Chicago Bears fans fret about Brian Urlacher’s back while the local media stares to see if his lips move in their presence, and not just to his favorite online pal.
Chicago Bears fans fret about Brian Urlacher’s back while the local media stares to see if his lips move in their presence, and not just to his favorite online pal. The Urlacher fascination starts with his being the face of the Bears since the day Chicago drafted him out of New Mexico eight years ago. But much of it is also tied to the future; Chicago papers speculated that Urlacher’s arthritic back could scuttle the linebacker’s hopes for a contract extension. He has, by the way, 4 1/2 years left on his current contract. Why talk about five years down the road? The local media pouts that a petulant Urlacher won’t talk to them because people assume this year’s over. Where’s John Belushi when you need him? If it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, then it’s not over after the Lions bombed the Bears for a second time. The Saints looked far worse than the Bears after an 0-4 start that included defeats by 31, 17 and 17 points. Now the Saints have won three in a row and look like the third-best team in the NFC behind Dallas and Green Bay. The Giants looked defenseless after giving up 80 points their first two games. Six consecutive wins later, New York’s defense looks the equal of any team’s in the NFC, giving up 13 points a game in that stretch. With the pathetically low standards of the NFC, anyone can come back from the dead. Especially teams with proven talent. Who’s more proven than the defending NFC champion Bears? Nobody. So there’s time — and talent — enough to rebound. It just doesn’t seem that way because Chicago has played even worse than its 3-5 record. The Bears rank 26th in offense. And 26th in defense. And dead-last in turnover margin at minus-10. Last year, they tied for fourth at plus-8. That’s actually an encouraging sign. Drew Brees couldn’t keep playing as poorly as he started for the Saints, with one touchdown and nine interceptions in four games. He’s been almost the exact opposite in three consecutive wins, with eight TDs and one interception. Just as Brees rebounded, Chicago will start getting takeaways again. Only four NFL teams have fewer than Chicago’s five interceptions, partly because cornerback Nathan Vasher is hurt. But “The Interceptor” should return after the bye week. Cedric Benson will eventually run. If, that is, Ron Turner gives him the ball in the second half. He carried only three times after intermission last week, despite averaging 7.0 yards on those carries. Last year, Chicago started slow running, too. Even with Thomas Jones. The Bears averaged 2.7 yards on 91 carries in their first three games last year. Then they broke through with 143 and 156 yards in their next two games. It happened then. It can happen again. That leaves the passing game. Brian Griese won’t average 300 yards, as he did in his first four starts. His receivers aren’t good enough; the Bears dropped 10 passes last week. And, as noted here Sunday, Griese only thrives when he throws down the middle of the field. All four of his interceptions Sunday came on sideline passes, where his lack of arm strength gets exposed. Griese makes more big plays than any Bears quarterback since Sid Luckman; eight of his nine touchdown passes have covered at least 15 yards, including four of more than 30. In five starts, the supposed “game manager” has thrown more than half as many TD passes of 15 yards or more than the strong-armed Rex Grossman, who had just 15 in 31 career games. Problem is, Griese doesn’t “manage” games like he’s supposed to. He’s averaged more than one interception per game in each of his last six seasons as a starter. If he doesn’t stop throwing deep sideline passes up for grabs, the Bears may have to turn to Kyle Orton. Some fans don’t want to wait. They want to trot out Orton now. The last time Orton played, the Bears went 9-5 in games he started and finished, but Orton was dead last in the NFL in passer rating. He was a rookie then, though. Maybe he’s improved. Or maybe, if given a second chance, Grossman can show he learned by sitting and watching Griese’s mistakes. Or maybe Griese will improve by never again facing the Lions, who lead the NFL with 13 interceptions, seven of them donated by Griese. Somebody, though, needs to improve at quarterback. Or else it will be over. Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.