The Bears arenít good enough for prime time, although yesterdayís game that was flexed to the late afternoon slot was infinitely more competitive than the Patriots-Bills rout that took its place. Then again, the Bears draw too big an audience to play at noon, witness the upcoming Broncos game that was originally scheduled for a 12 start but also was shifted to 3:15. And the thought is that the packer game scheduled early on 12/23 will also become a matinee on FOX, so make sure to ask permission to attend if you have to, and you know who you are.
I guess in this era of NFL mediocrity it makes sense for the network wonks to get as many fannies in front of the sets as possible, and if that means foisting a Bears team stuck in neutral upon the nation in a meaningless game two then so be it.
Ten games in, and this group of Bears continue to wallow as if in an offseason torpor.
I havenít tried to sort it out for four games, being unable to pinpoint a reason for their sorry losses or muster up much enthusiasm for the improbable last second heroics that won them a pair of games.
Thereís the defense that set the pace in the NFL for takeaways last year under Ron Rivera, coming up with just one interception over the last four weeks, dropping two sure picks in the suicidal opening quarter of the home loss to the Lions and not showing anything else close in the other three games. Thereís Brian Urlacher, officially entering the downside of his career during the last month, disclosing an arthritic lower back condition thatís never going to get any better. And heís playing like it, too, looking sadly average most of the time while finding less room to roam behind a defensive line that canít keep the blockers heís always had problems with out of his way. Thatís the same defensive line that looked like the starting gate at Arlington while the Vikings piled up 311 yards on the ground, and then turned around and throttled a hapless Oakland team with four sacks and a forced fumble that sealed the win. Who shows up? Flip a coin.
Thereís the offense that jettisoned Rex Grossman after three games due to too many interceptions and generally inept play, the one that turned to Brian Griese, whose steadying hand was supposed to ďmanageĒ the game plan into a more efficient attack. But Griese proved a false prophet as well, tossing nine interceptions in his three losses as the coaching ďbrain trustĒ increasingly lost confidence and elected to give Grossman more practice reps in preparation for a shot at redemption.
Taking a page out of Grossmanís playbook, Griese fumbled the opening snap against the bumbling Raiders and then later got squished when Cedric Benson failed to pick up a blitz, falling hard on his left shoulder to end his tenure as Bears Quarterback for Now. Grossman reentered the mix and, not to be outdone, promptly fumbled his first snap, meaning it will be considered progress if Kyle Orton ever enters a game and manages to pull away from center on his first play with the ball in his hands.
On the strength of a single pass to Bernard Berrian that rescued the Bears from an embarrassing loss to the sorry silver and black, Grossman was again declared Starter For Life (Or At Least This Week), allegedly because the Bears needed his strong arm to stretch the defense and open up the running game. Then again, it was said that Bobby Douglass could throw a football through a wall, and how did that work out? Meanwhile, Griese says his shoulder feels OK, Shemp says heís ready, and Year 57 of the search for Sid Luckmanís replacement continues.
To be fair, Grossmanís play against the Seahawks yesterday was solid. We didnít see any of the dumb throws into coverage that had become one of his trademarks, and he did a good job of finding the open receiver. Unfortunately, thatís not what weíll remember about his performance. What weíll remember is the fumble. Like the car crash that plays out in slow motion before your eyes, we watched as Grossman pulled the ball down and scrambled left, heading upfield as Patrick Kerney closed on him to swat the ball out, snuffing yet another Bears drive. How bad must John St. Clair be that he canít beat out Fred Miller, The Human Turnstile? Miller spent most of the afternoon jumping the snap count like he had spent the entire morning slamming doppios at a local Starbucks, and when he did manage to stay set his backside was getting chapped while Kerney was on his way past. Is Troy Auzenne available? Stan Thomas? Frazier Thomas? While Jerry Angelo wrings his hands, deciding who will be the Bearsí next Quarterback of the Future, Jim Finks spins in his grave wondering whatever happened to building from the line back. But donít fret Ė Josh Beekman is on the way. Itís a start. It better be.
And what happened to Cedric Benson? After picking up over 60 yards on his first two runs, he winds up with only eleven carries for the day? Iím starting to think that Lovie Smith found Dick Jauronís 8-track Muzak version of The Girl From Ipanema somewhere in the bottom of his desk and has it playing through his headphones during games. Smith sure has that far away look in his eye whenever the camera shoots him on the sideline, doesnít he? Last week in Oakland he had Robbie Gould try a career-long 53-yard field goal in a 3-3 game. Gould was short, and just like that field position flipped. Lucky for Smith, the defense recovered a fumble three plays later to negate that brain cramp, but not to be outdone this week he passed up a 42 yard try trailing by seven in the third quarter of a shootout to go for it on fourth and one, and the play he sent in involved a handoff to an indecisive Benson five yards deep in the backfield. Maybe it was Ron Turnerís call, but between the two of them they had the entire time of the Seattle challenge to pick something on their useless laminated card that might work. A slow developing draw play was the best they could come up with? Please, somebody hand me a dart! Iíd have felt better with a hard count to try to draw them offsides, a delay of game penalty and a 47-yard attempt. Or how about using one of those two quarterback sneaks old man Halas drew up on a piece of paper and handed to Ditka when he was a rookie head coach? Are they lying around anywhere in Smithís office? Maybe theyíre in that bottom drawer, under where the 8-track was. Those three points sure would have come in handy on the Bears final drive, going for the tie instead of needing two scores. Does Smith even have a clue?
Not that it matters. Watching the Colts-Patriots game a few weeks ago made you realize just how far the Bears and the rest of the NFL have to go. With offenses that move like a Swiss watch and defenses that stay in position and know how to hit, those two teams play at another level, although Indy may be coming back to earth now that Marvin Harrison is nursing a sore knee, starting left tackle Tony Ugoh has missed the last three games with a neck injury and Dwight Freeney had his foot bent into the dreaded Lisfranc fold and is gone for the year.
Calling the entire AFC superior is misleading, though. Through 44 interconference games the NFC actually holds a 23-21 edge, and that includes the combined 5-0 records of the Colts and Patriots. Take away those two teams and itís possible the AFC is even lousier than the NFC. But they do have the big kids on the block, and thatís all the AFC needs to take home the big metal at seasonís end.
So itís become like watching your kid play little league. You want your son to do well, but realistically you realize heíll never be good enough to play in the majors. And as long as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are taking snaps in the other league, the best the Bears and the NFC can hope for is winning the George Halas trophy.
That, and our old friend Mr. Magoo driving the AFC bus on Super Bowl Sunday.