Obviously the 3-5 Bears need to put together a win streak immediately to keep their thin playoff hopes alive, and their next three opponents offer a perfect opportunity since they're a combined 9-14. But it remains to be seen if Lovie Smith's team is capable of getting hot, even against mediocre competition.
Watching the division-rival Packers, Lions and Vikings all win on Sunday didn't help. The Bears are now cohabitating in the NFC North basement with the Vikings, trailing the 7-1 Packers by four games and the 6-2 Lions, who have defeated them twice, by three games. Fresh from a weekend away from football, the Bears returned from the bye week to say there are reasons for optimism, but the positive signs might not be visible without squinting.
"If there was a complete collapse, then maybe it's something I'd be a little down about [regarding] our situation," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "But one week our offense looks OK, the defense looks OK another week, and the special teams looks great one week. We've just been having certain collapses in different phases. If we can try to come together every game and try to play our best ball with these next couple games, I can see us winning these games."
The Bears played just two teams with losing records in the first half of the season – the Vikings and the 3-5 Eagles. But two of their next three opponents are below .500, starting with the 2-6 Raiders and including the 3-4 Broncos sandwiched around the 4-4 Seahawks. The Bears face the Raiders and Seahawks on the road, but that isn't necessarily a negative since two of their three wins this season are away from home.
That's one of the few positives that Smith takes solace in after an otherwise disappointing first half.
"You have to look at some of the things we were able to get done," Smith said. "Green Bay is having a good season. To be able to go into Green Bay, to be able to go into Philly, and to beat a good (4-4) Kansas City team – two of them are leading their division right now (the Chiefs are tied for first in the AFC West). We've seen signs of us being a good team. Now it's time for us to put it all together."
For all the Bears' inconsistencies this season, they have mounted a fairly reliable pass rush, getting three sacks or more in six of their eight games. The Raiders have not done an effective job of protecting quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown, allowing 23 sacks while throwing just 222 passes. And the Bears sacked Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck eight times in two games last season.
But even the Bears defenders admit they need a lot more than a decent pass rush to get this season turned around.
"Yeah, the pass rush has been there," said Ogunleye, who is third on the team with four sacks. "We've been getting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, but if it doesn't translate to wins, what does it mean? The problem for us it to get these ‘Ws' no matter which way we get them. We need to get more turnovers. We need to try to get our offense in better position to score, and we need to score [on defense]."
The Bears defense forced a league-best 44 turnovers last season and scored three touchdowns. But Chicago has forced only 13 turnovers this season, and the defense has yet to score a point.
"That's something that we've gotten spoiled here in the past in Chicago was getting turnovers and scoring points," Ogunleye said. "We haven't done that."
NOTES & QUOTES
In a season of embarrassments, the Bears suffered yet another Monday when they were deemed not worthy of prime time.
Their matchup with the 2006 NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks was originally scheduled for the evening of Nov. 18. But on Monday it was switched to the afternoon under the NFL's flexible scheduling policy, which allows the league to replace an unattractive matchup with a more popular game. The Bears and the almost-as-disappointing 4-4 Seahawks will be replaced by the 9-0 New England Patriots and 4-4 Buffalo Bills, who were originally scheduled for an early afternoon start.
The Bears-Seahawks game, a rematch of last season's divisional-round playoff at Soldier Field, was dealt a death blow when Seattle lost in overtime Sunday to the Browns.
Missing out on the national spotlight isn't a priority for Bears head coach Lovie Smith."It's good when you play on a prime-time game, but that's way down on the list of the things that we're really concentrating on right now," Smith said. "We're just anxious to play a game. That's not really big to us right now. As I see it, if we can get on a roll, [they'll] want to see us play a little bit later on in the year.
"Right now we're a 3-5 team. So we're kind of out of sight, out of mind a little bit."
CB Nathan Vasher
M. Spencer Green/AP Images
The Bears have already played on national TV twice this season on Sundays, losing at home to the Cowboys in Week 3 and defeating the Packers in Green Bay two weeks later. They have remaining back-to-back prime-time games Thursday night, Dec. 6, at Washington and Monday night, Dec. 17, at Minnesota. …
Injured CB Nathan Vasher did his most extensive practice work Monday since suffering a strained groin in Week 3, and he hopes to be back for Sunday's game against the Raiders.
"I feel like if I have an opportunity to get back out there, I'll be ready to play," Vasher said. "And I won't get out there until I feel like that. But I'm feeling pretty good right now."
The decision won't be made – or at least won't be announced – until later in the week, but Smith is looking forward to having the 2005 Pro Bowler back.
"Nathan has intercepted a lot of passes for us," Smith said. "He's just a good football player. He makes it complete as far as our defense being back on the field. Right now he's the only starter who's not out there. When you're 3-5, you need all your good football players out on the field."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
CB Nathan Vasher did more work on the side and during practice on Monday than he has since straining his groin in Week 3, and he has a good chance of playing Sunday. … DT Tommie Harris leads the team with seven sacks but has been as responsible as any of his teammates for the Bears' failures against the running game. … TE Desmond Clark is second on the Bears with 322 yards and 28 catches and is on pace for the most productive of his nine seasons in both categories. … TE Greg Olsen is third on the team with 255 receiving yards despite missing the first two games with a sprained knee. … WR Devin Hester is averaging 24.0 yards on six catches, 23.5 yards on 20 kickoff returns, 19.6 yards on 22 punt returns but minus-1 yards on four rushing attempts.
REPORT CARD AFTER EIGHT GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus – After Rex Grossman bombed and was given a quick hook after three games, Brian Griese has moved the offense through the air at times but he's also been intercepted 10 times in five starts. Rookie TE Greg Olsen has become a weapon, and veteran TE Desmond Clark is having another solid season. WR Bernard Berrian is on pace for 1,000 yards, but he's also had some costly drops. Veteran WR Muhsin Muhammad is no longer a go-to guy.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F – The Bears are the only NFL team without at least one run of 20 yards or longer, resulting in the league's worst average gain per rush. They are also No. 31 in rushing yardage. Most of the blame has been placed on Cedric Benson, who appears slow and unable to make tacklers miss, but the aging offensive line hasn't provided much running room for any of the Bears' runners.
PASS DEFENSE: D-plus – The Bears are No. 3 in the league in sack percentage. That's it for the good news. Not only have they allowed large chunks in the passing game, they have been unable to create turnovers with just five interceptions at the halfway point. Injuries to Vasher (five missed starts) and FS Mike Brown (season-ending knee injury in Game 1) have been devastating, exposing SS Adam Archuleta's inability to cover and backup S/CB Danieal Manning's inconsistencies.
RUSH DEFENSE: D – After a strong start in which they stymied LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson, the Bears have been gashed repeatedly, including the horrendous Week 6 loss to the Vikings in which they permitted 311 rushing yards, highlighted by a franchise-worst 224 to Adrian Peterson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B – Devin Hester already has three kick-return touchdowns and leads the NFC with a 19.6-yard punt-return average. When teams have avoided him in the return game, the Bears have benefited from advantageous field position. P Brad Maynard and K Robbie Gould have both been solid, and coverage teams have been above average.
COACHING: D – Uplifting victories in Green Bay and Philadelphia seemed to have the potential to get the train back on track, but they were followed by disastrous home losses to the Vikings and Lions. In both losses, the Bears seemed uninspired and unprepared.
- Comparing Urlacher to Butkus and Singletary
- "New" Soldier Field vs. "Old" Soldier Field
- Reliving the 61-7 win over Green Bay in 1980
- An excerpt from Cindi Dammann's Tailgating Tales
- Getting to know LB Jamar Williams
All of that plus much more in the latest issue of ...
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