BY HUB ARKUSH
The drive from Green Bay to Chicago is pleasant enough — just about three hours and short enough to go nonstop, but long enough to let your mind wander to what might have been, or perhaps should be.
I was there Monday night for the Packers-Atlanta Falcons game, and as I replayed it in my mind in the car, I was struck by the strange similarities and huge differences between the Falcons and the Bears.
Remember when they met in Week 6 and the Bears had their only quality 60-minute performance of the year, handing the Falcons a convincing 27-13 defeat? That was when we still hoped the Bears were moving in the right direction. Where are these two teams at now?
Both have $100 million quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. One of the great debates to begin this season was over which was the best pair of starting wideouts in the NFL, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery or Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Bears get a clear edge at running back with Matt Forte over Steven Jackson and at tight end with Martellus Bennett over Levine Toilolo. Both offensive lines are banged up, although the Falcons’ much more so than the Bears’, and both are average to below average.
On defense, the Falcons figured to struggle and the Bears were supposed to be improved, yet both groups have struggled mightily. Both defensive lines are populated with overpriced, underperforming veterans. Both teams have athletes rather than football players at linebacker, and the Falcons are a little better in the secondary with first-round picks William Moore and Desmond Trufant.
Each is a 5-8 team, although the Falcons are in first place in the woeful NFC South while the Bears are in the basement of the much stronger NFC North.
Are the Falcons a much different 5-8 than the Bears?
When the Bears went to Lambeau Field in Week 9, they basically failed to show up. They fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and gave up 28 more points in a comical second quarter to trail 42-0 at the half as the Packers laughed at them on the sidelines.
Rather than come back and fight, the Bears mailed in the second half, scoring only on a fluky 45-yard pass from Cutler to Marshall halfway through the third quarter and a 101-yard kickoff return by Chris Williams in the fourth quarter after the Packers had made the score 55-7.
The Falcons struggled similarly early Monday night, falling behind 31-7 at the half after the Packers scored on every possession they had in the half.
But unlike the Bears, the Falcons chose to come out and fight in the second half, closing the score to 43-37 with 2:11 left while they still had all three timeouts. They were one defensive stop from getting the ball back with a chance to win with about 1:50 to play.
The Bears would appear to be the more talented team, although Ryan and Jones are clearly superior at this stage of their careers to Cutler and Marshall or Jeffery.
Ryan and Jones were brilliant in Green Bay. Cutler and Marshall were . . . in Green Bay.
Falcons coach Mike Smith is rumored to be in serious jeopardy of losing his job, mainly because of serious lapses in game management, even though he’s the most successful coach in Falcons history and they were the No. 1 seed in the NFC in 2010 and 2012.
Yet at Lambeau, one team competed and one didn’t, and the Falcons were so much better coached than the Bears, it’s beyond comparison.
Right now, the Falcons are a far superior 5-8 team, and folks might not be laughing if they win a home playoff game. The team that showed up in the second half in Green Bay just might.
And the Bears appear to be resisting change why?
Hub Arkush is editor of Chicago Football.