Bearing it all: At least the Bears are still in 1st
If you look past the score of yesterday’s Bears-Packers tilt (the 176th meeting between the NFL’s most storied franchises), there were a few firsts that should be highlighted: Kyle Orton, who was expected to miss four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain, made his first career start at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, having only missed one game. And Brian Urlacher got his first pick of the season in the second quarter. It was vintage Urlacher as the all-universe linebacker spied a pass coming from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, dropped back into coverage and spoiled the Packers threat to score at least three. Past that, you’re forced to look at the score and note that the 37-3 spanking was coach Lovie Smith’s first loss in Green Bay and the worst for a Bears team traveling past the cheddar curtain since a 40-3 loss in 1994.
Although it was encouraging to see Kyle Orton line up under center for the Bears, little went right with the sputtering offense. Any sense of rhythm for Ron Turner’s charges was quickly disrupted by the Packers defense. The wide receiving corps mustered about zero production (it’s tough to get anything going when you’re not thrown to). About the only ‘weapon’ in the Bears arsenal was rookie Matt Forte.
Forte grabbed six passes for 40 yards and rushed for another 64, but you would have thought Orton’s limited mobility would have meant a greater commitment to the run game, especially since Green Bay rests near the bottom of the NFL in rushing defense. But playing from behind doesn’t allow for much patience. After a Robbie Gould field goal made it a 7-3 contest in the 2nd quarter, the Pack would go on to score 30 unanswered.
That was thanks in large part to the Bears defense's inability to stop the run. Nobody saw this one coming: The Bears came into the game allowing only 74.9 yards rushing a game (the team’s best effort since 1942). The Packers got 84 yards midway through the 2nd quarter(!) with running back Ryan Grant recording only his second 100-yard rushing game of the season in just under a half. Pair that with Rodgers starting off a scorching seven of seven for 71 yards and a TD, and the Bears seemed just as off balance on defense as on offense.
Today, all the Monday-morning quarterbacks have their eyes on that D. It seems for years, Bears fans have been complacent in thinking that the team can get by on a ho-hum offense, so long as the defense and special teams play spectacularly. When those franchise money players (Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Lance Briggs, et al) aren’t “imposing their will,” it’s a tough row to hoe for Orton (and even the return specialist formerly known as Devin Hester) to keep the team in the game.
Again, I don’t think anyone saw the Packers running wild for 200 yards yesterday, especially when the Titans were only able to manage 20 yards the week prior. But just as the squad will certainly try to put this embarrassment in the rearview, fans should too. The good news for this 5-5 team is that they woke up today in a three-way tie for 1st in the NFC North, knotted up with the Packers and Vikings (losers of a 19-13 contest down in Tampa), and the 2-8 St. Louis Rams are next up on Sunday. If this city wants to dream of January football, the defense needs to take this week to get its act together. If not, there’s already grumblings that the whole operation might need to be dismantled during the off-season. I'm just hoping that cool cat Lovie Smith starts to show some fire, and his troops respond in kind.