By Mark Potash
After a one-week respite where Joe Maddon and Nik Wallenda provided a nice diversion, the reality of the Bears disappointing season resumes center stage this week.
It’s like waking up and realizing your nightmare was real: the Bears are still 3-5, coming off a 51-23 loss to the Patriots, with a trip to Lambeau Field coming up Sunday.
The timing couldn’t be better. Marc Trestman promised the Bears would be better after a week of self-scouting, self-evaluation and a working vacation for the players. Facing the Packers at Lambeau is an ideal setting to see just how well the Bears have learned their lessons. They lost 38-17 at Soldier Field on Sept. 28 and looked like they had no idea who Jordy Nelson was.
How well are the Bears coached? How well do the Bears learn? We’ll see about that this week. After the Jared Allen-less Bears failed to put any pressure on Aaron Rodgers in the loss at Soldier Field, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker indicated the Bears might try a different tack the next time. Usually they just try to “execute better.”
“Obviously you’re always going to go back and review and see what you can do better. We’ve done that,” Tucker said. “We’ll look to make some adjustments the next time we play those guys.”
Allen is healthy and ready to go for this one. Lance Briggs, who has missed the last two games with a rib injury, could return. End Lamarr Houston is out for the season with a torn ACL. But Willie Young, his likely replacement, is having a much better season.
Marc Trestman insists no single game is more telling than the other. That won’t fly this week. The Bears have their faint playoff hopes on the line against the Packers in a prime-time game at Lambeau Field. It’s Marc Trestman vs. Dom Capers. Mel Tucker vs. Mike McCarthy. Jared Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers. Jay Cutler vs. Sam Shields. And Brandon Marshall vs. Brandon Marshall.
2. Is Trestman’s job on the line? Probably not. But any speculation about the Bears making a coaching change during or even after Trestman’s second season should include the proper perspective — the Bears aren’t being run by Theo Epstein. They’re virtually the polar opposite, among the least-prone teams to make quick changes.
Since Mike Ditka was fired after the 1992 season, the Bears have had four coaches in 21 seasons, including Trestman — despite making the playoffs just five times in that span. In fact, Abe Gibron is the only Bears coach to be fired in fewer than four seasons. He was dumped in 1975 and replaced by Jack Pardee.
3. The Packers (5-3) are coming off a 44-23 loss to the Saints in New Orleans, when they’re defense allowed 495 yards. But since 2009 with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers are 17-2 coming off a loss, including 11-0 since 2011 — with three victories over the Bears.
4. Never underestimate the parity and mediocrity of the NFL. That’s not exactly how Trestman put it when he provided his players with examples of 3-5 teams that have made the playoffs in recent years — but that’s the reality of it.
Four teams in the previous three seasons have recovered from 3-5 starts to make the playoffs: the 2011 Broncos (8-8), the 2012 Bengals (10-6) and Redskins (10-6) and the 2013 Eagles (10-6). Prior to that, only 6-of-117 teams in the previous 20 years had made the playoffs after starting 3-5.
The Bears are in a tough spot. But the league is so volatile from top-to-bottom and from week-to-week, that it’s not quite the long shot it once was.
5. Be that as it may, that still makes the game against the Packers on Sunday night a virtual must-win scenario for the Bears. Only 1-of-75 teams to start 3-6 have made the playoffs. But again, it’s recent — the Redskins in 2012 won their final seven games to finish 10-6.
The common denominator in each of those recoveries was a manageable schedule. The 2013 Eagles played one playoff team on their road to the playoffs — and that was the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. The 2012 Redskins also played just one playoff team on their road to the playoffs. The 2012 Bengals beat six straight non-playoff teams to clinch a playoff berth.
The Bears? They have four games against teams currently in the playoffs — the Lions (6-2) home-and-away; the Cowboys (6-3) and the Saints (4-4, but leading the NFC South). And that doesn’t include the Packers (5-3), who figure to make the postseason.
6. Sometimes it’s just not your year. The Bears started the same five players on their offensive line for all 16 games last year. But the five starters from last season have already missed 10 starts this season. The Bears have started six combinations in eight games. Only Kyle Long (knock on wood) has started every game.
Guard Matt Slauson’s season-ending torn pectoral muscle epitomizes the change in fortune. He suffered the injury going all out with the Bears losing 48-15 in the fourth quarter.
“It was a play where I really wanted to get a big-time shot on a guy and I gave it all my power. And it just blew,” Slauson said.
Slauson had started 64 consecutive games in the NFL since becoming a starter with the Jets in 2010. “Before this year I hadn’t had an injury hold me out of a game since high school,” he said.
7. If Trestman had decided to name team captains for the second half, Slauson would have been a good choice. So would Ryan Mundy, Tim Jenning, Matt Forte and Jermon Bushrod — all players who not coincidentally have experience with winning teams.
Mundy, Bushrod and Jennings have been a part of Super Bowl-winning teams, Forte played in the NFC Championship Game in 2011 and Slauson was a part of Jets teams that went to the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010. It’s unfortunate that they are background voices with the Bears.
8. Slauson said he already has talked to offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer about having an active role with the team in the second half of the season.
“I said, ‘Look, I want to be as involved as you guys will let me.’ So I’m still going to participate in meetings. I’m going to help wherever I can,” Slauson said. “I don’t know if they’re going to let me out on the field during practice. I would like to be. But I think that’s an organizational call. I don’t think they like doing that.
“But I’d like to be out there. I feel with my knowledge and experience I can help a lot. So even if I’m [at Halas Hall] in the mornings for meetings, I think I can do a lot of good and Kromer was very supportive of that. I want to stay around. I want to help.”
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week — More than likely, two-time winner Kyle Orton had a really good week during the Bills’ bye, but not on the field. So Henry Melton takes the honor with 1 1/2 sacks, a tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hurries in just 27 snaps during a 28-17 loss to the red-hot Arizona Cardinals.
Melton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 against the Steelers last year with the Bears, is only a part-time player for the Cowboys, but Rod Marinelli is getting the most out of him.
Playing just 44 percent of the defensive snaps, Melton has five sacks, four quarterback hits and 14 hurries this season and ranks 11th among defensive tackles in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
10. Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who has four interceptions in 10 games against the Bears — including one he returned 62 yards in Week 4 — is doubtful with a knee injury he suffered against the Saints. Davon House would replace him. … The Bears are 0-4 against teams with winning records this season — one of six teams without a victory over a winning team. … The Bears’ three victories are over teams with a combined record of 7-19 — the 49ers (4-4), Jets (1-8) and Falcons (2-6). … Julius Peppers, playing 71 percent of the Packers’ snaps, has four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown. But Clay Matthews has just 2 1/2 sacks. … There have been 317 pick-sixes thrown in the NFL since Aaron Rodgers’ lone pick-six (in 3,523 career attempts) against the Buccaneers in 2009. Drew Brees and Matt Stafford have 12 in that span — the most in the NFL. Jay Cutler has eight.