By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The NFL loves to tell you about its unpredictability, and how much excitement that brings late in the season, as contenders jostle for playoff position.
And that is true to a degree, insomuch as every game seems to have enough inherent randomness to keep optimists’ hopes alive until time and every last chance have been exhausted, even in some apparent mismatches.
Then there are the Bears, and what would be their appropriate slogan: Expect the Expected.
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Despite those holding out for an inspired, season-saving turn at home against their overly-professed enemy, we got a wholly recognizable, ordinary performance and an entirely probable outcome. You could argue, in fact, that it was almost stereotype. After a week of silly talk and false bravado in the press, the Bears played like the recent Bears against the Packers as if recording a Greatest Hits video of how they’ve lost before.
Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers again clowned Jay Cutler and his traveling circus of stumblebums. Brandon Marshall had some early looks, so Capers clamped him out of danger with bracket coverage. The incompetent blocking hurried every throw, including a confounding interception in an attempt to have Devin Hester make the kind of play he’s never made and wasn’t going to make.
The response was more of the same, lacking both execution and imagination.
That pathetic sequence at the end of the third quarter was a distillation of the last six weeks – all of that bad and stupid boiled down into a thick, yellow syrup noxious enough to make your eyes water and your stomach lurch while still eyeing the shot-glass.
Pass interference brings first and goal from the five with a chance to cut the lead to seven. Naturally, communication issues require a timeout to be called before a play can be run. That extra time to put together a brilliant plan resulted in a one-yard gain by Matt Forte running over left guard, a Forte rush for no gain off right tackle, and a fleeting touchdown pass that was called back after an Alshon Jeffery push-off. And Cutler again had to silence fans so the Bears could hear the cadence at the line. At home.
Aaron Rodgers played his usual role, carving the middle of the field, avoiding errors and using athleticism that always seems to be something beyond what your brain had registered previously.
Mike McCarthy’s indefensible call for a trick play on a punt return would only have mattered if the opponent was good enough to use it to their advantage, so it didn’t matter. Mason Crosby’s kicks looked amazingly like my next shot after landing a drive in the fairway – both the thinly-hit slice into the back of the trap on the right, and the one that hits the heel of the club and hooks left, bouncing off the cart path out of bounds. Actually, I think he owes me royalties. But those didn’t matter either.
Avoidable penalties blunted opportunities, with both players and coaches at fault. And again Cutler was hurt. More familiar hallmarks of a loss to the Packers.
Successful shows on Broadway are often turned into touring productions: recognizable versions of the original, but easily packaged and re-staged, as to retain the essence if not recreate every detail. Hit the high points, give the people what they want, move on to the next town.
That’s what this game felt like; a bland, standardized version of Smith, Cutler and the Bears against McCarthy, Capers, Rodgers and the Pack. We’ve seen this before, and know how it ends.
You need a surprise? Here’s one:
This team was once 7-1.