Bears on the Rebound

The Browns have the bad fortune to be visiting Soldier Field right after Chicago was embarrassed by the Cincinnati Bengals.

When it comes to the Chicago Bears' performance last Sunday, there's not much to talk about.

Bears head coach Lovie Smith said as much on Wednesday during a conference call with the Cleveland media in advance of Sunday's game with the Browns at Soldier Field.  When asked by a reporter to "talk a little" about the Bears' 45-10 loss to the Bengals at Cincinnati four days before, Smith said, "Very little."

The entire NFL – including the Bengals – were extremely surprised by what happened in that game as the Bears, in losing by 35 points, suffered their most lopsided loss in the six seasons since Smith took over as head coach in 2004. Only two games come close, a 34-point (37-3) loss to the Green Bay Packers last season and a 31-point (41-10) setback to the Indianapolis Colts in 2004.

"We were extremely surprised by what happened, too," Smith said. "We were beaten by a better team that day."

Yeah, that day. Whether the 5-2 Bengals, who edged past the 1-6 Browns just 23-20 in overtime a month ago and are tied with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC North, are better than the Bears every day is up for debate. After finishing 9-7 last year and being barely edged out of a wild-card playoff spot by a 9-6-1 Philadelphia Eagles team that advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game, the Bears were looking to make an even stronger showing this year and get into the postseason and make some noise. But they're a long way from that at this point.

At 3-3, they're 2½ games behind the front-running Minnesota Vikings (6-1) in the NFC North, and a game behind the 4-2 Packers. Those two teams collide in the Brett Favre Bowl II on Sunday at Lambeau field, so the Bears will be – gulp! – rooting for their longtime arch rivals, the Packers, to win on Sunday to slow down the Vikings, bring them back to the field and tighten up the division race.

The Bears haven't played the Vikings yet this year, and they have a return match with the Packers at home on Dec. 13 after losing to them 21-15 in the season opener.  Still, if the Bears don't play any better than they did against Cincinnati, then it's not going to make any difference what happens in Green Bay on Sunday or for Chicago in its games the rest of the year. The Bears would be so far out of contention in about a month that they would need binoculars to see the Vikings and Packers.

To say that the Bears were awful at Paul Brown Stadium would be like saying Dick Butkus was above average in toughness, or that Gale Sayers and Walter Payton were decent running backs. That is, it's a vast understatement.

The Bears gave up the most points of the Smith era, and the most since the opener in 2003, the year before the coach arrived, when Dick Jauron's team was blasted 49-7 by the San Francisco 49ers. Chicago limited their first five opponents this year to 99 points, so in just one game, Smith's club gave up half that many.

Meanwhile, the Bengals:

  • Amassed 448 total yards, 52 more than the Bears had surrendered in any game previously this year.
  • Rushed for 215 yards, 110 more than the Bears had allowed in any contest all season.
  • Hit on a sizzling 83.3 percent (20-of-24) of their passes. Before that, the Bears' worst this year was 65.7.
  • Amassed a 146.7 quarterback rating, 54.7 higher than the previous best of 92.0 against the Bears.
  • Collected 30 first downs, or five more than the Bears had given up in any game.
  • Were 8-of-12 on third-down conversion (66.7 percent). Before that, the worst was 50 percent (6-of-12).

Jay Cutler, the quarterback the Bears jumped over themselves to obtain from Denver in a much-publicized offseason trade, was 26-of-37 passing (70.3 percent) for 251 yards, but he had just one TD touchdown and three interceptions for a 64.1 efficiency rating, his second-lowest of the year.

For the year, Cutler has completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 1,452 yards, 11 TDs and 10 interceptions.  Meanwhile, Cutler's replacement in Denver, Kyle Orton, and the Broncos are doing very well, thank you. They're the surprise of the NFL at 6-0, one of just three unbeaten teams left.

Despite Cutler's so-so statistics, Smith seems to be strongly in the sometimes moody quarterback's corner.

"I'm happy to have Jay on our team," the coach said. "It's why we made a long-term commitment to him (he's signed through 2011).

"Interceptions happen. He's had too many, but you still have to play the game. You have to limit your turnovers, but they don't hand out championship trophies in October.

"We're looking forward to next week."

Indeed. No doubt the Bears are anticipating the arrival of the Browns, who are ranked 27th in the NFL in points allowed (25.6), last in total yards given up (414.9), next-to-last in rushing yards surrendered (170.6) and 24th in passing yards yielded (244.3). Those kinds of numbers can get a quarterback, an offense and a team healthy again in short order.

Who knows, maybe by nightfall Sunday, Smith will have a lot to say about his team's performance that day, and "very little" to complain about.

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