What was already abundantly clear to most of Bear Nation for the 2009 season up to this point was hopefully brought to the attention of the coaching staff and the front office. The Bears’ 24-20 loss to the Eagles signified a team bereft of talent, not one that failed to exert effort or play up to its potential.
Could the Bears have won the game if they had played perfectly? Sure. But how often do teams play a perfect game in today’s NFL?
We’ve seen the Bears play ten games this season and Sunday’s performance against the Eagles is about as good we’re going to see from this group. Could they play better? I don’t know. It begs the question that if they could, why haven’t they done so through almost three months? Of their paltry, four victories this season, three came against teams with a combined 6-24 record. The only respectable victory came in Week 2 against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers. Even in that game, they took advantage of a Steelers team still struggling to find its identity and playing without All Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
We don’t know what Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith truly think about the talent on their team. We know that through interviews with the media, they speak glowingly of their players, claiming that wholesale changes are not needed. They feel the pieces are in place and that those pieces simply need to play better.
Maybe they think differently behind closed doors, though. Does anybody truly expect them to publicly call out their players? I don’t. So, maybe changes will come in the off-season. If the team continues to lose in ugly fashion, the pressure, and evidence of the need to bring in fresh faces will mount.
Going back to the game, it doesn’t say much, but I feel the Bears defense had one of its better games this season. Wasn’t good enough to win, but competent enough to avoid spewing venom. The defense allowed LeSean McCoy to amass 99 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on 20 carries. Donovan McNabb had a fantastic game with 244 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception on 23 of 32 passing. He also connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson.
With 171 passing yards, Jay Cutler had his second-lowest total in a game this season — he threw just 141 against the Lions in Week 4. However, that Lions game was Matt Forte’s best statistical game on the ground and the Bears were playing with a lead the entire second half.
Cutler threw just one interception against the Eagles, but it was a costly one. It came on their potential, game-winning drive with less than a minute to go. I think what bothered me most about Cutler’s performance — and from the sound of angry callers to radio shows this morning, it seemed to have bothered most of Bear Nation — was Cutler’s overthrows on three different plays that would have undeniably led to touchdowns.
I will never compare Kyle Orton to Cutler, but those three throws brought nasty flashbacks from last year when that’s all Orton would do was overthrow open receivers. It’s a vision I thought I wouldn’t have to see anymore when the Bears acquired Cutler, but was sadly incorrect.
I know Cutler will improve when his supporting cast does. When he feels that he doesn’t have to do everything himself, I’m confident that he’ll play more intelligently and with more restraint. Not completely — he’s still a gunslinger that will force throws and record interceptions. But enough so that he doesn’t cost his team games.
Defensively, I referenced Charles Tillman and Alex Brown in my postgame thoughts but wanted to give Lance Briggs some love, too. Briggs plays well week in and week out, so I didn’t feel the need to single out his performance yesterday, but he played well by recording 10 tackles and a sack against the Eagles. Tillman, of course, forced three fumbles, two of which the Bears recovered. And Brown put pressure on McNabb all night as well as disrupted attempted screen plays and helped as much as he could against the run.
Devin Hester, aside from having his backside exposed on national TV, didn’t exactly make the highlight reel. He’s paid like a No. 1 receiver and is treated as such, but he had just four catches for 18 yards. He was blown up a couple times while catching a quick screen pass — which is more an indictment of Ron Turner than Hester. And in the role at which he was once prominent, he returned three punts for just 15 yards. In fairness to him, teams continue to pin the ball near the sideline and narrow his field of return. At least he didn’t cough up the ball or run sideways and backwards. He took what he could get and ran out of bounds.
The Bears still have a tough road ahead, not so much to make the playoffs because I don’t see them running the table. But to remain a respectable team and show some signs of improvement for next year, it won’t be an easy stretch. The Bears have two very winnable games remaining against the Rams and Lions, but four games against opponents that are in the playoff hunt and will probably put a hurting on them. They play the Vikings twice — including in Minnesota this week where they’ve won just twice this decade — and the Ravens and Packers.
If the Bears finish 6-10 or worse, they won’t benefit with higher first or second round draft picks. The Broncos and Buccaneers, respectively, will benefit in that regard. But that type of finish will surely have some type of ramifications for the makeup of this roster for 2010 and beyond.