping track, Arizona will host Super Bowl XLIX in 2015…..With all the attention that defenses are paying towards WR Larry Fitzgerald, Early Doucet is quietly having a nice season.

Atlanta Falcons: I’m not sure which is more surprising – that the Eagles are 1-4 or that the Falcons are 2-3. I didn’t see either one coming…..WR Julio Jones will miss at least this week’s game with a hamstring injury, which will give Harry Douglas a chance to make a bigger impact…..DE Ray Edwards is still not fully recovered from off-season knee surgery and isn’t having the pass rush impact that the Falcons were hoping for…..I hate when analysts say this because it all counts, but take away two long runs from RB Michael Turner and he has been virtually non-existent this season.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Lee Evans was able to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, but missed practice Thursday. It seems unlikely that he will play this week…..CB Jimmy Smith also is unlikely to go as he still can’t run at full speed…..The Ravens are catching the Texans at the right time. DE Mario Williams is out for the season and WR Andre Johnson will also miss the game. It certainly makes life easier when the opposing team is missing their best offensive and defensive player.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills will be going up against one of their own this week in Perry Fewell, the Giants defensive coordinator. They should certainly know some of his favorite schemes…..WR Donald Jones will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a high-ankle sprain, so Brad Smith could see more action…..LB Chris Kelsay won’t play versus the Giants…..What kind of team the Bills have will become much more apparent within the next month.

Carolina Panthers: Fantasy owners couldn’t have been happy when the Panthers offensive coordinator stated this week that QB Cam Newton will be the Panthers goal line back going forward. Now there is something you just don’t hear every day. The ironic thing is this statement came the same week that coach Ron Rivera stated he didn’t want Newton running the ball as much. Can’t seem to have it both ways.

Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler has now admitted in back to back weeks that all the hits he is taking are starting to make him gun-shy in the pocket. In other words, he is starting to see the rush rather than looking for his receivers down the field…..RB Matt Forte turned down a contract worth $13-$14 million in guaranteed cash during the off-season. It seems with the season he is having that he is certainly not going to take any less now.

Cincinnati Bengals: By yardage allowed, the Bengals have the best defense in the NFL. Yeah, who saw that coming?…..RB Cedric Benson still doesn’t know if and when he will be suspended by the NFL. His appeal has been heard, but no decision has been made. The problem for fantasy owners is that they are forced to keep Bernard Scott on their roster until a final decision is made. That’s a valuable roster spot being wasted as of now.

Cleveland Browns: WR Greg Little has been named a starter going forward and has been a popular pickup in fantasy leagues. While I like his added playing time, I’m not seeing big things happen here…..CB Joe Haden is out this week. That’s a big loss to the Browns pass defense…..DE Marcus Benard suffered a broken arm in a motorcycle accident Monday and will be lost to the Browns for the remainder of the season. There is a reason emergency rooms call them donor cycles.

Dallas Cowboys: The bye week may have come in Week 5, but for the Cowboys it couldn’t be early enough. WRs Dez Bryant and Miles Austin should be as close to 100% as they have been all season, CB Orlando Scandrick will play in his first game since Week 1 (lucky him as he gets to cover Wes Welker), and QB Tony Romo gets two more weeks to recover from his broken ribs. Speaking of those ribs, Romo will still wear a flak jacket and take a pain killing injection before playing.

Denver Broncos: I’m still not a big believer in Tim Tebow’s ability to be a franchise QB, but at this point in the season the Broncos needed to see what they have in him. If you’re going to lose, you might as well lose big…..Fantasy wise though, Tebow is an interesting play. He’s probably good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 yards a game which helps offset his probably lack of passing yards, and if he can run in a touchdown he could have a decent week–figure around 18 points…..For those of you who want the Broncos to trade QB Kyle Orton, it’s probably not going to happen. The deadline is next week. The only team that might be interested is Miami, and the Broncos happen to play Miami that Sunday. I’m just not seeing that PR nightmare happening.

Detroit Lions: TE Tony Scheffler suffered a concussion during the game Monday and is unlikely to play Sunday…..S Erik Coleman was placed on season ending IR with an ankle injury…..DL Nick Fairley finally got to play Monday. Although he didn’t make an impact during his first game, he should only help what may be the best defensive line in football as he gets more experience…..WR Nate Burleson seems to be seeing his role in the offense decline as QB Matthew Stafford seems to be looking for his TEs as secondary targets when Calvin Johnson is covered.

Green Bay Packers: Pretty amazing game for the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers last week against the Falcons when you consider they lost both starting tackles. This may be a problem that comes more to the forefront in the coming weeks…..I know WR James Jones has had back to back big weeks but there are just too many offensive weapons for Rodgers to choose from to see this being an every week thing…..Staying on that note, WR Donald Driver’s best days are behind him and the Pack may be better off only using him in four and five WR sets.

Houston Texans: As mentioned earlier, WR Andre Johnson is out for this week’s game but may return sooner than thought, possibly even next week…..What does have to concern the Texans however is that RB Adrian Foster has been slowed in practice once again this week and one has to wonder if that hamstring is bothering him once again…..The acquisition of WR Derrick Mason from the Jets goes to show how unimpressed the Texans were with Jacoby Jones.

Indianapolis Colts: Who would’ve thought that the most dynamic passing combo in the NFL would be QB Curtis Painter to WR Pierre Garcon? The Colts are still going to need another positive week though before I completely buy in…..WR Joseph Addai injured his hamstring last week and is unlikely to play Sunday, leaving the running game in the hands of Delone Carter and Donald Brown. I’d rather have Carter.

Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Aaron Kampman is expected to finally play in a game this season–Sunday versus the Steelers. With the state of the Steelers offensive line, he couldn’t have picked a better game to come back to…..How long until coach Jack Del Rio is fired? He was told that the team would have to make the playoffs to save his job. Ummm, this team is not going to make the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs: QB Matt Cassel has come alive of late and has made WRs Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston good plays as well in fantasy leagues. There is one problem though, the Chiefs schedule gets much tougher in the weeks ahead. Although they will probably be playing behind which will lead to more passes, they will also be playing against tougher defenses…..RB Jackie Battle had well over 100 yards rushing last week but don’t be looking for big things from him when the Chiefs return from their bye. He’s just not that kind of back.

Miami Dolphins: How will the Dolphins do with QB Matt Moore at the helm? It can’t be any worse than what they did with Chad Henne…..RB Daniel Thomas should be back as the bye enabled him to recover from his hamstring injury. The Dolphins will need him this week as it would seem unlikely that Moore will have great success against the Jets defense…..Look for the other RB, Reggie Bush, to line up in the slot as the Dolphins look to get him more involved in the offense.

Minnesota Vikings:  QB Donovan McNabb is playing better behind center, but once the Vikings come to the conclusion that the playoffs are out of reach, the Christian Ponder era should begin…..CB Antoine Winfield and WR Percy Harvin both missed practice Thursday. Winfield has a neck injury and seems questionable at best while Harvin is dealing with sore ribs but is more on the probable side.

New England Patriots: RB Danny Woodhead has been practicing on a limited basis the past couple of days and could play Sunday, just what Tom Brady needs–another weapon…..Speaking of weapons, TE Aaron Hernandez is still limited in practice, but as we saw last week versus the Jets, even at 80% healthy he is quite a weapon…..Fantasy wise I’m giving WR Chad Ochocinco one more week to show he can still play at the NFL level or it’s waiver wire time.

New Orleans Saints: Coach Sean Peyton admitted this week that he is having a hard time giving RB Mark Ingram enough carries during the game. I can’t really blame him. I’d want the ball in QB Drew Brees’ hands as much as possible also…..WR Devery Henderson has a calf injury that is slowing him down. He hasn’t been able to practice this week after having a subpar game Sunday. He could be sitting this week…..For those of you wondering who the number one receiver is for the Saints, even with the return to health of Marques Colston, it’s TE Jimmy Graham.

New York Giants: RB Brandon Jacobs is still having problems with severe swelling around his knee. Not a good thing for a running back, especially one who is normally taken down around the knees…..WR Victor Cruz is still technically the 3rd receiver for the Giants, but he is making more plays than Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham. It seems to be just a matter of time before Manningham is demoted…..DE Justin Tuck has been hearing it from a number of ex-Giants about not playing in games due to injury and this week may be no different. Even if he does play, it certainly wouldn’t be anything more than as a situational pass rusher.

New York Jets: The Jets are starting to feel the pressure after losing three straight road games. They aren’t talking as much to the media, but are complaining plenty in-house about the offensive strategy. One of those so-called complainers found himself shipped out when WR Derrick Mason was traded to the Texans for a 7th round pick…..What has happened to TE Dustin Keller after a hot start to the season? Come to think of it, you could say the same thing about WR Santonio Holmes as well…..Will this be the week the Jets get back to ground and pound, smash mouth football on both sides of the ball.

Oakland Raiders: Like him or hate him, Al Davis was a pioneer and one of the people who made the NFL what it is today. “Just win baby!” RIP Al

Philadelphia Eagles: I know it’s only Week 6, but the Eagles are in what may be a must win situation. A loss to the Skins Sunday and the Eagles will be four games out of 1st in the NFC East…..WR Steve Smith is now fully healthy, but still may be no better than 4th on the Eagles’ depth chart…..The Eagles reached out to former Jets and Browns coach Eric Mangini to be their defensive consultant. He turned it down however, preferring his gig with ESPN.

Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Rashard Mendenhall’s hamstring is said to be better and he will be good to go Sunday, but keep in mind his carries may be limited and that hamstring can easily be re-injured…..OT Max Starks, who hadn’t played in about a year, was in on all but two snaps in Sunday’s game and seemed to stabilize the Steelers offensive line. Was this just a one game phenomenon or will things start to get easier for QB Ben Roethlisberger and Mendenhall?

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are off this week and once again the bye couldn’t have come at a better time. RB Ryan Matthews is dealing with a calf strain that may have made him unable to play this week, Mike Tolbert has a concussion, WR Vincent Jackson a leg injury , and hopefully TE Antonio Gates can use the time off to finally get his foot healthy enough to get back on the field.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Josh Morgan is out for the season after suffering a broken ankle last week. The 49ers are riding high, but their depth at receiver is going to be tested until Braylon Edwards returns…..Until Edwards returns, Ted Ginn will be the 49ers number two. Scary isn’t it? Not to mention Michael Crabtree isn’t completely healthy either.

Seattle Seahawks: Pretty impressive win by the Hawks last week versus the Giants. There were plenty of big plays and turnovers, but in the end they made more of the good kind than the G-Men…..QB Tavares Jackson suffered a strained pectoral muscle and may not have been able to play if the Hawks had a game this week, but they don’t, so he has an extra week to rest…..WR Doug Baldwin went off against the Giants, but I wouldn’t be running out to the waiver wire just yet.

St. Louis Rams: RB Steven Jackson should be fully recovered from his quad injury and should be safe to start in fantasy leagues. Problem is the Rams play the Packers this week and could be behind by multiple touchdowns quite early, forcing them to abandon the run game…..WR Mark Clayton should return from the PUP next week. We all know the Rams could use all the help they can get at receiver as Danny Amendola was placed on IR, ending his season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What has happened to the Bucs? That was a complete butt kicking handed to them by the 49ers last week. Seems the offense can’t quite get in gear as QB Josh Freeman is not having the big season many predicted of him. WR Mike Williams is also suffering as he seems to be going through a rough sophomore season. Is it the fault of Williams that Freeman has regressed or vice versa? The Bucs better figure it out soon before the season slips away…..The running game may not be able to help as LeGarrette Blount will miss the next game or two with a knee injury. Look for Earnest Graham to handle the load until Blount’s return.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans came out hot versus the Steelers last week, but when they were unable to score a TD on the opening drive despite having multiple chances inside the 10-yard line, all the air seemed to come out of the balloon and the game slipped away very quickly…..Look for the Titans to become more of a running team as the season progresses.

Washington Redskins: The big question for the Skins, besides if they are for real, is who will be the main ball carrier each week. Tim Hightower still has a banged up shoulder but is in line for more carries. Ryan Torain and Roy Helu have been impressive at times. All three could see the ball Sunday against the Eagles whose defense can’t stop anyone…..As for the QB, Rex Grossman hasn’t looked good the past few weeks and it’s hard to see him having a big day versus the Eagles secondary. He just needs to avoid the big mistake.

Bearable

We learned, or re-learned, several things in Sunday’s 34-29 victory by the Chicago Bears over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.  Among them:

1. Devin Hester is Batman.

2. Batman is alive and well.

3. Cam Newton is Elvis.

4. Elvis is just as alive as Batman and possesses a much brighter future.

5. Matt Forte has super powers but Carolina’s defense has no kryptonite and their special teams have no clue.

6. The Bears are so-so, the Panthers are less than.

The Bears gave up 543 yards to Mr. Newton and his tattooed cats but still prevailed thanks to Hester, Forte and a porous but plucky defense whose primary plan for most of Sunday afternoon was to let Newton pass, let Steve Smith catch, and hope they both got tired from doing so.

The Bears defense was saved by two things: the clock, which reached zero before Mr. Newton proved again that gravity works better against him than tackling, and D.J. Moore – the little cornerback who could.  Moore’s interception of Newton and subsequent 20-yard sprint for a score gave Chicago a 10-3 first quarter advantage that they would desperately need as the second quarter turned into a ping-pong death match of yardage and yucks with the teams combining for 31 points.  Newton – who was conceived in a solar-powered laboratory on Mars – led his NASCAR country rascals on three scoring drives in the second, including two touchdowns which Cam (rhymes with “Damn!”) took into the endzone himself at the end of drives in which he ran and passed as he pleased, looking sort of like one of those guys from “Real Steel” but much cooler.

In between, the Bears scored twice.  The first came in the form of a 17-yard scamper from Forte who brought in da noise and brought in da funk to the tune of a career-high 205 yards in this one which proves that there is nothing Matt Forte can’t do…as long as he plays the Panthers.  Forte’s score was set up by a nifty return from Hester who must have fooled Carolina into thinking that he’s actually Jacob Hester because the Panthers had no fear of kicking the ball his way. Several moments later Devin took a Carolina punt 69 yards for a score aided by poor tackling, a Moses-like tendency to find a way, and Carolina’s failure to read the memo that Devin Hester is the greatest return man alive…but he’s not always the sharpest claw on the Bear paw.  Hester, upon scoring his NFL-best 11th career punt return TD, got all Nadia Comaneci-like and did a bunch of flips in the endzone which resulted in a 15-yard un-NFL-tightass-conduct penalty.  It’s dumb, but Hester – Fast and Foolish – couldn’t help himself and so the Panthers had a short field and – guess what? – Newton hit Smith for 38 yards and the Panthers were on their way to their old friend, the goal line which featured Bears defenders holding open the door and telling the gentlemen to enjoy themselves.

The second half was a little less pinball-like as both teams spent the third quarter staying away from the scoreboard and instead just seemed to enjoy the beautiful fall day because, hey, life goes quickly and offenses shouldn’t sweat the small stuff like sustained drives, touchdowns and field goals.  The Panthers should have scored a TD in the third, well actually they did on a 22-yard connection from Newton to the NFL’s ageless scalawag, Jeremy Shockey, but Mr. Shockey was flagged for pushing off (he wouldn’t!) and the play was called back.  It was not a good call. This is football and let the boys touch each other.  So, the beloved Bears got lucky there but give them credit as Julius Peppers blocked Olindo Mare’s field goal attempt.  Yes, Olindo Mare is still alive…and kicking.

Matt Forte – have you heard he wants a raise? – matriculated downfield for a 40-yard run late in the fourth setting up a three-yard score by Marion Barber that put the Bears up 34-23 and pretty much sealed it.  At least, so they thought.  That rascal Newton insisted on his pushing his team down the field in the final minute for another TD – a pass to former Bear Greg Olsen – which made the final score look closer than maybe it should have…or is it that the final score should have gone the other way?

The Bears were outgained in this game 543-317.

Cam Newton threw for 374 yards. Jay Cutler passed for 93 (honestly).  The Panthers had the ball for 33 minutes, 29 seconds; the Bears had it for 26:31.

The Bears won because the Panthers aren’t that good, Newton can’t do it all and Forte and Hester are even more soulful than Yarbrough and Peoples.

Chicago also has a gutsy coach who must be relishing this victory over his former assistant, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, whom Lovie Smith is accused of running out of town and sending the Bears defense into a tailspin from 2007-2009.  Lovie let the Bears go for it on 4th-and-1 near midfield early in the fourth keeping a drive alive and getting eventually rewarded with a 24-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.  Lovie isn’t loud but he’s not afraid to make the tough call at the right time.  Matt Forte was doing medieval things to Carolina’s tacklers all day long and if the Bears line failed to come through on that critical play it would have been their fault, not Lovie’s.  But the hole was there, Forte found it and many a Bears fan took an extra sip of Old Style.

So, the Bears are 2-2 and safely seated on the train of respectability and have 12 more games to steer that train away from the ugly land of mediocrity.  What does this team hang its hat on?  Can they rely on the defense to score and Hester to be freaky all season long?  Not likely.  And, with complete and appropriate respect to Matt Forte, there is no way he’s gouging any other defenses for a 200-spot this season, especially not Chicago’s next opponent, the 4-0 and very angry and thorough Detroit Lions.  And who is the only other team in the NFL with a 4-0 record?  It’s another NFC North resident, the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers who have already fleeced and shamed the Bears once.  Luckily, one of the league’s still winless teams is the Minnesota Vikings so this will at least be a four-win season in Chicago.

The Bears are giving up 24.5 points and an average of 425 yards a game, second worst in the NFL.  Who’s the worst?  That would be the New England Patriots, a team that has given up the exact same number of points as the Bears but capably counters such a deficiency by leading the league in offense to the tune of 507 yards each time they take the field, more than 50 yards better than their next closest competitor, the Cincinnati Bengals.  As for the Bears offense, it’s 26th in the NFL, compiling a modest 307 yards per contest.  Chicago’s offensive line once again gets the big foam fingers pointed its way for this as the big uglies upfront are ranked as 31st best in the league. At least the front five are keeping Jay Cutler alive as he was sacked just once against Carolina and had few moments where he seemed or looked as if law school would have been a better choice.

All season long, many of us Bears backers have been pointing to the return of running back Marion Barber from injury as a harbinger of all things good and yardage bearing and maybe we were right.  Barber carried the ball just five times for 17 yards and one score against Carolina but his first run of the game, a ten-yard jaunt in the first quarter, seemed to pump life into the Bears and the crowd.  We’re certainly not going to see the Bears – or any NFL team – go to an old two-back attack in which each guy carries 20 times a game – are we? – but if Barber can get five to ten touches per game it will keep the offense balanced, Forte rested (and motivated), the defense fresh, and, since the Bears passing game still doesn’t quite resemble that of New England, New Orleans or Stanford, might be what the Bears have to do to have a chance.

Oh yeah, they still need cheerleaders, too.  Really leggy ones.

 

VARIOUS NFL THOUGHTS:

Michael Vick’s “Dream Team” is 1-3.  Rex Grossman’s football team is 3-1.

Jim Harbaugh’s NFL team might be as good as the college team he coached last year.

Wes Welker is on pace to have more than 2,400 yards receiving –not going to happen, 20 TD’s – might happen – and 160 receptions – good bet to happen.

Only 41,142 people were at the Bengals-Bills game, and Carson Palmer wasn’t one of them.

The Bengals had lost to the Bills ten straight times before winning Sunday.  This came one week after the Bills beat the Patriots after having lost to them 15 straight times.

Jeff Pearlman ought to be ashamed of himself.