Jerry Angelo watched the same Chicago Bears play sixteen games that we all did. And from the tenor of the newspaper coverage and the sound of Jerry's own voice, his motives seem clear. "We have to get the quarterback position stabilized. And we're fixated on that."
Great. Now that you're fixated on that, do me a favor. Stop being fixated on that.
Your defense is terrible, Jerry. Not underachieving. Not inconsistent. They are terrible. And it's everywhere. How many receivers have to outrun the coverage before we look for a play-making safety? How many eight-yard slant routes on first down have to be easily completed before we look for a shutdown corner with a bit of toughness? How many quarterbacks have to spend an hour in the pocket, surveying the field before we find an elite pass rusher? How many tight ends need to make big catches on third down before we find a linebacker who can play in space?
And it isn't just on the field, Jerry. It's in the booth too. It's in the head coach's brain. Kyle Orton isn't going to win a bunch of football games with his arm but - as you can see - he isn't going to lose many either. Orton lost games this season where he led to the offense to 17, 20 and 24 (twice) points. In three of those four, he gave the Bears a double-digit lead. In the fourth, he threw a go-ahead touchdown pass with eleven seconds to play. You want to fixate yourself on something, try the fellas who are being paid an awful lot of money to protect those leads.
This season was not about Kyle Orton. It was about blown coverages and bad tackling. It was about the lack of a pass rush for four straight months. It was about a defensive head coach who is more concerned with protecting the nobility of his inane scheme than winning football games. You looking for fixation? Start there, Jerry.
Haugh on Target
I've been quite critical of him in the past but David Haugh is terrific in today's Chicago Tribune. His article points out nine faulty assumptions about the Chicago Bears, including an all-too-rare defense of Ron Turner and a plea to move Brian Urlacher out of the middle linebacker spot. Turner has done a masterful job of constructing the offense around limited talent while, yes, struggling with play-calling on occasion. Urlacher not only struggled covering the middle of the field but he's not the same player when he has to get off a block. Basically he just gets blocked. If the Bears aren't getting brilliant tackle play, 54's a non-factor. Move him to the outside and utilize his speed as a edge rusher.
Lovie Smith Calls Out Tommie Harris
I like the new Lovie Smith that has developed over these last couple weeks. The Lovie Smith that lit a fire under a team at halftime against Green Bay. The Lovie Smith that was downright cantankerous in the post-game press conference in Houston. The Lovie Smith that is now calling out players to the press. Lovie has to know that a losing season in 2009 can cost him his job...and it should.
Kyle Orton Named 2009 Starter
Kyle Orton had a weak second half of the season but this offense was not the problem in 2008. Naming Kyle the starter means there will be an entire off-season for this obscenely young nucleus of talent (Orton, Forte, Hester, Olsen) to continue to develop in Ron Turner's system. And Orton has proven - if nothing else - that he's a winning player. Yes they need a veteran presence behind him but who? Brad Johnson? How'd that work out for the Cowboys? What's the point with these veteran back-ups? Wouldn't you rather just see a kid come in and suck for the sake of development?
I don't want Rod Marinelli to be defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Why? Ask Lovie Smith in the Chicago Tribune. "Rod Marinelli is an excellent football coach. I've known him for a long time...I worked with him."
I want a defensive coordinator who doesn't believe in the infallibility of the cover-two scheme. I want a defensive coordinator who will sit in the Monday and Tuesday coaching meetings and disagree with the philosophy our head coach. I want a defensive coordinator who will preach pressure over gap discipline and cover the middle of the football field.
Jerry Angelo needs to force Lovie Smith to bring in a DC that will not act as puppet of this delusional dictatorship. The DC needs power. He needs authority. He needs a distinctive personality outside of the head coach. This worked in 1985. And Buddy left. This worked in 2006. And Ron was forced out. This works in Chicago. And it needs to work again. Another lackey of the Kiffin-Dungy system won't put this club in the playoffs and Jerry Angelo shouldn't tolerate it.
On a Sunday where it took the Vikings a last second field goal to beat David Carr...we failed. On a day when Jon Gruden lost to a team he despises at home...we failed. On a day where the Cowboys, as if being paid off by Ted Phillips, delivered one of the most embarrassing performances in franchise history...we failed.
I had only one question when I woke up this morning with the all-too-fresh pains of a season lost still escalating through the left side of my body (at least I hope that's what it is). How did we win nine games? How did a football team that has no ability to stop the other team from throwing the ball beat nine other teams? How did a coaching staff that coaches like they bought an instruction manual at Barnes & Noble in August manage to score points than nine other teams?
You can talk about on-the-field issues all day long. The Bears need a premiere wide receiver (to compliment Hester) and a pass rusher that requires a double team. They need extreme help at the corner and safety spots. They need depth on the offensive line. But more than anything on-the-field the 2009 Chicago Bears require an exhaustive self-evaluation in the decision-making department.
I look at 2007 as the first year of a post-Super Bowl era. They were 7-9. 2008 was year two. 9-7. Now in 2009, Lovie Smith & Co (and hopefully that "Co" does not involve Bob Babich) must improve upon their slightly winning season and make the playoffs. If they don't, it's time for the Bears to look elsewhere for a head coach. I'm never one to advocate the firing of a head coach but when a team makes the same mistakes for the duration of a four month season...something is rotten in the Hall of Halas.
But today we mourn an opportunity passed on. I'll be here during the week looking back at the highs and lows of the 2008 season and analyzing the please-please-please firing of Bob Babich on Thursday.
With only needing a win to be a playoff team, we failed. I'll be back tomorrow with commentary.
One thing is certain. This defense must be blown up.
I'm looking forward to 4:03 pm. Sunday December 28th. The final week of the NFL regular season. 4:03 pm. That's when the Chicago Bears will start preparing for a home playoff game the following week as champions of the NFC North.
Chicago Bears @ Houston Texans
1. The Bears tend to leave their corners on one side for the duration but it's imperative on Sunday for Charles Tillman to white-on-rice Andre Johnson, especially without a healthy Mike Brown on the field. I expect the Texans to take several shots over the top so Craig Steltz and Kevin Payne need to keep the game in front of them. Give up yards. Hold off touchdowns.
2. The Johns (Tait & St. Clair) is not going to have an easy time with the speed and just flat-out skill of Mario Williams so I see a lot of Desmond Clark and Matt Forte chip blocks. This should mean a decent day for the Des Dispenser catching the ball and open up the screen game for the Double Deuce.
3. The Texans don't stop the run very well (25th in the league) but I have a feeling they'll try and take Matt Forte out of the game early with extra men in the box. I say this almost every week but the best way for the Bears to have a balanced offense is to THROW ON EARLY DOWNS with precise, short routes. Orton seems to struggle most when he's sitting in the pocket. Two-step drop and release.
4. If Monday night confirmed anything offensively, it confirmed that Greg Olsen needs to have the ball in his hands five times a game. Every game.
5. The team has to play with the required passion. In front of the home crowd, against our longest rival, with their season on the line...flat as a left-open bottle of club soda. How that was possible with eleven days off is beyond me. There won't be a home crowd to juice them up Sunday. Flat stays flat on the road.
Chicago Bears 24
Houston Texans 13
New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings
1. I don't think David Carr sees the field. If Carr plays, Giants lose.
2. Even if the Giants rest some of their offensive starters, Spags will have the defense jazzed for a big effort. If they put pressure on Tarvaris Jackson - and they do put pressure on every quarterback - TJ should make the correct number of mistakes. Think about it. He's due.
3. Adrian Peterson is the best runner in football but he's not the best running back. You can't be considered the game's best when you fumble as often as he does. Let's hope for one big one Sunday, deep in Vikings territory.
4. I keep reading that Tom Coughlin won't want to "put Eli Manning in the path of Jared Allen." You know what? The Giants have the best offensive line in the sport. They can block Jared Allen. And they will.
New York Giants 30
Minnesota Vikings 7
It's the early morning hours of Christmas Eve and I'm listening to George Jones sing "Bartender's Blues" on a shady laptop computer in Brooklyn, New York. I'm tired but nowhere near sleep. I'm hungry but my kitchen might as well be in the Bronx. This is the time when I do my best writing - usually in the form of dialogue spoken by two people in a random New Jersey locale. Tonight I'm here.
My favorite quote about Christmas comes from the late-novelist Taylor Caldwell. She wrote, "I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent."
Over the past few years I have been honored and humbled by the number of people who've made this website even the smallest part of their daily lives. Though I use it as an opportunity to voice my hopefully-interesting perspective on the team I love, this site has always been and will always be about you. I hope that somehow my sleepless nights and boundless passion for this ball club in some way make you feel better about yours.
We created DaBearsBlog as a place for those sharing our particular passion to come together without geographical barrier. A place for camaraderie and conversation; for celebration and debate. But also a place for true fans to come when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent.
I don't understand why people love what they love. How did my mother and father produce a human whose two favorite things on earth are the Chicago Bears and the later plays of Eugene O'Neill? The truth is...who cares? That's the way things are. These are the things I love. And in a world where so many people seem on an endless search for happiness, I'm not about to apologize for mine. I love the goddamn Chicago Bears. And if you're reading this, you probably do too.
And I know that sometimes you look in the mirror and think, "Can I really care this much about fifty-three guys I've never met?" Yeah. You can. And there's not a thing in the world wrong with that. Sunday your fifty-three will attempt to win their tenth game in Houston while hoping for a minor miracle in the Metrodome. If it happens, we'll celebrate here together Sunday night and argue for a week about our chances of advancing in the playoffs.
If it doesn't, well, we're here for that too.
Merry Christmas, Bears fans. I'll see you Friday.
News from New York
Don't think we're going to have an announcement on Tom Coughlin's Sunday plans until right before kickoff. The Daily News today - in typical Daily News fashion - has two opposing articles sitting side by side. Gary Myers implores Tom to rest his starters, though it should be noted that Myers has lost all credibility since maliciously calling for Coughlin's head throughout the 2006 season. Ralph Vacchiano lays out the reasons why Tom will play the game to win.
I would imagine the Giants will go without Brandon Jacobs and Aaron Ross (both nursing injuries) but this is a team that needs to use Sunday to continue developing a struggling, post-Plex passing game. The Giants are the top seed but this team has shown a particular fallibility of late and can not afford to rest on the laurels of last year's Super Bowl title.
Quick: list the five biggest plays of the 2008 season. #2 Alex Brown's tackle on the goal line against the Eagles. #1 Alex Brown's block of Mason Crosby's fieldgoal. I ask again, Mr. Smith. Why was the best player on our defensive line benched throughout the 2007 season?
They Certainly Were 'Special'
Brilliant punting by Brad Maynard, including the six-iron shot to the nine yard-line. A game-winning FG by Robbie "Don't Call me Elliot" Gould. Tremendous punt coverage, including a recovered fumble by Jason Davis. Danieal Manning reminding a lot of us of Devin Hester, including a seventy-yard return that gave the team life. Alex Brown blocking a season-ending chip shot. Has any special teams unit ever done so much to win a single ballgame? I'm serious. Somebody find out. And don't give me the Music City Miracle or something like that. I mean a total effort.
December 28th, the final week of the season, the Chicago Bears have a meaningful football game in Houston. If they win, they'll finish the season a more-than-respectable 10-6. If they win, there's a chance they'll be in the postseason for the third time in four years. If they win...
Matt Forte to start. Marty Booker active. Brandon Jackson not active for the Pack.
If you listen to Cris Carter, Keyshawn and Steve Young - and I recommend you never do - the Bears shouldn't show up tonight. They stink.
Hank Jr. hasn't started yet but I'm already pacing my apartment like a raging psychopath. Kick the fucking thing off already.
Nice defensive start. Tommie showing up early.
A worthless third down play call is matched by a brilliant Brad Maynard punt. I'm starting to believe that you can gauge the Chicago Bears by how well Maynard kicks the ball.
Call me crazy but Danieal Manning has been the MVP of this club over the last couple weeks. Every big play seems to involve 38. The offense needs to move the ball here and put some points on the board.
Hit the ball out of bounds, for Christ. I'll see you at halftime. I'm getting frustrated.
DANIEAL FUCKING MANNING!
Ladies and gents, welcome to the Maynard and Manning show.
Thank God for Danieal Manning tonight. 7-3. One thought. The run is not there so stop wasting first down.
This team better wake up at halftime. Down 14-3.
Tony Kornheiser asks, "Where are the Bears?" The question I'm going to ask tomorrow if this doesn't turn around..."Why is he still our coach?"
10:04 HALFTIME REPORT
Utter shit. Again. From a coaching staff that just doesn't get it. They've got 30 minutes. And in those 30 minutes we'll learn everything we need to learn about this team. Two possessions is all they're down when they should be down 50 points. Come out after the half and make it a game. Or shut your mouths till you're back in the postseason.
Sometimes you need luck. Back in it. 14-10. Can Ron Turner please stop running the ball into the middle of the line for no gain?
Score here, boys. You got the stop. Now score.
We are in a game we have no business being in. 17-10. Is it Danieal Manning time?
I firmly apologize for everything I've said about Kyle Orton. I was wrong. The guy doesn't have it. Let's go defense?
Tied. C'mon defense. Nothing here. NOTHING!
Sometimes I step back and laugh and say..."play on." Our ball. Overtime. Win this.
Tonight is the reason I love football.
Tonight the Chicago Bears will take the field against their longest and most-bitter rival in an attempt to play at least one more meaningful game in 2008.
Tonight our fifty-three must avenge the 37-3 embarrassment of a month ago - a game I'm still waiting for the Bears to arrive at.
Tonight is not about the Vikings and the Giants. It's not about rooting for the Raiders and Eagles. Tonight is about beating an inferior club on your home field because you have the world to play for and they don't. Tonight is about goddamn guts.
Tonight is the kind of night you give the wife a kiss on the cheek around 8:15 pm (7:15 central) and tell her to ignore the sounds she hears coming from the living room. If your parents are still alive, that's where the kids should be sleeping. Tonight is that kind of night.
Tonight has a lot to do with Kyle Orton because franchise quarterbacks recognize the importance of things and rise to the occasion. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are going to score points because - record aside - they match up well against our defense. The chuck-it-up-to-Hester-and-hope-for-a-flag system will not be enough. The Pack defense has fallen apart late in games and our quarterback needs to take advantage.
Tonight is Matt Forte's night to shine.
Tonight is the kind of night Brian Urlacher and Mike Brown are supposed to rise above their mediocre seasons and make the kind of plays they made in 2001.
Tonight is the night where that "4th Phase" stuff isn't just bullshit. It should feel like the playoffs in Soldier Field
Tonight the Chicago Bears, led by a brilliant effort from their rookie running back, are going to beat the Green Bay Packers and continue a run into the postseason. Tonight they're going to hit the piss and puke like they didn't think possible.
Tonight the Chicago Bears are going to win. They're going to win because I don't want to face tomorrow morning if they don't.
ADDENDUM 2:09 PM
From Mr. Steve Rosenbloom's wonderful game day blog entry:
Now it's on the Bears.
They got everything they needed over the weekend, and the gifts just keep on coming because tonight they get a bad Packers team that has nothing to play for in the kind of miserable cold weather that seemingly caused Brett Favre to quit last year.
It's on Lovie Smith to make sure his team cares, unlike the last game against the Packers. The last thing I want is that valium-laden Texas drawl telling me at 11 p.m. how disappointing it is to lose to football game. We know that. Thanks to him, we know that a lot.
It's on Bob Babich to have every gap filled. I've had quite enough of the defensive BFF telling me in some weird Texas drawl how bad defensive play starts with him. We know that. Thanks to him, we know that a lot.
It's on Ron Turner to make sure his brain doesn't freeze on the and-1 and the and-goal situations. Stay warm, pal. In fact, I'm thinking you should create some extra warmth by burning the playbook page where you give it to the fullback.
The Cowboys. Eagles. Bucs. Vikings. Everybody lost. And there's life at Halas Hall.
Today we had the kind of perfect day Lou Reed sang about (without the heroin) and the refrain from that song is very fitting. "You just keep me hanging on."
Now it is on the Chicago Bears, who'll play for their season under the bright lights of primetime television and a national audience. They have a new life. And tomorrow night they can force the Minnesota Vikings to beat the champs if they want this division. Tomorrow night against the piss and puke. Show up.
I'll be back tomorrow morning with a gameday column.
A note before I get to my week sixteen prognostications. Watching ESPN at Live Bait on 23rd tonight (great New England chowder), the John Clayton news story "Pick sixes at highest level since 2003" came on the screen. I'm not a stat guy so I won't even go into the stat's utter lack of meaning. What befuddled me was the year: 2003. 2003 was five years ago. Something at its highest level since five years ago is not news unless that something is the homicide rate in a particular region of the country. At what point will ESPN just pull down the shades at 5:59 pm and say, "You know what, America? We got nothing today. Nothing to talk about. Go watch something else."
I'm waiting to pick the Monday Night Football game until I see what transpires on Sunday. If Atlanta wins, I truly believe we're going to see a big-time performance from the blue and orange. If Atlanta loses, I just don't know. As for Sunday, here are the games I care about.
BALTIMORE @ DALLAS
The only way the Baltimore offense is going to be successful Saturday night is if "Joltin" Joe Flacco can get the ball downfield and exploit the weak backend of the Cowboys secondary. That's not going to happen when Demarcus Ware is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in the history of pass rushers. I don't expect much of Dallas either but I see them hitting something big in the early fourth quarter to put away a close game. Dallas 16, Baltimore 9
PITTSBURGH @ TENNESSEE
Call me crazy (You're crazy! You're crazy!) but I think the headline in the football world on Monday morning is going to be, "Can the Titans win it all with Kerry Collins at quarterback?" Kerry played awful against a Houston defense that isn't in the same stratosphere as Pittsburgh - who'll shut down his run game and harass him on third-and-longs all days. 11-39. 123 yards. 3 INT. (Sidenote: Not enough can be said for the Pitt defense ranking number one ACROSS THE BOARD. Do people know how impressive that is?) Pittsburgh 24, Tennessee 10
SAN DIEGO @ TAMPA BAY
So if you didn't pay attention to the NFL the last couple weeks, here's what happened. (1) The Jets went from a Super Bowl contender to a pile of poo. (2) The Giants went from a Super Bowl favorite to the league's biggest question mark. (3) Tampa Bay forgot how to tackle. San Diego 20, Tampa Bay 17 OT
ATLANTA @ MINNESOTA
Atlanta. Get the football. Run the football. Don't turn the football over. You do that, you'll win. Atlanta scores whatever, Minnesota scores less
PHILADELPHIA @ WASHINGTON
If you can tell me why I think the Redskins are going to win this game, you're a smarter man than I. Philly is hot. Westbrook is healthy. Dawkins looks like a kid again. Washington just lost to the Bengals. Portis is hurt and hates the coach. The defense digs twenty-point holes every week. Yet something tells me that when a coach like Jim Zorn starts feeling down and out, he'll start inventing goofy shit we've never seen before and win games he has no business winning. So there. Washington 27, Philadelphia 23
CAROLINA @ NEW YORK GIANTS
Since the story broke that PB&J (the J is for "jerkoff") shot himself in the leg with a gun, the Giants have played like shit on offense. That's an actual fact. They have been wretched. So if the Giants would like to claim it's had no impact, go right ahead. But they might want to complete some passes while they're lying. If the Panthers leave north Jersey with a win, the Giants will have to play hard against the Vikings in Week 17 to avoid a four-game losing streak to end the season. Two things here. (1) Steve Smith tends to gain 200 yards in games like these. (2) John Fox will try and run the ball right up the gut over and over to make a statement. I think he and his team make a big one. Carolina 20, New York 16
Sammy Baugh still holds quarterbacking records in the National Football League and some argue he was the greatest that ever played the game. This is a football site - devoted to one team - but in celebration of the league we love. Some players don't play the sport, they transcend it. They rise above it. Unitas was that kinda player. So was Reggie White. That's who Sammy Baugh was and it is our duty to give a great man and great football player his due. Baugh was not only talented and tough but remarkably humble, on display as he concluded his Hall-of-Fame induction speech, "I've had the honor of playing with some great football players. I'll never forget those good lines that were in front of me and those good pass receivers I had the opportunity of throwing to."
From a Bears perspective, he was the quarterback of the Redskins team that lost 73-0 to Chicago in the 1940 NFL title game.
PFT writes that he maintained his sense of humor about the defeat:
After the Bears blasted the Redskins for the 1940 NFL title by a score of 73-0, a reporter asked Baugh if the outcome would have been different if a touchdown pass hadn't been dropped by one of Baugh's teammates.
"Yeah," Baugh said. "It would have made it 73-7."
A question occurred to me after a very interesting day for our humble blog (more on that coming soon). Besides Mr. Haugh's assertion of Bernard Berrian's game-altering genius, what have the Minnesota Vikings done that the Chicago Bears haven't in 2008? Why does this uphill climb feel so steep? I came to a stark realization.
Nothing. They've done nothing.
The Bears and Vikings play identical schedules with the exception of two games. They each won their game against the worst division in the sport (NFC West) and the Bears won theirs against the best division in the sport (Eagles, NFC East). The Vikings play the Giants in Week 17.
In the remaining schedule, we both lost to each other, Tampa, Tennessee and Green Bay. Minnesota lost to Indianapolis and beat Carolina. The Bears...the opposite. Hence, your conference record tiebreaker.
The Bears have one more loss than the Vikings and that was to the Atlanta Falcons, or Minnesota's Week 16 opponent.
You: What does all this mean?
jeff: i'll tell you.
It means that as down as you might be about the Cardinals playing dead on Sunday at home, the Minnesota Vikings still have to earn this division title. This team hasn't been better all season, by any means. They simply lost the right game at the right time. Their two remaining contests are - by current records - the 2nd and 6th hardest games on their schedule all season. The Viking record against 1,3,4 and 5? 1-3. If they win these last two, fine. Tip your cap and hope the six seed comes into the Metrodome and kicks their ass.
If they don't, just hope the Bears are there to capitalize.
David Haugh: Out to Lunch
Mr. David Haugh, of the economically-drowning Chicago Tribune, once again reaches for a mid-week column in his own desperate attempt to fill newspaper space with "controversial" opinion. Today he places the blame for the Bears facing an uphill climb to the postseason on their loss of Bernard Berrian in February. Let's look at fact. The Bears have lost six games this season - five to teams with nine wins or more and one to the Packers. They didn't lack a star receiver against Tampa Bay or Atlanta or Carolina. They lacked stout defense late. They didn't lack a star receiver against Tennessee. They lacked not playing Rex Grossman. They didn't show up against Green Bay and I don't know what happened in the Metrodome. But there's something more important here...Bernard Berrian sucked. He was capable of making the great catch but he dropped everything else in sight. Six weeks ago, Minnesota writers were calling him a free agent bust. David, let's not pick and choose our information. If you want to remove the blame from the actual people on the field (which is just, well, dumb) then the Bears face an uphill climb to postseason because of money they spent incorrectly (on defense) not money they refused to spend (Berrian).
This from Brad Biggs today: "The Bears returned to work Monday with meetings at Halas Hall, and there was a sense in the locker room that they had lost the day before, even though they had not played." My biggest fear is that the Vikings win Sunday and the Bears provide a lifeless, nothing-at-stake effort Monday night. So...go Falcons.
I know everyone wants to break down the playoff scenarios until you've memorized the schedule strength of half the NFC. The playoffs are the goal and I understand that. But it's not complicated. You want the Bears to win and the Vikings, Falcons, Bucs, Cowboys and Eagles to lose. Simple, right? But let us now be honest. The least complicated way for the Bears to move into the postseason is for Atlanta to beat Minnesota in what will be a de facto playoff game for the birds (they finish with the Rams) and then have the now-with-something-to-play-for Giants do the same the following week. No tiebreakers. No bullshit. They lose two. We win two. That's it.
You cool? Good. Now forget it.
Maybe I'm old-fashioned but this is still Packer Week. Remember them? The Green Bay Packers embarrassed the Chicago Bears in the not-so-distant past. Even the delusional Lovie Smith admits that. A team that lost its ninth game Sunday embarrassed us in a game we needed to win. If we don't make the postseason, you can look to Griese down the stretch or the 11 seconds in Atlanta. I won't. I'll choose a 37-3 debacle at Lambeau as the cause of death because that's the game we forgot to attend. The game where playing hard seemed optional.
Next Monday night - at home - we bury our most bitter of rivals. We carve the double digits on the "L" side of their season's tombstone. We kick their asses hard if we need the game and even harder if we don't - taking out a season highlighted by frustrating losses on them. Why? Because we're still wearing orange and navy and they're still wearing piss and puke. That's why. Because twice a year we care a little more about these games despite the playoff implications. They do not come to Soldier Field and win.
They do not. Come to Soldier Field. And win.
So root for the Browns tonight. Root for the Ravens Saturday night and the Falcons and Chargers and Redkins Sunday. I will too. But come Monday night those will still be the Bears. Those will still be the Packers. It will still be Soldier Field.
And that still means something.
The Cardinals are disgraceful. You've won the worst division in the history of the league and you mail in the following game in some sort of celebratory fashion?
Looks like we'll need the Falcons and Giants down the stretch.
A couple thoughts to start...
1. Thank you, as always, to the city of Chicago and to Rossi's on North State - America's finest dive.
2. The most alarming thing I noticed seeing the team in person is just how open Devin Hester is on almost every single route. Corners are so scared of his ability over the top that they give him an almost-ludicrous 5-7 yard cushion off the line of scrimmage. I walked out of the stadium Thursday night believing he's going to be a Pro Bowler next season.
3. How many plays does Alex Brown have to make in 2008 before Lovie Smith is forced - by one of the elite members of the Chicago sports media - to explain why he sat for most of 2007?
4. Kyle Orton wasn't good but he was an awful lot like Eli Manning used to be: mistakes early and often and brilliant when the game was on the line.
5. You just don't get the feeling Robbie Gould will ever miss a kick to win a game.
And a thought on tomorrow...
This is the most important non-Bears game for the organization in an awful long time. If the Arizona Cardinals can do what they are supposed to do - throw against a porous pass defense - then the Bears can go to sleep Sunday night tied for first place in the division with a clear schedule advantage down the stretch. The Bears gained life, real playoff life, by showing guts for arguably the first time all season. Phil nailed it on Friday...this was a team worth caring about. Now all we need is a little bit of help. Bear down, Chicago Cardinals.
How strange it's been recently, where good Bear fans actually wish for our team to lose games and miss the playoffs, because they don't believe in them. I haven't blamed the fans for that attitude, in part because I've felt it myself. I blame the team.
So now it's fitting that I would like to say THANK YOU to the Bears, for the win, and for the way you won, and for the fact that the universe has been restored, and we can now root for you, fully and completely and with all our heart and soul and passion.
You agree, right? We now have something to cheer for, and 11 really great days to MORE than prepare for the next GAME OF THE SEASON, which will fittingly occur on the biggest stage, Monday Night Football, December 22, 2008, against merely OUR BIGGEST RIVALS.
I had to follow the game on Blackberry interspersed with calls from the diehard 5th grader Bear fan to update me. I knew something good had happened when he called at about 7:18. Later, when I got to watch the game, I was completely amazed - never before had I seen a kick return where the returner found it appropriate to celebrate beginning at THE 50 YARD LINE - AND HE WAS RIGHT TO DO SO. That's how quickly that return turned into a touchdown.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'd like to talk about the heroes of this game, the MVPs, and guess who I'm going to talk about? Don't choke -
DA COACHES - starting with Ron Turner. Yes, you heard me. Ron Turner coached his ASS off last night, including having to deal with the tremendous letdown of having The One leave the field, possibly for the game. He didn't have any of his characteristic crawl-into-a-hole-and-die quarter- and half-long checkouts - he kept pushing, in different ways, in ways that accentuated what we do well and minimized what we don't do well. Just what we've been asking him to do all year. This time he did it. Biggest difference-maker in this game was the incorporation of the long ball. Do you remember Bernard Berrian and Rex in 2006 - do you remember that at least half the yards we used to get on those long-ball hookups were from interference penalties? Thanks to RT, as late as the 13th game of the season, Kyle and Devin are the new Rex and Bernard, and it worked to perfection. Thank you RT, for an absolutely great game plan, and for great play calls during that game.
Bob Babich - Not even going to call you BP today. I thought your game plan, and game calls, were excellent last night. I'll still say you don't get credit for finally getting the right players on the field since it took injuries to get them there, but the combination of these players and your calls created turnovers and sacks and essentially pitched a shutout for the first 30 minutes - the gimme drive starting on the 1 certainly doesn't accrue to you. Yes they got going in the second half, but if you don't hold them to 7 in the first, we lose. D got tired in the second half as the Saints showed us what they had, but D alternately stiffened and took away the ball. You get kudos for this game.
Dave Toub - Special Teams are BACK. Your coverage was excellent, D. Manning is the new Devin Hester, Brad Maynard had an excellent night, and Gould is MONEY (duh). You even had a trick play up your sleeve, problem is they had that one scouted and were prepared. Oh well. Great job overall.
Bottom line - our coaches outcoached their coaches last night - and I can't believe I'm saying that. There were many individual efforts I appreciated - D. Manning, D. Hester, B. Lloyd, Tea Time, The One, Employee #18 (greatest line in the postgame), DA LINE!!! (offensive I'm talking about, and yes, they're starting to deserve a nickname like that), D LINE GETTING PRESSURE AND SACKS (Hallelujah!), ALEX BROWN (our bona fide pass rushing star), Mike Brown, Peanut Tillman (who had an excellent game last night), ANTHONY ADAMS!!!! (I love you man - sorry the coaches didn't believe in you - Anthony Adams is to Dusty Dvoracek as Alex Brown is to Mark Anderson), ROBBIE GOULD!!!
Just about everyone contributed (sorry Rash, you're not everyone), but today, just today, my four game balls are going to Ron, Bob, Dave, and yes, Lovie, you get one too, you're helming this thing!
WHAT A GAME!!! 11 DAYS TO THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON!!!
THANK YOU BEARS!!!!!!!!
I'm less than twenty-four hours from boarding a boeing for Bearsland to take in what will be a season-defining, primetime ball game. If anyone is interested in stopping by and handing me a full cup of Old Style. I'll be in section 231, Row 11 on the aisle. The Reverend will be here for a brief post-game tomorrow night and Phil from SATX should be around for a Friday column. I'll be back for hands-on coverage of Minnesota's upcoming loss in the desert sun.
The Bears are going to win tomorrow night. Here's how:
1. Ron Turner and the Bears offense are going to come out of the box throwing the football (which I understand flies in the face of your typical bad weather game plan). Look for KO to dissect a bad Saints secondary with a series of underneath routes to the tight ends and Devin Hester crossing patterns. The last time the Bears played a game like this - 2005 against the meteorologically over-matched Falcons - they threw on four of their first six plays. And that was with shitty Orton. And they completed none of them. That changes tomorrow night.
2. I can't shake the image of Drew Brees taking that NFC Championship Game intentional grounding penalty a few years back. This is arguably the third best player at his position and it cost his team any shot at playing for a Super Bowl. I don't think the Bears defense will have tremendous success rushing the passer - no one does - but I think they'll force Brees into one or two game-costing mistakes. The question is who will do it. Odds: Israel Idonije 5-2, Alex Brown 3-1, Adewale Ogunleye 5-1, Tommie Harris 6-1, Brian Urlacher 7-1. (Put your money on #54)
3. To quote never-gonna-leave President Bush, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me...can't get fooled again." I will sit in stunned silence Thursday night if Lovie allows Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush to gain yards on the ground. David Haugh wrote about it today and he's right on point. Brees can chuck it all over the field if he wants but if the Saints can't run it, they won't win. Plain and simple.
4. We have the best player on the field. And there's double deuces on his back.
Chicago Bears 29
New Orleans Saints 20
Pressure up the middle.
I'd love to see Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye dominate the edges of the Saints offensive line but Drew Brees simply does not get sacked - averaging about one every fifty attempts. If the Bears are going to have success against the game's most prolific passer, they'll need a significant push up the gut from Tommie Harris, Israel Idonije and Anthony Adams. Brees is not a big guy so the emphasis should be on disrupting sight lines and cutting off the middle of the field, where he'll look to find Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush all day long.
Run the ball 25 times.
I'm not big a quota/statistics guy when it comes to a football game but I feel confident in saying that if the Bears run the ball less than 25 times Thursday night, they're probably in catch-up mode and the season is over. This should be an opportunity for Matt Forte - who'll celebrate his 23rd birthday tomorrow - to show Chicago fans that even a boy from the bayou, from Lake Charles, Louisiana can handle anything Mother Nature throws his way.
Keep it up, Brad.
Maynard has his best game punting the football in a couple years on Sunday against Jacksonville and the Bears will need the same output on Thursday night. In the kind of weather that's expected, long drives will be hard to come by and turnovers could determine the outcome. Pin Brees and company inside their own five a couple times and the Bears might run away with this thing.
If the Minnesota Vikings win two of their next three games against two division champions and a terrific Atlanta Falcons team then they deserve to win the NFC North. The Bears lost that right when Peanut Tillman decided Visanthe Shiancoe needed to be triple-teamed and Bernard Berrian wasn't a threat down the field. The Vikings earned control of their destiny and - if they capitalize - we tip our caps to the better football team.
But Thursday night in Soldier Field (and beyond) the Chicago Bears shouldn't concern themselves with the Minnesota Vikings or any wayward wildcard fantasies. The Bears have control of over one thing and one thing only: the ability to win ten games. This club - which many believed would finish in a distant last place - has a chance to be 10-6. And even if that doesn't lead to a postseason trip, it will establish a forward momentum into 2009 and beyond. You might scoff at that but I don't. 10 wins in the NFL is still 10 wins in the NFL.
Thursday night on national television the Chicago Bears will show us all what they are. I'm glad I'll be there first-hand to see it my own eyes. It's December in Chicago and there's meaningful football being played in Soldier Field. It started against the Jags. It continues against the Saints. The Bears will need the four best quarters of their 2008 season. Four intense, frigid quarters of football. If they play like they're capable of playing, they'll win. Easily. And we'll see what happens from there...
I eagerly invite all fifty-three active members of the Chicago Bears roster to wake up this morning, get into their Cadillac Escalades, drive to Denny's, smother it, cover it and enjoy a good victory over the faded Jacksonville Jaguars. Then get back in your recklessly large vehicle and drive to Halas Hall.
Because Sunday's win means nothing if you don't beat the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night. Nothing. Zero.
Three quick thoughts on yesterday:
(1) Say what you want about Jerry Angelo but he may forever be remembered as the man who brought Matt Forte to the Chicago Bears. Just look at what this kid has done in his rookie season.
(2) Danieal Manning has provided a tremendous spark on both special teams and defense and he'll need to keep it up Thursday night against a passing attack that will try to exploit every possible mismatch.
(3) We've got the tight ends. We've got the back. We've got the skunk. But this passing game can not continue to get production like yesterday from Lloyd, Booker and Davis. 5 catches for 42 yards? Davis drops too many passes, Booker lacks breakaway speed and Lloyd has been flat-out invisible.
Short week here at DaBlog. I'll have something tomorrow, the preview on Wednesday and will leave it to one of the faithful to be here Thursday night and Friday - as I will be in sunny Chicago.
Dear Chicago Bears,
Do not make me sit through a freezing cold Chicago evening in Soldier Field Thursday for a meaningless football game.
P.S. Go Lions!
I had a dream last night (yes I occasionally dream about the Bears) that the Jacksonville Jaguars won Sunday by the score of 54-7. I tell you this because if it were to happen DaBearsBlog will officially become the home of Tony Stewart's #14 and the United States national soccer team as they prepare for South Africa in 2010 on Monday morning.
I did exhaustive research (ten, twenty minutes) last night into my picks this season and made some startling discoveries. (1) I'm 6-6 picking winners. (2) On average I missed the Bear opponents' total score by ten points to the south - meaning I've continually thought the Bears defense should be ten points better than they are. (2) On average I have nailed the Bears offense right on the button, meaning that I've countered guesses on the low side perfectly with guesses on the high side. With the exception of the two Vikings games and the Packers game, I've rarely been off by double digits.
So what's going to happen against the Jags? Here are five plays that will actually take place.
First Quarter - Bears 3rd and 6 at the Jags 19 (11:09)
Kyle Orton throws a perfect slant route through the hands of Devin Hester, who had a clean road to the end zone in front of him. Robbie Gould comes on and kicks a 36 yarder to put the Bears up 3-0.
First Quarter - Bears 1st and 10 at the Jags 27 (3:46)
After Kevin Payne intercepts an errant pass from David Garrard, Kyle Orton throws a touchdown strike on play-action to a wide open Greg Olsen headed toward the right corner of the end zone to give the Bears a 10-3 lead.
Second Quarter - Jags 3rd and 15 at their own 7 (3:15)
David Garrard is sacked by Alex Brown and fumbles; recovered by Adewale Ogunleye at the 2. It only takes three Matt Forte runs to score and give the Bears a 20-6 lead.
Third Quarter - Jags 1st and goal at the Bears 1 (9:47)
The Jags come out of locker room and call seven perfect plays and move the ball the length of the field. With first and goal at the one, Garrard runs a draw from the shotgun and puts the Jags back in it. 20-13.
Fourth Quarter - Bears 1st and 10 at their own 38 (13:17)
Kyle Orton throws a screen pass to Matt Forte, who breaks a pair of tackles en route to a game-icing 62 yard touchdown. 27 - 13. Forte gains another fifty yards in the quarter to put the game out of reach.
Chicago Bears 27
Jacksonville Jaguars 13
Chicago Bears 27
Jacksonville Jaguars 23
When the ball is kicked off Sunday afternoon in Chicago, I don’t think Xs and Os will determine the outcome. The Bears are better on offense and defense. They’re healthier. They have something to play for. They’re at home. If this game were played on December 7th 2008 without the benefit of my having seen November 2008, I’d pick the Bears to win by a couple touchdowns.
But the Bears went an ugly 2-3 in the month of November. They squeaked passed a winless Lions club and destroyed the non-existent Rams. They lost the other three contests by a combined score of 92-31. The only win of circumstance for Chicago in November was against John McCain. At the point in the season where the good teams have begun finding answers, the Bears are suddenly rife with questions.
Does Charles Tillman have the resolve to play aggressively against the poorest group of receivers we’ll face all season? Does John St. Clair have the confidence to overcome the certain-hangover of his career-low performance? Does Kyle Orton have guts, the actual guts, to play his game knowing that he’s probably one interception away from hearing his first resounding home chorus of boos? Will the team as a whole – all 53 on the active roster – play with the kind of passion that seemed so easily drained from them by an inexplicable full-field touchdown pass from Big Gus to Bernie B?
Lovie Smith doesn’t strike me as the kind of coach who is a master of motivation. He strikes me as the kind of coach who blows on his soup before he puts it in his mouth. His Chicago Bears will tell you all you need to know before the end of the first quarter. If they’re sluggish, lifeless, uninspired…forget 2008. It’s over. If they’re flying all over the field with a seemingly reckless abandon and knocking Jaguars to the turf like their season depends on it…then there just might be some hunt left in these dogs.
Some other notes...
David Haugh is right on the money (for a change). To expect this Bears group to win four straight games with no track-record of doing so is a bit of a reach. But it doesn't change the fact that it might be the only way to make the postseason in 2008. His best line: "As easy as it is to believe how the Bears could get on a roll with their defense and finish 4-0, it would not take much persuasion to see how they also could go 0-4."
Brad Biggs rightfully kills the receivers, who have masterfully blended their inability to catch the football with their endless desire to run a route other than the one called in the huddle. When Dr. Hester is your most consistent option on the outside, you're in trouble at the position.
The next seven days will tell the story of the 2008 season and perhaps tell us everything we need to know about Lovie Smith and his coaching staff. Leaving aside the Missouri Mirage of two weeks ago, the Bears have lost their last two big time football games against division rivals by a total of fifty-four points. Fifty. Four. Points. They allowed 378 yards rushing in those two contests. Sunday night they blew a plush opportunity to seize control of the NFC North by allowing a terrible turn of events in the second quarter to lead to a dismal second half performance. (And subsequently became Lovie's reason for the failure.)
It's over. All of it. Not just these two bad performances but all of the calamitous moments of 2008 will become history. Failed conversion at midfield in Carolina. Done. Brian Griese's hours in the pocket. Who cares? Matt Ryan's late-game heroics. Forget it. Lovie Smith and the Chicago Bears have an opportunity in the next seven days to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints at home and place their season on the line December 22nd against the Green Bay Packers.
I know there is a growing number of fans who don't want the Bears to waste their time with a playoff appearance. To them I say the following: shut up. "You play to win the game," the prophet said. I agree. We are only given sixteen games a year, that's all. Sixteen games. And to get that seventeenth game is a blessing and I'll take it. Ask fans in Detroit if they'd like a "meaningless" playoff appearance.
Win these two games over the next seven days. Get to 8-6. Give your fans eleven days to prepare for the franchise's most bitter rival on what is still the game's most preeminent stage. Give your fans a chance to believe you can turn the ship around even if you can't. Calm this Lake Michigan-size sea of criticism and give us a moment to remember 2008 by. Against the Packers. Monday night. December 22nd.
There is a myth circulating in Bearsland that we somehow have the pole position in the race for the NFC North division title. We don’t. Not even close. The Bears are currently behind the Vikings in every conceivable way. But dry land is not a myth. I have seen it. And I spent some time this morning putting together the scenarios for those of us who simply need to know this crap or we can’t sleep right.
(Note: We’re going to leave the Green Bay Packers out of this equation for the time-being, with the full understanding that they’re still in this thing.)
BEST CASE SCENARIO
The “easiest” way for the Bears to win the division is to win two more games down the stretch than the Vikings. The Vikes have road games at Detroit and Arizona followed by home battles with Atlanta and the Giants. That’s three playoff teams and a club desperately trying to not go 0-16. The Bears should beat Jacksonville and Houston. They got a scheduling break by having the Saints at home, in December, at night. That leaves the Packers. Monday night. December 22nd. The best case scenario for this Chicago Bears team is that they need to win at home against their oldest rival to make the postseason.
BUT IF THEY DO FINISH TIED…
(1) Division Record
If the Vikings were ever to lose Sunday in Detroit and the Bears won, the “control your own destiny” ball is back in our court. If the Vikings win Sunday, the Bears could even the divisional records by beating the Packers. Monday night. December 22nd.
(2) Common Opponents
Right now the Vikings are 6-4 and the Bears are 3-5. That doesn’t sound good but all four teams left on the Bears schedule are, in fact, common opponents. The Vikings have only the Lions and Falcons remaining so if the Vikings were to win this Sunday in Detroit, the Bears would need to run the table and have the Vikes then lose to the Falcons. If the Vikings win these two games (the only two where they'll be favored), they’ll also win this tiebreaker. How’s that pole position looking?
(3) Conference Record
Vikings. 5-3. Bears 5-5. Vikings have all four remaining games against conference opponents while the Bears have New Orleans and Green Bay at home. Now think about this. If the Vikings lose two more (and one of them is Atlanta) and the Bears only lose to an AFC opponent, then this would be locked up as well. Though really analyzing things, this seems where the tiebreaker would die. If it doesn’t…
(4) Strength of Victory
Vikings up 27-13 right now. Why? The Bears last two losses have been by a total of 54 points.
WHAT DO WE REALLY NEED TO HAPPEN?
The Bears need to win out. Plain and simple. It's worth rooting for the Lions this week and the Falcons down the road but this will really all be moot if the Bears don't beat these four teams in the month of December.
Last night in Minnesota, with a division title waiting to be seized, all that we thought we understood about our 2008 Chicago Bears evaporated into the damp dome air. These are the Cinderella Bears. Not because they rise above their humble, peasant roots to achieve a regal nobility but because ultimately their true identity will be revealed. The clock will strike midnight. The horses turn back to mice. The pristine carriage is a blotchy, dirty, dented shit pumpkin.
And the pumpkin was on display last night.
Remember when Charles Tillman was on pace for a Pro Bowl season? Last night he looked like the worst player on the field. Tillman's meandering coverage on the 99-yard Berrian touchdown catch may be remembered as the play that ended this season. When did our strength and depth at cornerback become our primary liability?
Remember when Kyle Orton limited turnovers? His second-half performance may be the growing pains of a still-young quarterback but it could not have happened at a worse time for this team. He wasn't bad last night. He was Rex.
Remember when John St. Clair was good at blocking people? His performance against Jared Allen reminded me of that kid left tackle in Philly who allowed Osi to sack Donovan McNabb six times last year. If Chris Williams is the future at the position, the future should begin at Wednesday's practice.
Remember when our receivers over-achieved? Rash Davis, Devin Hester and AP2: Electric Bugaloo had major drops on key third down conversions that took our offense off the field. The Bears most pressing need this off-season should be acquiring a bona fide number one wideout to play with Hester - preferably someone who can catch.
Remember when Matt Forte was the future of the franchise? He still is.
Remember when Ron Turner showed flashes as an exciting caller of football plays? He stinks. And let me get this straight. Jason McKie is hurt and you STILL RUN THE JASON MCKIE PLAY AT THE GOAL LINE? Let me know when this works, Ron. I'll send you some candy.
Ultimately last night was another game in a long season and a blown opportunity. But remember, the Bears trail a football team that closes it season against three current NFC playoff teams (at Arizona, Atlanta, Giants) so they're not out of the race for a division title (by any means). They don't - however - inspire confidence of any sort. They don't make you want to root for them. They don't walk down the long palace staircase and draw the attention of all in attendance. They're just dirty, dented shit pumpkins and unless they locate a fairy godmother with some kind of magic dust, they'll be sitting home in January.
I wouldn't bet on it.