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You can hear it echoing across the alleyways of Chicago in the aftermath of the Bears 17-15 loss to the Broncos on Sunday - the distinctive cry of the species known as the meatball sports fan.
With other animals, you have to listen close to catch the intricacies. Not so with the meatball, who caws "If the idiot coach would've just done this, our team would've won that," over and over and over again.
The meatball (and a bunch of commentators in this town for that matter) believes that all the separate little parts of a game exist in their own little vacuums. If you could, you would just go back and change what you see as the mistake, enjoy the short-term benefit, watch the rest of the game play out exactly the way it did and then bask in vindication when your team pulled out the win thanks to the adjustment you made.
There is no reasoning with a meatball. You can try to point out that it didn't make sense for the Bears to go for a field goal with 10 minutes left in a game in which they trailed by eight. If you do that and convert, you still trail by five, you still need a touchdown. Far better to go for the touchdown and if you don't get it, leave the Broncos buried deep in their territory.
But of course when the fourth-down try fails, it is right there for everyone to see. Obviously they shouldn't have gone for it. There is a slight bias there of course. You can point out that just because something didn't work out in the Bears' favor one time doesn't mean it wouldn't work out in their favor the majority of times in a series of re-stagings. Doesn't matter to a meatball.
Then you can point out that the Bears had a beautiful play call on fourth down - that they had wide receiver Marc Mariani break wide open across the back of the end zone. But quarterback Jay Cutler (who probably gave up on the route when he saw Mariani stumble briefly) didn't see him (and tossed away his tablet in disgust with himself when he watched the replay on the sideline shortly thereafter).
You can also point out that if the Broncos had led by only five rather than eight on their last possession, they probably would have gone for it on fourth-and-one from inside Bears territory, made it, and then run out the clock. You can also point out that the Bears just aren't very good and have had a higher than average number of injuries befall critical players. But you would be wasting your breath.
The meatballs also busted out a secondary whine after the two-point conversion play with 24 seconds remaining, chirping "What the hell kind of call was that?"
And it must be said that running the same play you had just run the play before for the touchdown didn't look good, especially when the Denver defense stuffed Jeremy Langford for no gain. But perhaps there were other factors at play, factors that weren't readily apparent from a fan's (or initial commentator's) viewpoint?
Sure enough, Langford gave it up in the post-game: The play in question was not a simple run up the middle. It was a play specifically designed to make it as easy as possible for Cutler to choose between a run and a pass. He chose a run. It appeared that several Bears did not realize a run had been called. Bronco safety T.J. Ward, who is quite simply one of the best defensive players at any position in the NFL, sniffed it out and grabbed hold of Langford well short of the end zone. Teammates rushed in and finished the rally-killer.
Coach John Fox and Cutler were close-mouthed afterward about who in particular had messed up the play. Some of the blame will have to go on Cutler, who failed to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Oh, and there was a factor that caused me to sing out in my own distinctive way: "Why the hell didn't you just call your last timeout at that point!"
I consider myself a member of the "at least a few brain cells are still operational" species within the sports fan genus. Folks with a few more cells still going might point out, "If you call timeout, you give the defense just as much of an extra chance to get ready for the conversion as you do the offense - more and more smart teams in multiple sports eschew late-game timeouts, knowing that stopping the momentum in those situations clearly helps the defense more."
And at that point I would simply return my attention to my species' primary form of nourishment - beer, and continue to prepare for hibernating through the last month of this football season.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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