If there's an upside to Tommie Harris getting tossed just four plays into Sunday's game for punching the Cardinals' Deuce Lutui, it's that he should be the freshest player on the field Thursday night against the 49ers.
That's provided he doesn't get slapped with a league-imposed suspension on top of the obligatory fine, which is imminent.
Neither Harris nor the Bears expect a suspension, and it would be a shock if the team voluntarily sat him down after he missed essentially the entire game Sunday.
"Tommie has missed quite a bit of not helping this football team," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We'll let the league go in, and that will be the next step after we see what the league does."
Harris has missed the last two Bears losses – he was benched for the 45-10 loss to the Bengals on Oct. 25 – during which the defense allowed 86 points and 886 yards from scrimmage.
An apologetic Harris vowed Monday afternoon to make up for the indiscretion that got him ejected in Sunday's 41-21 blowout loss to the Cardinals.
"I was embarrassed for my actions," said Harris, who was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after punching Lutui in the face through his facemask. "I apologized to him [Sunday]. I called [Cardinals wide receiver] Larry [Fitzgerald] and had a chance to apologize to him. I just wanted to apologize to my fans first off, and the little kids out there that saw that. I shouldn't have behaved in that manner, and I apologized to my teammates, and I'll make up for it the next time I get out there.
"I feel like I hurt my team."
Harris may have helped in both of the most recent losses, but the Bears were so badly outplayed, it's ridiculous to even consider that he might have affected the outcome.
"He certainly would have made a difference, but he wouldn't have made a 41-point difference," middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "Tommie's a great player. When Tommie's at his best, he's one of the best players in the NFL, and I've told him that before.
"But with that potential comes a huge responsibility in terms of what he needs to be for this team, and so, obviously, when he's not out there, that hurts our football team. I hope he's back out there [Thursday], and I hope we see the Tommie that we've come to depend on over the years for the rest of the season."
That version of Harris, the one who was voted to the Pro Bowl three straight years (2005-07), has been an apparition for most of the season, although he had arguably his best game of a disappointing season on Nov. 1 against the Browns.
A more and more common opinion is that Harris has worn out his welcome with subpar performances since he signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension on June 19, 2008.
"It's not unfair at all for people to say that," Harris said. "People are going to be people. I just have to continue to keep approaching my job on a regular basis and be a professional, and that's what I'm going to do."
According to Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije, Harris was kneed by Lutui on the play that led to his ejection. But Harris said he still overreacted.
"He did some unnecessary stuff during the game, but I still have to be able to control myself," Harris said. "In the six years I've been here I've never done anything like that, and he kind of pushed me to my limit, and I apologize for all that."
In addition to apologizing to his teammates, Harris said he had a brief conversation with coach Lovie Smith.
"He just [said] that wasn't the right thing to do," Harris said. "That was it, and they're going o take care of whatever they have to take care of with the league and get back to me."
Smith said he believes Harris is repentant, but that doesn't excuse his behavior.
"I knew right away Tommie was sorry for his action," Smith said. "But still, the action stood. He didn't play a football game. He didn't help the Chicago Bears, and we just have to get past that."
NOTES AND QUOTES
When he wasn't being sacked four times for 22 yards in losses or scrambling for 17 yards on three scampers, Cutler put it up 47 times, completing 29 for 369 yards and three touchdowns, all to tight end Greg Olsen, for a passer rating of 98.6.
The Bears and Cutler came out throwing, and it worked – for a while. All six plays on the Bears' opening 90-yard TD drive were passes, and Cutler completed five, including a perfectly placed 42-yard bomb to Devin Hester and a 33-yard TD toss to Olsen to tie the game at 7-7.
But Cutler couldn't keep up the frantic pace set by the Cardinals and their quarterback, Kurt Warner, who had a 135.9 passer rating and five TD passes.
"A few penalties, a sack and we had to punt a couple times," Cutler said. "We felt like we were moving the ball well. We just couldn't keep up with them."
Cutler's frustration boiled over just past the midway point of the third quarter with the Bears trailing 34-7. On fourth-and-4, Cutler targeted Olsen, who may have been mugged before the pass arrived. When there was no call, Cutler voiced his displeasure and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"There was a lot of contact," Cutler said. "Greg got called for one [offensive pass interference], and then they were making contact on other plays."
"So you had a dialogue with the official?" Cutler was asked.
"That's fair to say," he said.
Unfortunately for the Bears, most of those positives occurred after they fell behind 34-7. ...
At 4-4, the Bears have a better record than just 13 of the 31 other NFL teams. They have the eighth-best record in the NFC, leaving them with an uphill fight for one of six playoff berths.
Smith was asked if he was happy at .500.
"I'm not happy with it," Smith said. "What do you think? Do you think I'm happy in this situation right now? Happy with that game? You were there [Sunday]. So, to confirm what you were thinking, no, I'm not."
Smith was also asked if he took it more personally when the defense struggles as it has, since he's making the calls on that side of the ball this year.
"No," he said. "I take it personal when our team struggles, period. Special teams, offense, defense, everything. I'm involved with everything. More involved in one area maybe than the others, but as a head football coach, I take it personally when anything goes wrong with our football team. And right now, we're 4-4. That's how I'm feeling. We're an average team right now with potential to do some great things this second half." ...
It's fair to question the Bears' ability to remain in the playoff race, but Cutler said there are some positive signs, at least on offense.
"We talked a lot about us executing, going out and doing our jobs, going out and hitting our hot [reads], blocking the right guy, doing the right assignment," Cutler said. "For the most part, we did that. We moved the ball. Stupid penalties and a couple sacks here and there, we shot ourselves in the foot. But for the most part, we were moving the ball. We had a good rhythm. I think that's a positive."
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