Monday, September 25, 2006

Are the Bears for Real?


So I talked to my brother on the phone today. He's a native Chicagoan but lives in Seattle these days. I mentioned to him that the Bears-Seahawks game coming up this weekend is huge. Two undefeated teams. Early NFC supremacy on the line. The Sunday night showcase game with all of the country watching. Huge.

So my bro - who is still a Bears fan, by the way, but has developed a soft spot for Seattle teams - says something about how he thinks the Bears might suffer the same fate as the Giants did on Sunday against the Seahawks. You know, the Giants were also a supposed contender in the NFC before venturing into the Northwest and finding themselves on the wrong end of a 42-3 scoreline before making it more respectable late in the game. My bro says he can see the same thing happening to the Bears.

I paused for a moment. "Are you serious?" I asked him. I honestly thought he was joking. I thought that sweet Vancouver ganja was making its way down the West Coast and into my bro's brain. I thought he was just trying to get me riled up by razzing on Da Beloved. But he wasn't joking. He was dead serious. It quickly became obvious that he has little to no faith in the Bears. Blasphemer!

I suppose, though, that the less than complimentary opinion of my bro isn't all that rare outside of Chicagoland where the blue and orange faithful are becoming absolutely giddy with optimism. I suppose there are plenty of impartial NFL observers out there who feel that the Bears aren't the real deal, that once they venture out of the weak NFC North - on which they have fattened up on in starting the season 3-0 - they'll be exposed as frauds. Good defense, no offense, they must be saying. Or maybe they're muttering something about Rex Grossman getting injured soon or lacking experience. No, simply by reading and/or watching the national sports news outlets, I don't really get the sense that the media (and fans) puts too much stock in the Bears just yet.

Should they?

Well, yesterday's come-from-behind 19-16 win in Minnesota was a step in the right direction if respect is what the Bears seek. The Vikes were 2-0 and are always - always - tough in the Metrodome. Good teams do exactly what the Bears did yesterday: good teams overcome deficits in noisy places where the opposing fans would like nothing more than broken legs and crushed fingers for the visitors. And often, they win even when they don't play their best.

And let there be no mistake about it - the Bears did not play their best against Minnesota. To wit:

- Despite the late touchdown pass to Rashied Davis, Grossman was borderline awful. Two interceptions - including one returned for a TD on a play in which it looked like Grossman was giving Antoine Winfield the ball - were only the beginning. The Vikes dropped several others. Grossman's decision-making still has plenty of room for improvement.

- Where's the running game? Thomas Jones is extremely lacksadaisical and uninspiring, making me wonder if his solid 2005 season was merely a mirage and he's settling back into the form of early in his career when he was labeled a first round bust while with the Cards and Bucs. Meanwhile, Cedric Benson didn't hit the field yesterday. Not even once. Not even as a decoy. Come on now. The dude was the fourth overall pick. He's healthy. Give him a chance.

- The tackling was arguably the worst I've ever seen by a Bears team, and I don't think I'm exaggerating. Wrap a mutha up! You know, we always hear about how the staple of a Lovie defense is turnovers. They don't want to simply tackle an opponent, they want to strip the ball. And that's awesome and everything. Really, it is. But sometimes I get the feeling that Bears defenders are so preoccupied with stripping the ball that they forget to simply bring a runner down - and then that runner runs for several more yards. It happens way too often. Fundamentals, people, fundamentals.

- Lovie Smith remains awful in the review department, going 0-for-2 yesterday. So yet again I'll ask: Do the Bears have someone upstairs watching on a TV and communicating with Lovie in these situations? Please tell me they do. I'm assuming every NFL team is smart enough to do this. But you wouldn't know it by the way the Bears continually blow reviews on replay disputes that are seemingly obvious. It's reached the point of being maddening.

All in all, though, it was a great win. It was the sort of win a team must earn to take the next step, to learn how to deal with hostile environments, to overcome mistakes and poor decisions, to earn respect from a nation that, perhaps, might not be ready to give it just yet.

But there's only one way to earn respect for sure and that's to beat up on the defending NFC champs this coming Sunday under the lights with a national television audience watching.

Yeah, that'll make them come around.

Here we go now.

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