Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-49ers (11.16.09)

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The term Monday Morning Quarterback was derived from criticizing and second-guessing performances the day after a game, typically Monday. Hence, I could have written this article on Friday, but I figured my postgame thoughts would suffice.

Waiting a few days to publish this while keeping this article running on Mondays allowed me a little extra time to collect my thoughts while also watching a full Sunday of football and putting things in perspective.

And this is what I’ve come up with: the Bears, shockingly, are still in good shape to make the playoffs — mathematically speaking, of course. From a talent perspective, and their remaining schedule, they’re just about out of the hunt.

In the NFC, the Eagles, Giants, Packers, and Falcons are 5-4 while the Bears, Panthers, and 49ers are 4-5. Tiebreakers are not working in the Bears’ favor, though, with the Bears having lost to three of those teams in the chase. The Bears would have to finish a game ahead of the Packers, Falcons, and 49ers to make up for their losses in those games.

It’s safe to say that if the Bears were to lose to the Eagles this week, all hope would be lost. They would not be mathematically eliminated, but they’d need all the aforementioned teams to suffer historic collapses.

Realizing just how close you are to the playoff door but are unable to knock it down is a bitter pill to swallow. The Bears were the better team Thursday night but somehow let the 49ers off the hook. Jay Cutler didn’t do his team any favors with five interceptions. Cutler nearly cost the Bears with four interceptions against the Packers, but that loss was attributed to the defense. The Bears had the lead over the Packers with two minutes to go thanks to a should-have-been, game-winning drive by Cutler late in the fourth quarter.

I was happy with the way the defense played against the 49ers, and I have been unable to utter those words in quite some time. Sure, San Francisco doesn’t exactly have an offensive juggernaut, but they played inspired football. Tommie Harris probably played his best game of the year and had his best performance in quite some time. Charles Tillman forced another fumble, something he’s been so good at in his career. Zack Bowman continued to show that even though he struggles in coverage at times, he has a nose for the football and intercepted Alex Smith.

The offense continued its struggles in the run game as Matt Forte amassed just 41 yards on 20 carries. At least Forte was able to factor into the game plan and contribute in the passing game with 8 receptions for 120 yards. Greg Olsen’s success from the Cardinals game continued into the 49ers game as he caught 7 passes for 75 yards. Devin Hester added 7 catches for 48 yards.

Cutler completed more than 50% of his passes for over 300 yards, but had no touchdowns and needs to improve his decision-making. Hester fell down on one of Cutler’s interceptions, he was impeded by an official on another, and Kellen Davis was interfered with on a third. Still, Cutler’s other two interceptions — both in the red zone — were inexcusable and showed poor judgment.

As far as the special teams go, San Francisco did a good job containing the Bears’ returners. Danieal Manning returned two kickoffs for just 30 yards and Johnny Knox had one return for 12 yards. Hester had two punt returns for 4 yards. The Bears’ coverage teams did okay and Brad Maynard had two punts pinned inside the 20. Robbie Gould also kicked another 50-yard field goal.

Midseason is usually a point in which there is a fork in the road awaiting Bears fans. Unless the Bears are having a great season — circa 2001 or 2006 — or are having an obviously bad season — pick one of their 4-12 seasons in the past decade — all Bears fans must choose a path. Some inch toward the front of the bandwagon and hope the Bears can still make a run at the playoffs. Others abandon the wagon and want the Bears to play for a better draft pick.

As we’re all aware of, the Bears have no first or second round pick in 2010. The path toward a higher draft pick has been blocked off. However, there’s a new path that’s been forged by many angry Bears fans and that’s the path toward Lovie Smith getting fired. These fans feel that if the Bears continue to lose — and do so in spectacular fashion — then the Bears are more likely to fire Smith. That’s probably not going to happen. I can’t see the McCaskeys buying out Smith’s lucrative contract for the next two years.

To me, there is only one path. I’ll continue to root for the Bears to make the playoffs even as hopeless as it looks. I’ll sit through every minute of every ugly game, whether it be a win or a loss, and enjoy watching football while it lasts. There may be a lot of poor plays and moments that make you smack your forehead with your palm. But there should be enough exciting moments as well to keep you in front of your television.

There may be a dead end sign on the side of the path that I choose, but I’ll venture down it anyway to see where it takes me, and accept what I see along the way.

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