By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) — It would almost be more palatable for the Bears to be manifestly bad, so overmatched as to not raise hopes. As it is, they only succeed in sustaining the possibility of possibilities until the clock runs out yet again.
On Sunday, the battle of 1-3 teams was won by the homestanding Colts, 29-23, turning several Bears headlines into footnotes of their latest loss. Some sparkling individual performances still stand on their own for what they are, but the context reduces them from celebrated to acknowledged.
Jordan Howard is a bell-cow NFL running back until proven otherwise. His 16 carries for 118 yards made him the first Bears rookie with 100-yard games in his first two starts, and he caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown. The 57-yard run he ripped off in the first half was the longest for the team since Matt Forte’s 68-yarder in 2010. He continues to show patience behind blocks, the ability to turn small spaces into larger ones and add yards even when there appears to be nowhere to go.
For all the consternation surrounding receiver Kevin White’s latest major injury, Cameron Meredith rose to the opportunity by catching nine passes for 130 yards and a score. He was quick in and out of his breaks, nimble on the sideline and aware in space against zones. His fourth-quarter fumble detracted from an otherwise stellar day.
Bryce Callahan was noticeable in coverage and as a tackler until a hamstring injury slowed him up and put him out. Willie Young’s three-sack day illustrated why the Bears felt him worthy of a new contract before the season, the veteran inside linebackers continued their responsible fits against the run and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains again called a string of well-executed plays in sensible sequence, particularly during a 96-yard drive that was the franchise’s longest in over seven years.
On the bad side of the ledger is Connor Barth. That’s enough of that, already, and I’d expect the Kicker Karavan of Komedy to make a stop at Halas Hall on Tuesday for some kind of open tryout. Nobody may perform well enough to unseat Barth, but a good look is required. And somebody will sit down with Cre’von LeBlanc and explain how and when to catch the ball and when to let it bounce. Also, tight end Logan Paulsen seems to be awful at everything.
On to the quarterback and Brian Hoyer’s personal-best day of 33-of-43 passing for 397 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was both in control and under control, making mostly accurate throws while solidly protected. This was a defense ripe to be shredded, and he did so. Judging from Jay Glazer’s report on FOX before the game, this is Hoyer’s job to lose regardless of Jay Cutler’s availability. Glazer “is John Fox’s designated media buddy,” as 670 The Score’s football expert Hub Arkush noted via Twitter,
But it’s not really controversial, in the usual sense. The quarterback of this 1-4 team just isn’t significant, as Hoyer will be a free agent after this season, Cutler’s deal is now easy to terminate without much penalty, and neither is likely to be here if and when the Bears are actually contending. It’s mostly the noise that remains from too many years of tribal entrenchment over Cutler and whomever the latest is to be cast in the role of Not Cutler. Whatever Fox’s call, fine.
Hoyer has proved capable of racking up yards and making some nice throws, but he was unable to drive them all the way down the field to victory and failed to see an open Alshon Jeffery on the deciding play.
That might make him the perfect fit for a team that right now is only good at being not good enough.