There are better games to overreact to

There are better games to overreact to
Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune

Let’s get the official stuff out of the way first, shall we? The Chicago Bears fell to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in a 23-17 overtime contest that saw the team to 8-4 on the season with four games remaining.

Okay, now that that’s done . . .  

When Jay Cutler plays well, the Bears win football games. That statement is evidenced by the fact that prior to Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bears were 15-0 in games in which Cutler posted a 100+ passer efficiency rating.

While he hit that mark in Soldier Field against a top-ranked Seahawks secondary (119.6 rate), the Bears lost. And while it was the first time for Cutler, perhaps more telling is that it was also the first time under head coach Lovie Smith that the Bears lost when any starting QB posted a 100+ rating.

The reason for that statistic is simple: the Bears’ defense has kept their offense in a lot of football games for a long time around here. On Sunday, they failed to do that.

The positive for Chicago is that, right now, Jay Cutler is playing well. He’ll need the defense to match that, and he’ll need to get some receivers back in the mix, but all of that is likely to happen. And so, for me, I pull more positives from a loss like this than I do negatives.

The game played out much like I thought it would. I predicted a Bears’ win in a close, low-scoring 17-10 game. I told you that it in each of the Seahawks’ losses since the middle of the 2011 season they have only lost games by an average of 4.4 points.

Not only that, but for some inexplicable, intangible reason, the Seahawks have played the Bears tough in Soldier Field during the regular season in recent years.

The fact is that while the Lovie Smith and the Bears disappointed on Sunday, they were one missed catch away from a victory. They were one decision/execution on fourth-and-one away from a victory.

Earl Bennett dropped a sideline bomb that would have likely resulted in a Bears’ touchdown, while Lovie Smith decided to go for it on fourth-and-one instead of kicking a field goal and making it a two-score contest. Chicago gets either one of those plays back, and it’s a totally different Monday.

“Some decisions I made really hurt us early on,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “We should have taken the field goal. It felt like we had momentum. (I) wanted to really try to knock them out and get them on their heels a little bit.”

Guess what, guys? It happens, and hind sight is 20/20. Michael Bush was three-for-three converting on fourth-and-one this season. At your opponents’ 15-yard line, why not take the chance with a lead?

Am I discounting these things? No. They happened, and they certainly weren’t all that went wrong. Smith made the wrong decision—by definition based on the result—but it was the players who failed to pick up a half-yard. Bennett did drop the pass, but could it have come after he had already suffered a concussion? Maybe, maybe not.

“It happens,” Cutler said of the drop. “I spun him around a little bit, and it was a tough catch. He is going to say that he should have had it. I don’t know if he was feeling the effects of that hit down by the goal line or not—it’s hard to tell. I won’t shy away from him, I know that. I’ll keep coming back to him.”

The message here is that this is the wrong game to overreact to.

What I saw early on Sunday was an offensive coordinator who was starting to find his rhythm through a second-straight game and a quarterback who was as confident in executing that scheme as he’s been all season. We saw an offense, absolutely decimated by injury, able to move the ball and keep their QB clean against a stout Seattle defense.

The offense is finding success, and they’re doing it at the right time of the season. They hope to get some players back this week in Chris Spencer along the line and, hopefully, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver.

The defense was indeed a colossal disappointment against one of the worst passing offenses in the League, and the Bears’ failure to adjust and make tackles on a game-winning Seahawks’ drive was head-scratching to say the least.

But, we see these games from the best defenses in the NFL, and we’ve seen them from the Bears in recent seasons. I can’t remember a year that the Bears’ defense didn’t have a game in which it appeared like they up and forgot how to tackle.

Again, am I saying you shouldn’t be concerned? No. Just relax a little, take a breath and get ready for next week. If any unit on that team has proven their ability, it’s the defense. I have little reason to believe they don’t play better next week.

Injuries will be a big factor moving forward, of course, as Brain Urlacher and Tim Jennings both went down against the Seahawks, but that comes with the territory. (You can keep up on all the Bears’ injuries with our constantly updated injury list, by the way.)

As we’re winding down toward the end of the regular season, games like this one could come back to bite the Bears in the rear, but with three divisional games remaining of their final four, the Bears have every opportunity in front of them to secure their spot in the playoffs.

So, where do they currently stand in the playoff picture with Week-13 now behind them?

The Bears will enter Week 14 play as the fifth seed in the NFC. They are tied with Green Bay in the NFC North with an 8-4 record with the Packers currently owning the tie-breaker (and No. 3 seed) with a Week 2 victory over the Bears at Lambeau Field. The two teams will meet again at Soldier Field in Week 15 (December 16).

The Atlanta Falcons are currently the No. 1 seed in the NFC and can clinch the NFC South with a loss by Tampa Bay (currently playing at Denver). San Francisco is currently the No. 2 seed at 8-3-1 and leaders in the NFC West. The New York Giants (at Washington on Monday night) are 7-4 and currently the No. 4 seed but would flip-flop the No. 3 seed with the Packers with a win Monday night over the Redskins (due to New York winning the head to head meeting with Green Bay in Week 12).

Seattle is currently the No. 6 seed at 7-5 and would own the tie-breaker over Chicago if it were to come into play with today’s victory at Soldier Field.

Tampa Bay is currently 6-5 (playing currently at Denver) and Minnesota is 6-6. Chicago travels to Minnesota in Week 14.

Dallas, who hosts Philadelphia tonight, and Washington, who hosts the Giants on Monday night, are both 5-6.

St. Louis stands at 5-6-1, New Orleans 5-6 and Arizona and Detroit are both 4-8. Chicago will travel to Arizona and Detroit in Weeks 16 (December 23) and 17 (December 30), respectively, to close out the season.


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