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Bear Monday: Go Pack!

There were solutions out there on Sunday, I just knew it. A meticulous assessment of a day's worth of National Football League action (while the Bears were bye-ing) would provide the answers and offer up reasons to keep the faith. The path back to respectability, otherwise known as playoff contention, would open up like the big ol' hole you could drive a truck through.

Either that or I'd simply revel in all things football as I enjoyed a respite from the local squad, a needed break from the team I continue to pull for with completely counter-intuitive intensity. I used to think it would all ease up a bit as I grew older, but at this point it seems clear that isn't going to happen. It is also clear my beloved Bears need help. Let me also note there wasn't much help to be had in the biggest game of the day and indeed, the season. The Patriots and Colts would be playing at 3:15 p.m. on this glorious fall afternoon. But the problem with that contest was that the Pats and Horseshoes aren't even in the Bears' league any more. They are way, way out in front, playing a game with which the Bears are not even preliminarily familiar. And the Bears have plenty of company: the Super Bowl this year will be almost inconsequential on the heels of the AFC Championship game.

So shortly after noon, with the help of the Direct TV Sunday Ticket package, I briefly settled in to watch the Jaguars versus the Saints. There I found former 49er lineman Randy Cross, whom I've never loved as an analyst but who isn't as bad as many others (he said oh so faintly) talking about injuries. He noted that the ride back to the locker room on a motorized cart is "a terrible feeling," but that it used to be worse. Cross remembered that when he was carted away from a 1985 game with a torn-up knee "they took us in this thing; it didn't even have a motor. It was like, what's that called, a rickshaw?"

The best thing about this contest was that the Saints were slowly taking command (as quarterback Drew Brees piled up the passing yards and then some) and did in fact eventually prevail. The Jaguars hung in there for a while but the absence of starting quarterback David Garrard (along with former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Chris Naeoli, whose first-half injury led to Cross's comments about carts) eventually took a toll. And that meant the squad from the bayou, which had started 0-4, had made it all the way back (to .500) with a four-game win streak. The Saints head into this week only a half-game back of Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead. And of course, if New Orleans can do it, the Bears certainly can as well. One problem though, is the that even if the Bears do win four in a row, they may still be a game or two out of the playoffs.

That's because on Sunday the Packers and Lions went ahead and won again, pulling away from the Bears (3-5) and Vikings (3-5) in the process. At this point the Bears almost have to root for the Packers (7-1), especially against the (6-2) Lions and other prime wild-card candidates Giants (6-2) and Redskins (5-3). Heck, even the Saints are a better wild-card possibility at this point than the Bears, and therefore must lose to Favre and friends.

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Then it was time to settle in with a rotation of one primary contest and one I would switch to during the commercials. I suppose this makes me old school but I can't watch more than two games at once. I used to go to sports bars (particularly the dearly departed Lakeview Links) and set myself up in front of multiple TVs with all manner of match-ups up on the screen but unless I focused on a couple, I ended up missing a lot more than I watched.

The Packers game, which most importantly was announced by No. 1 team Joe Buck (back from World Series baseball and better than ever) and Troy Aikman, soon featured the biggest blooper of the day. A harried Brett Favre tossed an ill-advised swing pass that running back Vernand Morency could not corral. In fact, it wasn't just ill-advised, it was slightly backward - or so it seemed at the time. Morency didn't waste any time before trying to track down the ball - with a couple Chiefs in hot pursuit - and as he neared the sideline he managed to kick it out of bounds, preserving Packer possession. A flag flew. First of all, I learned about a different form of illegal touching. I've usually heard that penalty called in the context of a screen pass gone comically awry, one that results in a desperation pass deflecting directly off the back of an unsuspecting offensive lineman. But it turns out that illegal touching also refers to one's foot. If one's foot touches a ball inappropriately, i.e., when you aren't attempting a place-kick or a punt, the familiar touch-both-shoulders penalty must be assessed. The victim of said touching is additionally advised to contact the authorities as well as a counseling service.

And it didn't stop there. The play was reviewed and overturned. It turns out the swing pass did go forward and is therefore incomplete. But then the clearly bitter referee rules that rather than toss out Morency's penalty as fruit from a poison tree, i.e., the direct result of the initial official mistake, he changes the penalty to "delay of game" (usually assessed for kicking a ball off the field during a dead-ball situation in this context). At this point, I'm just glad I'm not a Packer fan because that is one of the more convoluted, ridiculous and oh-by-the-way totally unnecessary calls I've ever seen.

Before the half, Favre tossed a seemingly killer interception. It led to a Chief touchdown and 7-6 lead at the intermission despite the fact that Green Bay had the better of the play during the first two quarters. But the Packers would rally in the second half, take the lead, hold on as the Chiefs took back the lead and then re-take the lead for good (on a glorious bomb from Favre to Greg Jennings, his third such perfect deep ball in the last two games) and stretch it out down the stretch. The lesson here for the Bears seems to be nothing more than to throw the ball deep.

Oh, by the way, surely there must be a big, old contingent of Bears fans out there who aren't upset about the 2007 season. Those would be the fans who believe the team's primary objective year after year is to beat the Packers. And oh, by the way Mr. Complainer, the Bears beat the Packers last month, so what's the problem?

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After Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt before him failed to talk the talk about the Packers games being all meaningful, Lovie Smith accepted the advice of a Bears staffer when he took the job in 2004 and talked about beating the Packers first and foremost. But all off this is based on a false premise. It is so clear that the primary motivation in any given season is getting to the Super Bowl. So even two victories over Green Bay this year will not cut it.

Meanwhile, during the commercials, the Jets took a 17-3 lead on the Redskins. But back came Washington (the team my grandfather rooted for fervently after he settled into Falls Church, Va. at age about 50). And the Redskins eventually used the power rushing game to pull it out. Lesson to be learned? Hang in there and don't give up on the run, Bears. We'll see you next Sunday.

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