Bears fans: Now is no time for panic

October 13th, 2008 - 11:34 am

The Bears dropped a heartbreaking, 22-20, loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, a game they could have won, before they were supposed to lose, before they should have won.

Huh?

Simply put, this was a game the Bears could have won before it started. When it did, the Falcons played above what most of us expected and the Bears were supposed to lose that game. But they came back with a brilliant drive orchestrated by Kyle Orton and, thus, should have won.

I imagined many in the Chicagoland area would be fuming about this loss, but I didn’t expect everyone to inch toward the edge of the cliff and think about taking the plunge.

The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh, the self-appointed voice of reason, wrote today:

Why [Bears defensive coordinator Bob] Babich couldn’t come up with a three-deep scheme to monitor the sideline routes better could be a question Chicago will still be asking in January if the Bears miss the playoffs by one game.

Don’t hold your breath, folks, his toes are hanging off the ledge. Later in the column, he goes on to write:

In one 11-second swing that may not be entirely felt for 11 weeks, the Bears went from NFC darlings to a three-way tie for first in the scrum of mediocrity known as the NFC North.

Whoops, there he goes. He just went over. I sure hope that not too many Bears fans agree with Haugh’s assessment and the weight of this loss to the Falcons.

It’s bad enough he made one reference to January, but two playoff inferences? I know this loss stings, but to assume that this one defeat alone will cost the Bears a playoff spot is a little far-fetched. Last I checked, they don’t begin the playoffs until 16 regular season games have been played, not 6.

For all we know, the Bears could go 8-2 over the remaining 10 games and run away with the division. Or, they could go 2-8 and this one loss to the Falcons could mean bupkis.

Besides, if the Bears do indeed miss the playoffs by one game as Haugh is suggesting might happen, the first game that they’ll be looking at as a missed opportunity will be their last loss of the season, whichever game that might end up being. They’re not going to dwell on a mid-October game, a contest they can easily render moot simply by outplaying the Packers and Vikings over the next 10 weeks.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to address Haugh’s overreaction. In mid-September, after just three games when the Bears were 1-2, Haugh had written that the Eagles’ game was a must-win for the Bears or else they could forget about the playoffs. After three measly games! And what happened? They went on to win the next two games, and suddenly, Haugh called them “NFC darlings”.

My point is this: there’s too much football left to dwell on one game, particularly when four of the ten games remaining on the Bears schedule are against two teams currently tied with the Bears for the NFC North lead. Do you really think the Falcons game would mean much if the Bears were to sweep the Packers and Vikings?

Another thing that’s been bothering me lately is all this talk about the wild card. I’ve heard friends, family, and even the media talk and/or write about how the Bears are trailing in the wild card race because of three losses to NFC contenders: Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta.

My reponse is: since when was it a goal of Bears fans — or the team itself — to win the wild card? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Lovie Smith’s second goal as head coach of the Bears to win the division? Why are we suddenly aiming for the wild card? The focus should be on winning the division. Haugh, himself, said that the NFC North was a “scrum of mediocrity”.

This is still a very winnable division and the Bears are in position to do it.

There’s an old adage in football that says you have 24 hours — sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on who is coaching the team — to think about the game you just played before you clean the slate and begin preparing for your next opponent.

My guess is that most of the Bears players have already done just that, focusing on a very winnable game against divisional rival Minnesota this week. (And by the way, even if the Bears lose to the Vikings — which I don’t expect they will — and head into the bye week at 3-4, they’re still not out of the division race. Not by a long shot. Not with 9 games left after that.)

If the Bears players can move on and not dwell on this loss, then why can’t the fans do the same?

This begs the question: am I the only one who enjoys watching the team play and not get excessively anxious about what happens down the road? Football is often an imitation of life, and in life, you’re taught not to focus on the future, but instead enjoy the thrill of the ride.

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