By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) I think I can like football again, for now.
After a miserable week of watching a woman getting knocked out in an elevator by an NFL star, hearing an endless litany of prevarications from white men in dark suits in league offices and having to stifle anger and sadness looking at photos of a 4-year-old tortured by an all-time great player, there was that game, and thanks for it.
It meant something for those of us soured on the whole deal, to be reminded for a little while why we continue to weave webs of various hypocrisies that let us compartmentalize so much conflict just to sit in front of a television or make a trip to a stadium.
On the road Sunday night, the Bears came back to beat the 49ers just when it looked like there was no reason for them to do so. That’s why we bother.
After an interminable slog of penalties and misplays and reinforcement of all of the seeming inevitabilities of a night game and a trip west and Jay Cutler and injured wide receivers, it turned on a moment. We didn’t know it at the time – so much of this exercise is ex post facto convenience, of course – but when Cutler was speared in the sternum by the crown of Quinton Dial’s helmet late in the second quarter, it looked like the perfect punctuation point of a season going all kinds of wrong.
Only then Cutler got up. And he found Brandon Marshall for an Inspector Gadget touchdown. Marshall was playing on one leg, just like Alshon Jeffery. The two may have argued or anesthetized their way off of the game-time inactive list, but they still looked pained.
They kept going. They all kept going.
This meant something for coach Marc Trestman, whose team laid an egg in a winnable home opener and was already frayed by multiple injuries. A win like this bolsters his standing outside his locker room even if such is not yet needed within, and he was smart enough afterward to both avoid over-celebration and make note of the rare opportunities provided by that combination of zealous officiating and the opponent’s sloppy play.
This meant something for Lance Briggs, who said he’d be there at game time no matter what he did on his own time. He was there, indeed. And it mattered for Jared Allen, who joined the 2014 stat sheet with an early tackle and didn’t relent.
In one late sequence, Allen combined with Shea McClellin for a sack of Colin Kaepernick. It was followed by an instinctive Jon Bostic tackle and then another interception by rookie Kyle Fuller.
That it meant something for all of them means it did for general manager Phil Emery, especially here, two games into a season with high expectations. He’s holding onto McClellin for dear life, hoping he can play linebacker, and his first ever pick showed signs of getting it. Emery drafted Bostic and reached for Fuller, who did as much to change this game as anyone.
And he signed Willie Young. More of that guy, please.
Sadly, this game also mattered for Charles Tillman, who left with a right triceps injury that could be a tear of the same muscle as last season and one that looked from his reaction to be a career-ender. The shot of his tears on the bench hit home for anyone who has appreciated either his nationally under-appreciated play or his selfless work off the field.
The story was the incomprehensibly incompetent special teams, the inability to defend the read-option, the gimpy wideouts, the continuing wounds to critical players and the Bears’ ugly history in the Bay.
Until it just wasn’t. It was so football, in the way we needed to be reminded it could be.
Cutler took a helmet to the heart, and it was different after that.
Even if this could all seem a bit silly and overwrought after the weeks upon weeks pile up, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to stay in the moment – especially after these brutal days of reckoning for a sport filled with untenable contradictions that are not going away.
This was one to remember. One that felt like it may have mattered.