It’s been five years since the last time I watched Bears games with an eye toward next season, but the feeling has returned. That season five years ago was Lovie’s first as head coach of the Bears, when they went 5-11 with Brian Urlacher sidelined for a good chunk of the season. I guess that’s a testament to how competitive the Bears have been even in the two previous years when they haven’t made the playoffs.
This year, that’s not the case at all. I give them credit for competing with the Eagles, Falcons, and Packers (twice), because those are three competitive teams. And they did beat a Steelers team that not even the red-hot Packers could hang on to beat yesterday.
But that Steelers victory in Week 2 was the only “big” victory of the season. And as it turns out, it came against a current .500 team, even if they are defending Super Bowl champions. When asked recently about the playoffs, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin gave a Jim Mora-like response. I think that says it all about how good they really are.
It’s not satisfying enough to just play competitively, though, as the Bears lost those aforementioned four games. They were also blown out in four other contests. As for the other four victories they’ve had, they’ve beaten the lowly Seahawks, Lions, Browns, and Rams, who have a combined 11-45 record.
It was clear to me very early in the season — even during their 3-1 “first quarter” of the season — that this team was not as good as it was projected in the preseason by many analysts, myself included. I also gave up on the playoffs much earlier this season than I had in the past two. And I’m an optimist! There’s just something not right about that.
There’s also something not right about waiting until the sixth paragraph of this column to talk about yesterday’s loss to the Ravens. But, I figured that anything I say will sound redundant to previous Monday Morning Quarterbacks I’ve written this season. Hence, I’m not going to write today’s column in detail and nitpick all the bad things that happened. Instead, I’m just going to list random observations. You can read my Postgame Thoughts for more specifics on the game.
1. You know things have gotten bad for your football team when the most interesting thing to come out of Sunday’s loss came not during the game but during a pregame interview with Jerry Angelo. Angelo, addressing the media, was asked if he could confirm a report made by CSNChicago.com’s John Mullin that Lovie Smith will indeed be back next year. Angelo refused to announce that Smith’s job is secure and said everybody is up for evaluation at season’s end.
2. The Ravens won the coin toss and elected to defer, so they could send their prized defense out on the field first. It worked. The Bears’ first two possessions ended with Jay Cutler interceptions and the Ravens’ first two drives concluded with touchdowns.
3. Cutler had his worst game as a Bear while throwing for just 94 yards and three interceptions on 10 of 27 passing with a 7.9 quarterback rating. It’s amazing how far a Pro Bowler has fallen in this Bears offense and it continues to lend credence to what Dan Grossman, father of Rex Grossman, said earlier this season about the quarterbacking issues in Chicago being more a result of organizational woes than the fault of the players themselves.
4. It did not surprise me at all that Devin Aromashodu followed up his eight-catch, 76-yards and a touchdown game against the Packers with just two receptions for 10 yards against Baltimore. He also was arguably responsible for at least one of Cutler’s interceptions, a ball that he tipped in the air right into the defender’s hands. And on Cutler’s first interception, he cut off his slant pattern, resulting in the pick. Regardless of his errors — which included another dropped pass at the line of scrimmage — he belongs on the field with his chance to mesh with Cutler. Each of the other Bears’ average receivers have had that chance.
5. Despite his 3.4 yards per carry average, I thought Matt Forte ran as hard and with as much determination and purpose as he has all season. I think his 69 yards on 20 carries was more a product of a poor offensive line facing a tough run defense than anything else.
6. Lance Briggs once again played his heart out. He was credited with 13 tackles by NFL.com. He said earlier this week that he feels the organization has fallen a great deal after letting go of coaches and players like Ron Rivera, Thomas Jones, Mike Brown, Ruben Brown, John Tait (to retirement), Chris Harris, and Ian Scott. The most telling quote: “Sometimes when you believe in what you’re doing so much, you think, ‘Maybe we can let this guy go’ or ‘We don’t need this guy, and we’ll be just fine.’ And in most cases that would be the case. But you miss some of those guys when you don’t have them. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have [until] it’s not there anymore.” Briggs may have done some stupid things in his time with the Bears — like the Lamborghini incident and the public denouncement of the Bears organization when they wouldn’t sign him to a contract extension. But when the team is playing as badly as it has been this year, you might want to listen to the opinions of the best player on the team.
7. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a career-high four touchdown passes against the Bears. As I mentioned in my Postgame Thoughts, I’m getting tired of that happening against the Bears’ defense. The words: first, best, biggest, highest, most, greatest, longest, and record are being used far too often by broadcasters this season while describing the Bears’ offensive opponents. It’s embarrassing.
8. I’d say congratulations to the defense for holding little Mighty Mouse Ray Rice to just 87 yards, but that came on 16 carries for a 5.4 yards per attempt average. That’s the same average with which he entered Sunday’s game. The only reason he didn’t have more carries than that, other than the fact that he split some attempts with Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain, is that Flacco was too busy having a career passing day.
9. I was happy, disappointed, excited, mellow, encouraged, discouraged, and confused all in the matter of a few seconds on one play Sunday. Anybody guess what it was? It was during and immediately after Earl Bennett’s 49-yard punt return touchdown which resulted in the Bears’ only points of the game. How ironic is it that the Bears returned a punt for a touchdown and it was by Bennett, not Devin Hester.
10. To further aggravate the masses calling for Lovie Smith’s head, Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs set the all-time NFL record for kickoff return touchdowns yesterday after he returned not one, but two kickoffs of over 100 yards for scores. Remember when the Bears had the NFL’s greatest kick returner of all time and he scared the living bejesus out of opposing coaches and players? No, he wasn’t traded to Cleveland, he was transitioned to offense and made irrelevant.
This season can’t end soon enough for me, and it’s a sad day when I admit that because I’m such a big football fan. I wait all year for training camp to come and the season to kick off, and this is the product the Bears have shoveled at us. For being a big market team rich in history, the Bears should never be this bad. Something has to change this off-season. The organization cannot stand pat and hope that better play from the current crop of players as well as improved coaching from this coaching staff will make next year different.
If the organization wants a change in results on the field, they have to make plenty of changes off the field.