Is it possible the Bears aren’t as bad as we thought?
The conventional wisdom after three consecutive losses — an upset loss at home to the Dolphins (27-14) followed by embarrassing losses to the Patriots (51-23) and Packers (55-14) — was that the Bears were an organization in disarray, a team poorly coached and poorly comprised, devoid of leadership and headed in the wrong direction.
Were we too harsh in judging that failure as a sign of systemic issues at Halas Hall?
Probably not. But recent events have at least cast a different light on just how disastrous that losing streak was.
The Dolphins, Patriots and Packers are three of the hottest teams in the NFL. In the past seven weeks, they not only are a combined 15-3, but nine of those victories are by 21 points or more.
The Packers (7-3) have won six of their last seven games, with five of those victories by 21 points or more. Their only loss in that span is to the NFC-South co-leader Saints on the road. On Sunday the Packers and Aaron Rodgers whipped the previously 7-2 Eagles nearly as completely as they trounced the Bears last week. The Packers led 30-6 at halftime and 39-6 in the third quarter en route to a 53-20 victory.
The Patriots (8-2) have won six consecutive games, with five of those victories by two touchdowns or more and four by 22 points or more. On Sunday they beat the Colts and Andrew Luck — who came into the game with six wins in their last seven games — 42-20 in Indianapolis. Jonas Gray ran wild on them, too.
The Dolphins (6-4) have won five of their last seven games, with all five victories by 13 points or more. They’ve only lost to the Packers (7-3) at home on a touchdown with four seconds to go and to the NFC North-leading Lions (7-3) on the road on touchdown with 29 seconds left.
The Bears still have a lot to prove after Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field. But with them back on their feet and a manageable schedule in front of them, one truism keeps hope alive: You can never underestimate the parity and mediocrity of the NFL.
2. “Manageable” might be a fluid description of the remainder of the Bears’ schedule. Four of their final six games are against teams currently leading their division — the Lions (7-3) home and away, the Saints (4-6) and the Cowboys (7-3). Then again, the Lions and Cowboys have a history of self-destructing and beating themselves. And the Saints are 0-3 at Soldier Field in cold weather in the Drew Brees era. The Bears also play the Buccaneers (2-8) at home and the Vikings (4-6) on the road. Stranger things have happened.
3. If the regular season ended today, the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks (6-4) and the 49ers (6-4) — two teams that appeared way ahead of the pack in the NFC, would NOT be in the playoffs. The wild-card teams would be the Packers (7-3) and Cowboys (7-3). The Falcons (4-6), who lost to the Bears in the Georgia Dome last month, would be NFC South champions.
4. So much for “Victory Monday.” Bears coach Marc Trestman was noticeably edgy in his Monday press conference — with little patience for our attention to detail — which may be a good thing. He was not celebrating the victory over the Vikings, other than to call it a “good win.”
“We spent the morning in individual and segment meetings, obviously making corrections,” Trestman said. “We have all already moved on to Tampa Bay.”
5. Trestman’s testy demeanor seems appropriate during the week the Bears play Lovie Smith’s Buccaneers. Lovie never seemed to get over the fact that the Chicago media noticed warning signs even in victory — like Rex Grossman’s 10.2 passer rating during the 24-23 “Miracle in the Desert.”
There’s little doubt that Lovie will have his team at a fever pitch with a chance to stick it to the Bears on Sunday. But Trestman had no interest in promoting the Lovie angle.
“I think we’re going to talk to our team truthfully about every aspect of this game,” he said, “and making sure that we go in with our eyes wide open, whatever that might be.”
5a. Trestman’s 12-14 record after 26 games is the same as Mike Ditka (12-14) and Lovie Smith (12-14). The difference is that the arrow was pointing up by that time for Ditka and Lovie.
Ditka’s Bears had won five of their last six games in 1983 and were 1-0 in 1984 and building momentum with the heart of their Super Bowl team already in place. Lovie’s 2005 team was six games into an eight-game winning streak and headed to the playoffs with Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris in their prime.
Trestman’s Bears are one game removed form two of the worst losses in Bears history. The comparison is hereby rejected.
5b. Not a big surprise that neither Trestman nor Brandon Marshall showed any enthusiasm for Lovie Week.
“It’s just another Sunday,” Marshall, who played one season for Smith, said dismissively. “I won’t get into that. I won’t get into it throughout this week. I won’t get into it with you right now.”
Said Trestman: “I think we’re going to talk to our team truthfully about every aspect of this game and making sure that we go in with our eyes wide open whatever that might be.”
As it is, only 13 players on the Bears current roster played for Lovie Smith and only seven on defense — and that includes cornerback Charles Tillman, who is on injured reserve.
The others are linebacker Lance Briggs (nine years), guard/center Roberto Garza (eight), place-kicker Robbie Gould (eight), running back Matt Forte (five), quarterback Jay Cutler (four), cornerback Tim Jennings (three), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (two), safety Chris Conte (two), wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Marshall (one), linebacker Shea McClellin (one) and cornerback Sherrick McManis (one).
6. Credit where it’s due dept.: Trestman at least acknowledged that his clock-management in the final minute of the first half was faulty. The Bears called a time out with 1:12 left in the half when the Vikings had the ball — presumably to save time for their own possession. But after forcing the Vikings to punt, they ran two plays and let the clock run and didn’t call time out until 15 seconds remained.
“I have no idea what they were thinking,” said CBS analyst Rich Gannon — a Trestman supporter who quarterbacked the Raiders to the Super Bowl in Trestman’s offense in 2002 — on the game broadcast. “You can’t play scared. You can’t be conservative. You’ve got to be aggressive.
“You’ve got a quarterback who’s rolling right now — 18-of-23, 216 yards and two touchdowns. Don’t take the ball out of Jay Cutler’s hands.”
Upon further review, Trestman agreed.
“When I looked back at it [Monday], I could have done a better job of managing it,” Trestman said.
7. The Bears’ victory over the Vikings marked the 10th time in the Jay Cutler era they have overcome a 10-point deficit to win. That’s the tied with the Giants for the fourth most in the NFL in that span — behind the Patriots (13), Broncos (13) and Lions (12).
7a. The Bears gained 468 yards and scored 21 points against the Vikings. How inefficient is that? The 15 teams to gain between 450-475 yards this season scored an average of 33.1 points, according to pro-football-reference.com.
8. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Josh McCown has had a tough year as the starter with the Buccaneers — he was 0-3 as a starter and missed five weeks with a thumb injury prior to Sunday. But he’s primed to face the Bears after leading the Bucs past the Redskins at FedEx Field. McCown was 15-of-23 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 137.5 passer rating. Ex-Bears safety Major Wright had nine tackles in that game.
McCown, who parlayed his success with the Bears last season into a two-year, $10 million contract with the Buccaneers, has an 82.6 passer rating (six touchdowns, six interceptions) in five starts. That’s a far cry from his success with the Bears last year, when he threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception for a 109.0 rating in eight games (five starts) — third best in the NFL.
8a. While the Bears were not going to choose Josh McCown over Jay Cutler as their starting quarterback, McCown’s success is at least an indicator of the potential for a quarterback in Trestman’s offense.
McCown didn’t dink-and-dunk his way to the 109.0 rating. His 8.2 yards per pass attempt ranked sixth in the NFL — ahead of Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady among others. It was far better than Cutler’s career-best (7.6 in 2010).
So even if it is not McCown, chances are there is somebody out there who can be as productive while avoiding the interceptions that have dogged Jay Cutler.
9. The Bears hit Brandon Marshall’s “sweet spot” with seven receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. When Marshall has between 80-95 yards receiving, his team is 14-1 (.933). When he has 100 or more yards receiving, his team is 15-19 (.441).
10. Cornerback Demontre Hurst was a bright spot at nickel back against the Vikings, with a team-high six tackles. He was ranked 12th among cornerbacks in Week 11 with a plus-1.4 rating, according to Pro Football Focus. … With seven penalties for 60 yards Sunday — vs. the Vikings’ two penalties for 18 yards — the Bears now have a net differential of minus-2 yards in penalties for the season. They were plus-153 two games ago … The Bears’ aggression is costing Robbie Gould some easy field goal attempts. Gould is 5-for-6 inside the 40 this season. He was 17-for-18 last season. … Tight end Martellus Bennett, who had 29 receptions for 295 yards and four touchdowns in the first four games of the season, has 24 receptions for 296 yards and one touchdown in the last six. … The Bears are 4-2 when Cutler is not sacked — including 3-0 under Trestman — and 13-6 when he is scked one time or fewer. He was not sacked by the Vikings on Sunday and won 21-13.