Julius Peppers, a steady voice of reason in the Bears’ locker room, said it best:
”It’s something to build it. We’re not there yet,” Peppers said after the Bears’ 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night at Soldier Field.
An impressive rout of a 1-4 team at home was nothing more than that, and nothing less. This is exactly who the Bears are this season — good enough, well-rounded enough and well-coached enough to take full advantage of a favorable situation. But change the dynamic at all — like on the road, in a dome, against a quarterback in his prime –and the Bears are a hit-or-miss proposition at best. It’s hard to knock five sacks and a safety, but until they do that against the Lions in Ford Field — like the 49ers did Sunday –all you’ve really done is held serve.
The Bears are 3-1 at home this season. And 0-2 on the road. Facing the good-but-not-great Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a neutral site at Wembley Stadium in London will be an interesting test for the Bears this week.
With the way the schedule is shaping up, the Bears appear destined for the playoff bubble, like they were in 2008 when they were also 3-3 after three games and had a chance to make the postseason by winning at Houston on the final day of the regular season, but lost to the Texans 31-24.
This team is better than that one. But not that much better. So with three of the final four games on the road — at Denver, Green Bay and Minnesota — all bets are off until the Bears show they’re more than a team that can win only with the wind at its back.
And now, 10 other observations from the Bears’ victory over the Vikings:
1. Though Major Wright and Chris Conte handled the safety position without incident, the Chris Harris situation does not reflect well on Lovie Smith. That a player of Harris’ ability can fall from Smith’s good graces that precipitously is totally inconsistent with Smith’s M.O. in his eight seasons with the Bears.
2. Lovie’s explanation that Harris was inactive because he doesn’t play special teams doesn’t hold water. Brandon Meriweather was active on Sunday and he didn’t play special teams. In fact, he didn’t play at all. What’s the difference?
3. Jay Cutler looks great when he’s well protected. But Rex Grossman was an MVP candidate at this point in 2006 when he was equally well-protected. The issue is still whether the Bears will maximize Cutler’s abilities when things break down like they did in Detroit.
4. Cutler was 21-of-31 for 267 yards, two TDs and no INTs — only the third time in the last four seasons he’s gone back-to-back games without throwing a pick.
5. Matt Spaeth should be starting at tight end ahead of Kellen Davis. Spaeth is by far the better blocker — his block on Jared Allen helped give Cutler time to throw a 48-yard TD pass to Devin Hester. And the Bears need blocking more than a pass-catching TE.
6. This just in from Detroit — Jahvid Best’s long rush against the 49ers on Sunday was 13 yards. He gained 37 yards on 12 carries — 3.1 yards per carry.
7. The most surprising development on an eventful night of roster flux was Stephen Paea’s sack of Donovan McNabb for a safety in the first quarter. Paea hadn’t even been active the first five games. But he showed quickness we never saw in the preseason.
8. The only way the Bears can make the Chris Harris situation worse is by trading him. Harris reportedly wants out, but a team that has used five different safety combinations in six games, it only figures the Bears are going to need their best safety before the season it out.
9. It looked like Devin Hester did most of the heavy lifting on his 98-yard kickoff return — though it usually does — but Dave Toub deserves a little of the credit. Several rookies played key roles on special teams Sunday night.
10. If the Bears can beat the Chiefs and Seahawks at home and the Broncos and Vikings on the road, their path to 10-6 isn’t that implausible: three wins out of these six opponents — the Lions and Chargers at home and the Bucs, Eagles, Raiders and Packers on the road.