As I see it, this is it. After last Sunday’s debacle, any chance the Bears have at respectability this season hinges on beating the Eagles. Last year the Giants may have proved you can get into the NFC playoffs with an 8-8 record, but all that really earns you is a road beating on Wild Card weekend. And where is the joy in that?
I guess Lovie Smith is right when he tells us 31 points should be enough to win, but to my way of thinking that offensive “explosion” was a mirage. The ills on offense didn’t magically disappear last week. During the first 57 minutes Brian Griese posted a Rexian 63.2 passer rating, with most of his short out throws looking more like something in need of a dose of Levitra, on a rope about two-thirds of the way before settling into the turf at the receiver’s feet, than the crisp darts we saw him throw in the preseason. The running game put up a paltry 83 yards on 3.5 yards per carry despite several early runs for ten yards or more by Cedric Benson. And again, on balls that did make it there were the weekly drops by Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian that we’ve almost come to expect.
Speaking of balls, earlier this season Berrian actually had the cojones to say his case of dropsy this year was due to a “lack of concentration.” This is coming from a guy in his contract year. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he’s concentrating more on his next deal than his next reception when the ball is snapped. This much we do know: Berrian recently fired agent Eugene Parker, who orchestrated Benson’s guaranteed $16 million rookie theft, and is in the process of replacing him with The Übertool, the same guy who threatened to hold his breath and stomp his feet if Lance Briggs wasn’t given a multiyear deal before handing Briggs one of his leftover Thomas (Jones) the Tank Engine wheely backpacks and sending him off to Bourbonnais for the first day of training camp. Recently there’s been talk that the Bears have to consider using the franchise tag to retain Berrian, which I find ludicrous. Maybe a transition tag, if Jerry Angelo can remember to check the right box, but on a team as quarterback challenged as the Bears talk of franchising a receiver who would have trouble catching a bus in the Loop during rush hour smacks of überhype.
And then there’s the defense that gave up enough rushing yards to make Notre Dame blush. Not since the legendary Don Rives roamed the middle in 1976 have the Bears been gashed so deeply on the ground, allowing 311 yards by the Vikings as a team and giving up a franchise record 224 by the real Adrian Peterson, who looked like the second coming of Barry Sanders.
Lovie and his yes-man coordinator Bob Babich reportedly spent an extra hour with the defense going over the game film last Monday, painstakingly pointing out each blown assignment while Smith called them out collectively for lacking heart. And it must be true, when so-called veteran defensive leader Adewale Ogunleye, whose name I might have heard all of three or four times last week, all but says the Bears expected to throw their jocks on the field this year and be presented with a bid for Super Bowl XLII. Ogunleye may have been given the captain’s “C” that Mike Brown relinquished when he went on IR, but it’s apparent nobody has stepped up to take over the role of emotional leader on that side of the ball. Not Ogunleye, surely not Mumbles Urlacher, nobody. Brown never would have let the defense slide like this, even more so since he missed the big game last year.
Smith was right pointing out the heart thing, but isn’t it said that when you point at somebody, three fingers are pointing back at you? Somebody had natural strong safety Adam Archuleta playing free safety while natural free safety Danieal Manning was playing cornerback. Somebody thought there was enough talent in the draft to let Dante Wesley and Chris Harris leave for a silhouette, a single future draft pick between them, while not offering a contract to Todd Johnson or Cameron Worrell. Somebody thought Alfonso Boone and Ian Scott were expendable as Tommie Harris continued to nurse his surgically repaired leg back to health. Who could that have been?
On the bright side, at least we know that Ron Turner does have plays in his game plan that get the ball to Devin Hester. I read that they called the bomb he scored his touchdown on once before, but Hester couldn’t get off the jam at the line of scrimmage. If that’s the case, why not put Hester in motion across the formation to ease his release upfield? It’s just a thought.
We often speak of “the window,” and how an NFL team has to be ready to jump through when it’s their turn. My biggest fear is that the Bears window has already closed. I still think they have too much talent on the defensive side of the ball for that to be the case, but watching their ranking slip from 2nd in the league in 2005 to 5th last year and all the way to 27th now surely breeds doubt. A lot of the injuries stemmed from an offense that couldn’t stay on the field earlier this season, but time of possession has been more balanced since Griese took over. Hopefully that will reduce the fatigue injuries on the defensive side going forward. Tommie Harris probably will never play at full strength this year, but he’s better than most even at 85%. Nathan Vasher and Darwin Walker will both be back after the bye at the latest, Walker possibly this Sunday. The only question is whether it’ll be too late when the defense gets back to full strength.
That’s why the Bears gotta get a win on Sunday. Then again, this is the NFC we’re talking about.
P.S. This evening a small group of friends gathered in a Wheaton gin mill to celebrate Gus’ 40th birthday. The live music started at 8pm, and I looked up to find none other than Frank Merkendorfer ably handling the vocals. After the set he asked that I “say hello from Frank to anybody that you know that I know.” You guys know who you are, so consider yourself greeted by “Hen” (www.frankanddave.com).