By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) If that was the “get well” game many expected for the Bears, we can conclude that the patient is still in need of observation. A second opinion is always welcome, but you get mine first.
An uninspiring victory is always better than the alternative, yes. For the many who believed this team would be good for 11 wins, the season is still on schedule. Any 11 had to include this one – at home, against a lesser opponent – and civic panic was held at bay. Nothing horrible happened.
Like it did last Thursday, for example. The misery in Green Bay gave this game added significance as we continue to calibrate expectations in the early part of a promising year for a talented, aging team. Everyone stared into the abyss that night, confronted old ghosts, and craved countervailing evidence today that everything would be OK. A definitive performance could rekindle the excitement over a seemingly turbocharged, new offense.
Yet this one followed an old, familiar script, despite an offseason spent recasting the Bears’ identity: defense and special teams and enough points to win. The tiresome “Bear Football” cliché in all its dated, ridiculous glory.
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The front four were inspired, sustaining pressure on Sam Bradford all afternoon and allowing Rod Marinelli to pick spots for well-timed blitzes. Amobi Okoye, Israel Idonije, Shea McClellin and others took advantage of the attention paid to the inexorable Julius Peppers. Their play kept the Rams from testing the recovery speed of Brian Urlacher, something the Packers exposed. DJ Moore was reliable and instinctive, and Tim Jennings is playing as well as any corner in the NFL.
Heck, even the ignorant fans shut up with the Bears near the goal-line, letting Jay Cutler audible to a run for a Michael Bush touchdown. Eyewitnesses noted an enthusiastic effort by intelligent fans in the north end-zone to tamp down the noise from the stupid. A city thanks them. Keep it up.
After ten days to prepare, though, is it wrong to have wanted the offense to function more efficiently? Cutler wasn’t any good, and he was still dealing with pressure due entirely to missed or ineffective blocks. Running backs averaged a measly 2.7 yards per carry, and the Bears converted just four of 13 third downs. Dropped passes stalled drives and turned one touchdown into a field goal.
J’Marcus Webb needs help, answering no questions about whether he’ll still be a damaging, limiting factor. Cutler didn’t scream at him this week, but the rest of us did from our couches. Mike Tice moved the game away from the left tackle with shorter drops, screens and rolls, but Webb’s inability remains a serious impediment.
The offense’s communication didn’t quite click, either, with the desired rhythm of synchronized play-calling, pre-snap reads and execution more the exception than the rule. It will need to be better.
Lovie Smith will spend this week puffy-chested over the play of his defense, and he’s entitled to be. For those of us keeping the bar held high as the title window remains open, however, we will continue to evaluate his team relative to whatever Super Bowl promise may exist.
Keep in mind that absence of bad does not necessarily mean good, and that quality of opponent matters. So does home versus road.
The healing from the loss at Lambeau will take longer than just one week.