Step off the ledge, Bears fans. Open the window, crawl back inside, go to the fridge, get yourself an adult beverage and sit down in your favorite comfy chair. Take a sip. Breathe.
After spending much of late yesterday afternoon and last night swelling with disappointment and Budweiser, something occurred to me this morning. The Bears did not lose to the Saints and Packers because of the run/pass balance established by Mike Martz. They did not lose those two games because of their failure to establish a short passing game or because of field position losses caused by the new kickoff rules or because they do not field a viable #1 receiver on the outside. They lost to the Saints and Packers for the simplest of reasons: they’re not as good as the Saints or the Packers.
That doesn’t mean they’re not good. It just means they’re not elite…in September. Very few teams can create the defensive mismatches for the Bears the Saints and Pack created with Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley – both players torching linebackers and second-string safeties in space. Very few opponents have coordinators as creative as Gregg Williams and Dom Capers – two defensive staples in the league for two decades. There are many reasons a majority of preseason prognosticators had these two clubs as the odds on favorites to win the conference. They’re terrific teams. Talented. Seasoned. Well-coached.
Forget Finley’s afternoon Sunday. Craig Steltz can’t cover him under any circumstances ever. Neither can Lance Briggs and the Reverend will tell you I called Finley’s touchdown catch against Briggs before the play was snapped. (I’m sure some of you did as well.) The frustrating thing about the Bears defense yesterday was they allowed the Packers to push them around in the run game, giving Aaron Rodgers manageable second and third downs all afternoon. It is the perfect blue print to win on the road against the LoveRod and a great offense executed it like Super Bowl champions should.
But the Bears defense was heroic in the fourth quarter, creating two masterful turnovers and giving the Bears offense an opportunity to make a game of things. (Anybody else think Urlacher is playing far better in pass coverage than as a run stopped through three games?) Dave Toub pulled a rabbit from the special teams hat and showcased one of the great football plays of all time, a brilliant punt return deception that Greg Jennings called “the best play I’ve ever seen.” Unfortunately it was called back for a moronic Corey Graham hold nowhere near the play. (Side note: Toub better get interviewed for the HC position when Lovie’s tenure is up.) The Bears have the defense and specials to make the postseason.
The offense is the story and it’s a messy, messy tale. If the Bears were an elite team they would have been able to match the Packers point-for-point for the entirety of the afternoon and the defense’s turnovers late would have been the difference. That is how the Saints managed to beat the Texans in New Orleans, battling back from deficits in the first and fourth quarters, riding atop the shoulders have their elite QB. But the Bears are not an elite team and this, the most difficult stretch of their season, laid the issues in black ink on the front page. What must the Bears do to establish a run game? What happened to the short passing game that embarrassed the Falcons defense? How can they continue to get the ball into Kellen Davis’ hands? Will the improvements shown yesterday on the offensive line continue? Can the quarterback stop allowing his mechanics to falter as the pocket collapses around him? I think it’s safe to say the Bears have no idea what they want to be on that side of the ball and it’s time the head coach make that decision.
The team is 1-2 while the Packers and Lions have jumped out to 3-0 starts. Nervousness is rampant in the city of Chicago. But now the schedule lightens. Before they face a difficult stretch in November, the Bears are home to the stop-Steve Smith-and-win Panthers, at exciting-but-overrated Detroit on Monday night, home to the awful Vikings on Sunday night and in London to face Tampa. They will have every opportunity over these next four games to get things right on the offensive side of the ball. If they win all four, we know they’ll be contenders down the stretch. If they win three, we’ll find ourselves scoreboard watching throughout the month of December. If they split or worse, we’ll all start wondering who the next head coach of the Chicago Bears will be.
The first three games were a barometer for the 2011 season. The Bears know they’re not among the NFL elite and they know why. There are no mysteries surrounding this club as we enter the month of October, only questions. Now we’ll see if this coaching staff has the answers.