Bernstein: Is Nature To Blame For Bears’ Flop?
By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) It’s been a while since we’ve had an “everybody sucks” game.
We tend to forget what those look like — because fans’ minds can be conditioned to delete some of those files – but I can tell you they look just like whatever that 32-7 deal just was.
Only one team is really playing, no matter what’s happening. No Bears can block, tackle, throw, catch or kick, while the 49ers appear to have an extra man on the field in all phases.
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And we’ll get the appropriate avalanche of blame for the embarrassment from all corners, falling on the first guy that comes to mind.
Jason Campbell was slow to react, as pass-rushers crashed toward him unimpeded by nominal protection. Major Wright lacked a basic understanding of technique. Brandon Marshall was stymied again by bracket coverage in two-man schemes, and Mike Tice had no tactical response. Brian Urlacher didn’t shed blocks or pursue. Devin Hester ran backwards. Lovie Smith wasn’t fiery enough. They looked like they were sleeping out there!
Wait. That last one may be kinda true.
You’ll have to give me some latitude here, but a big-stage disaster like that requires more than simple x-and-o analysis. We’re allowed to grasp at straws for explanations instead of just looking for other ways to say “ass-kicking.” So I’m mindful of some NFL information unearthed by author David Randall in his book “Dreamland,” which examines the science of sleep.
Frank Deford of HBO and NPR wrote what I first saw about Randall’s examination of a Stanford study of the last 25 years of NFL games, and the important role of circadian rhythm – the way our body-clocks “know” when it’s time for us to do certain things – in correlation to outcomes.
The study posited that west coast players heading three time zones east faced no interruption in physiological readiness for night games, since their body-time synched with both the kickoff and their opponents’ natural, nighttime lag.
Since the night games start at 7:30 CST no matter the location, the same rule applies when the game is west. Eastern players’ clocks are signaling shutdown while the home teams are experiencing the “second wind” phenomenon that occurs in all of us around 6 PM for what Deford describes as “some primordial reason.”
It’s not just anecdotal, either, based on players’ perceptions of their energy waxing or waning or observers drawing subjective conclusions from what they see. It’s in the numbers.
In east/west night matchups in the NFL over the last quarter-century, the study found that the west-coast team wins 70 percent of the time, which is eye-opening. When you note that that 70 percent is also against the point spread, it’s downright shocking.
It has nothing to do with jet lag as we usually think of it – uni-directionally — because it doesn’t matter who travels. It has to do with preset circadian rhythm making one team more ready to perform than the other.
Now, you’d be right to point out that the Bears traveled two time zones, not three, and that their body-clocks are set one hour closer than the teams that produced those jaw-dropping results. That is absolutely valid.
But after you see something like what we saw, one can reach.
In the final minute of the first half, ESPN commentator Jon Gruden said “I just look out in that Bear huddle and I just feel like they’re dragging. They gotta pick it up.” That could be easy, after-the-fact judgment, saying they look flat only after they were already run over, or it could be somewhat true.
Make note of the numerous postgame descriptions of the Niners as “more physical” by Bears and media, and consider that it could actually (finally?) mean something to us if we think about that overused expression in a more literal light. It could be the case, and not entirely within the losers’ control.
When a performance is that poor, that complete, and that broadly-based, our explanations may go beyond the usual routine of individual finger-pointing from the outside and droning recitations of clichés from within. There may be something more at work.
Or maybe everybody just sucks.