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The Bears threw down the gauntlet. They were determined to make a statement on Sunday and there was no way the Vikings would keep them from firing the critical first shot in the war that will define the rest of their season.
When the local team pulled out a 21-13 victory, it made sure that going forward, everyone understands that the Bears will not just stand idly by and let Minnesota take control of third place in the NFC North. They are going to fight for that spot like there is no tomorrow.
It is tempting to take a pass on breaking down the Bears this week. It would be delightful to instead zero in on a local team playing for slightly higher stakes. The Blackhawks quickly spring to mind.
The Hawks have some issues (such as the fact that as of this morning, seven teams in their conference have more points than they do, one is tied and one has one point less). But they enjoyed a glorious four-goal third period Sunday night in a 6-2 victory over the Dallas Stars that sends them off on their annual circus trip (six games in a row on the road as the clowns take over the United Center) with a little momentum.
The problem is, we are barely halfway through November. We will start seriously considering hockey (and I suppose probably a little basketball as well) when Christmas and New Year's roll around.
And there is so much to discuss regarding the Bears. While yesterday's game didn't disabuse anyone of the notion that the coaches aren't good enough and should almost certainly be fired and it would be fine if at least half the roster was released today, there was a lot of fascinating stuff going on.
First of all, has a football team ever moved the ball more and scored less? The home team piled up 468 yards, almost twice Minnesota's total. That is almost six, 80-yard drives. But all of that movement translated into only three scores.
You know why that is, don't you? Because the defense has forgotten how to force turnovers with any sort of regularity and the special teams are so bad. When was the last time the Bears took possession of the ball with anything resembling a short field? No wonder they go for it so frequently on fourth down.
Then again, the defense had its best day of the season. Sure, they were facing a rookie quarterback who seems to have, at best, mediocre arm strength, but hey, there's always a chance it was a start. EJ Manuel and Geno Smith may have had their way with the Bears, but they drew the line against Teddy Bridgewater.
Unfortunately, the biggest plays were made by old guys Jared Allen and Lance Briggs (Ryan Mundy's "thrown right to him" interception doesn't count). A fan might have hoped that maybe, just maybe, a younger guy would step up just a bit, but hey, a team has to stop the bleeding any way it can.
Of course, the special teams were even worse than usual. The fake punt the Vikings ran during their first possession, you know, the one where the game had just started and everyone should have been fresh and ready for anything? It was Minnesota's best offensive play of the game (48 yards) and it set up their only touchdown.
Every time a fan thinks the special teams units of Joe DeCamillis can't embarrass themselves even more than, say, an idiotic attempt at returning an opening kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone that results in the returner being blown up at the 10-yard line and a penalty moving it back to the five, they find a way.
There was a blown field goal; a pathetic 34-yard near-shank of a punt in crunch time; no returns of consequence; mediocre kick coverage . . . quite a day. Hard to imagine DeCamillis gets another special teams job in the NFL after he is fired at the end of this season.
And then there was Jay Cutler. Let's see, potentially disastrous fumble? Check. Pass into double coverage that should have been intercepted? Check. Immature outburst? Check. And that was just the first drive. It was capped off by the outburst, a new low in which Cutler threw the ball down and whined about the officials stopping a play for a replay review with such vehemence that they penalized him 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Of course, then the quarterback spent the rest of the day zipping perfect passes all around the field and piling up over 300 yards and three touchdown passing. Whoops, that wasn't quite the rest of the day. There was also the inconsequential interception just before halftime and then the brutal, "excuse me Jay but why can't you stop throwing such monumentally stupid passes when you are just trying to hold onto a lead!" pick in the second half. The guy is amazing.
The broken clock thing was overblown by control freak coach Mike Zimmer. Sure it was annoying, but shit happens. Yes, I know the Bears have had trouble with the turf at Soldier Field in past seasons but what does that have to do with a clock malfunction? The equipment the Bears use is apparently the industry standard and there were guys on hand who were supposed to be able to fix it. They couldn't and the teams were inconvenienced. Bring in a teenager to say "What-ever."
Then again, when teams are fighting for third place, comity goes out the window. The Vikings and the Bears don't care who knows it: they will fight tooth and nail for the next spot way down below the Packers and Lions with every last fiber of their beings for as long as it takes.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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