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Same players, same scheme, better coaches, bad defense

Here we go. Ten reactions and random thoughts (and then a few more) coming out of a downright ugly day of football at Soldier Field …

Two weeks after a 35-point loss at Cincinnati the Bears have lost by 20 points at home to a team that was on a record-setting pace in terms of futility running the football.

The fine folks at Football Outsiders revealed earlier today that the Cardinals, averaging 64.9 yards rushing per game entering the game at Soldier Field, were a new kind of bad when it came to running the football. Arizona drafted Beanie Wells in the first round from Ohio State to help prop up its running game, yet it entered the game with the worst statistical rushing game since the NFL-AFL merger. That was in 1970.

The Cardinals came to the right place, though, the spot you need to be if you’re running game is in disarray. They nearly tripled their average with 182 yards on 31 attempts (5.9 average) as Wells (72 yards, 13 carries) and Tim Hightower (77 yards, 15 carries) busted off big runs. Oh yeah, Kurt Warner became the second quarterback in three weeks to throw five touchdown passes against the Bears, something that had not happened since Brett Favre did the trick in 1995.

But let’s get this straight. The Bears have mostly the same players as they did during their 2006 Super Bowl run, they’re playing the same scheme and they’ve claimed to have upgraded the talent on the coaching staff, right? The explanation given at the end of last season, a disappointing 9-7 year, is that the Bears were going to coach their way out of the mess. That’s essentially what Smith said he was going to do when he swapped out position coaches at all three levels of the defense. There were not any big personnel additions made. They were going to fix it by coaching ’em up better. Now, for the second time in three weeks, the Bears have been completely outschemed and totally outplayed. Unprepared? It would be hard for them to make a case that they were ready.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has been under fire. His unit was miserable a week ago vs. Cleveland, and it wasn’t close to being good enough to stand up and match the Cardinals drive for drive in the first half. But the Cardinals scored on their first six possessions, not too unlike the Bengals who scored on their first seven possessions. The Bears have a defensive head coach, who doubles as the defensive coordinator, and a general manager in Jerry Angelo who has worked long and hard to stock that defense. If they’re broken on defense, as it appears, what are they doing?

1. So, I heard some players say after the game that the Bears are even now that they’re 4-4. Even how? Sure, they have a .500 record but even is 0-0 when everyone else is 0-0. The Minnesota Vikings are 7-1, so the Bears’ idea that they are even is laughably wrong. Unless even means “we’re three games back” in their dictionary. By the way, those Vikings host Detroit and Seattle before the Bears go there at the end of the month. Go ahead and pencil them in for 9-1 going into that game.

2. Hightower and Wells combine for 149 yards rushing. What do you have Frank Gore for Thursday night at San Francisco in your pool? 225? For what it’s worth, plenty to him I am sure, Gore’s career high is 212 vs. Seattle in 2006. He also went over 200 yards vs. the Seahawks in Week 2 of this season.

3. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who is a captain, said he planned to speak with Tommie Harris about his senseless ejection from the game. Sounds like a good idea even if the damage has been done. Ogunleye said the right things, that what Harris did was unacceptable and it’s never OK to be booted out of the game. But he stopped at that point from criticizing Harris further.

“I am not frustrated with him,” Ogunleye said. “I am frustrated with myself.”

Now that sounds even better. Where has Ogunleye been on the defensive line in recent weeks? You don’t get to rush vs. Green Bay’s Allen Barbre and Detroit’s Gosder Cherilus every week. Ogunleye hasn’t done a whole lot in the last month and needs to step his own game up in a contract drive season.

4. Yes, before Warner found a home in Arizona, he was at Halas Hall for a visit. But the Bears–Angelo and Smith–were dead set on developing Rex Grossman at the time. I have no idea who he would have thrown the ball to, but the insistence on Grossman shines as one of the bigger draft miscalculations of the last decade for a team that’s made it’s share.

5. Speaking of draft picks and one that should have stuck around … was still working in the press box after the game when Tennessee was on the march for what might have been the go-ahead score in its win at San Francisco. I wasn’t watching that closely. But Justin Gage made an unreal acrobatic catch. The Bears had him, knew him, could have kept him for not that much money and let him depart. Please, don’t send the avalanche of Devin Aromashodu e-mails suggesting he is that player, either. Receiving, after all, wasn’t the problem. The team had four players with 70 yards or more–Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen and Matt Forte–the first time the club has pulled that feat in nearly 70 years.

6. Of Warner’s five touchdown passes, three came vs. the blitz. That’s what happens when you don’t get there.

7. Cutler was asked if the Bears have a leadership or chemistry issue brewing?

“I don’t know,” he responded. “We’ll see.”

Chew on that one for a little while, why don’t you.

8. One of the common themes in the locker room after the game was that the Bears have a quick week with the trip to San Francisco and that’s a good thing for them. Why? Just because they play again in five nights doesn’t mean the underlying problems here are going to tidy themselves up nicely and go away. Sure, playing a game provides the opportunity to go out and get things right on the field, I get that. But that’s assuming the Bears know what needs to be fixed right now. I would submit after being drubbed 86-31 by Cincinnati and Arizona, the problems might run a little deeper than that. Sure, they’re 4-4 and I understand about not overreacting to one game, but this is two games in the span of three weeks. This is a team not being prepared to play. This is a team not executing.

9. If Cutler is uncertain about the whole leadership thing, he certainly didn’t exhibit a lot on the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he receiving for jawing with the officials. It’s tough for players to get those penalties. The NFL officials are not like Major League Baseball umpires, who will run players off in a heartbeat. NFL players really have to go over the top in most cases to be penalized for complaining. Of course, we don’t know what was said, but those penalties are rare.

10. Here’s another one to consider. The Bears are being sure to remind you that they have two games remaining on the schedule with the division-leading Vikings. You know, a chance to kind of control their own destiny and all of that good stuff. Right now, what happens when those teams line up? Vikings by 20?

10 a. The Bears have to be hoping the left shoulder injury for cornerback Charles Tillman is not serious. They don’t have anyone that resembles a No. 1 cornerback without him.

10 b. Remember, the Arizona offense did that to the Bears without Anquan Boldin, who sat out.

10 c. Pointed out that Warner threw three touchdown passes vs. the blitz. Bears struggled when they didn’t blitz too, and I submit the 24-yard pass to Steve Breaston on third-and-25 as evidence.

10 d. Bears suspended Tommie Harris one game for conduct detrimental to the team last season. He won’t be suspended again here for his ejection incident, but is there any conduct more detrimental to a team than being bounced on the fourth play of the game?

10 e. While watching some college football on Saturday I did a little research on Super Bowl hangovers. We all know that the Super Bowl loser of late has had a tough time the next season, although the Cardinals look to be pretty well positioned right now at 5-3 and with a two-game lead in the NFC West on both Seattle and San Francisco. But I wanted to know what kind of time frame it took for the Super Bowl loser to return to the postseason. The Bears, obviously, failed in the two years after Super Bowl XLI and are at 4-4 now at the midway point. So I went all the way back to Super Bowl XX and charted it moving forward. Here is what I found:

Year Super Bowl loser Number of seasons to next playoff appearance

2006 Bears NA

2005 Seattle 1

2004 Philadelphia 2

2003 Carolina 2

2002 Oakland NA

2001 St. Louis 2

2000 N.Y. Giants 2

1999 Tennessee 1

1998 Atlanta 4

1997 Green Bay 1

1996 New England 1

1995 Pittsburgh 1

1994 San Diego 1

1993 Buffalo 2

1992 Buffalo 1

1991 Buffalo 1

1990 Buffalo 1

1989 Denver 2

1988 Cincinnati 2

1987 Denver 2

1986 Denver 1

1985 New England 1

So, in that span there the Bears have joined Oakland and Atlanta as the only teams not to return to the postseason within two years of losing the Super Bowl. That right there might suggest that the window has closed on the Bears that Arizona Dennis Green thought they were.

10 f. And finally, how about Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who wrapped up his postgame remarks by borrowing from Green and his postgame rant of 2006:

“I’d also like to compliment the Bears because they played hard and they came back,” he said. “And the last thing I’ll say is, `We didn’t let them off the hook.”’

In poor taste? I don’t know. The Bears had a chance to stop the Cardinals and they failed.