I have seen bad football before, but I believe I’ll be haunted for the rest of my days by what I witnessed Sunday at Soldier Field.
Yes, the Bears did beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-13, and if victories are all you’re in it for, you’re a winner! But for those of us who enjoy — what’s that obscure term? — offense, there is now conclusive proof that somebody up there hates us.
The Bears scored no points in the first quarter for the sixth consecutive game. They didn’t score in the second quarter, either. They “amassed” 68 yards of total “offense’’ in the first half. The Buccaneers led 10-0 at halftime, and the boos rumbling from the stands sounded like a freight train.
Whatever was said in the locker room at the break worked, because the Bears’ high-priced offensive talent, throwing caution to the wind, dared to come back on the field and watch their defensive teammates win a football game in the rain.
We media types had spent the previous week analyzing this matchup as if it were a Super Bowl, when we should have been telling local residents to seek immediate shelter. I’m not sure what we thought would happen when Marc Trestman, the current Bears coach, and Lovie Smith, the former Bears coach, locked horns. But in hindsight, we should have known that a sludge pile of a game was highly probable.
There was bad coaching all around. Both teams had game plans that appeared to have been copied from cave paintings. The Bears’ top receivers, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, each had a false start. That’s hard to do.
But some combination of an opportunistic Bears defense, an oddly human-looking (for Chicago) Josh McCown and Smith’s chronic inability to put together an NFL-worthy offense allowed the home team to raise its record to 5-6.
Was this an ugly football game, I asked Bears safety Ryan Mundy afterward.
“Do you think this was an ugly football game?’’ he asked.
I said “yes,’’ but the thought bubble above my head said, “I thought it resembled a naked mole rat.’’
“Well, outside of the rain and the slop and mud, we still did an OK job,’’ Mundy said. “There’s always going to be stuff we need to work on. In this type of weather, offenses have a problem with ball security.
David Bass’ forced fumble on McCown and Christian Jones’ ensuing recovery in the third quarter gave the Bears the ball at the Bucs’ 13-yard line. Matt Forte scored on the first play of that series. An interception by Mundy gave the Bears the ball at the Bucs’ 15. Another touchdown by Forte would follow.
The message was clear: Hand the Bears’ offense the ball in the shadow of the opponents’ goal line and stand back, everybody! Jay Cutler would finish with 130 passing yards.
Down 21-10, the Bucs had their chances to win this one. But receiver Vincent Jackson fumbled at the Bears’ 8 near the end of the third quarter. Late in the fourth, the Buccaneers couldn’t get a yard for a first down on two consecutive plays. For old times’ sake, Lovie challenged that the runner was down by contact on fourth down and lost.
This game was Smith’s season. For all his talk that this was just another Sunday in a lifetime of Sundays, he surely wanted to shove this one down the throats of his critics here. But my breathing passages are clear because his bad team is a little worse than Chicago’s bad team.
The Bears out-Lovied Lovie by winning the turnover battle four to one. In the second half, the Bears had rookie Al Louis-Jean at cornerback for the injured Kyle Fuller, but there were suspicions they could have stopped the Bucs with Julia Louis-Dreyfus at corner.
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea was a monster with two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. His team needed every bit of that.
With two consecutive victories, the Bears feel they’re a long way from the dark days of a few weeks ago, when they were coming off blowout losses to the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers.
Are they? Or is it a mirage because of victories over very weak opponents in the Minnesota Vikings and the Bucs? We should have a better idea Thursday, when the Bears take on the Lions in Detroit.
A victory, and they’re at .500. A loss, and they’re finished. After all the ugliness, what’s a Bears fan supposed to root for?