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And so it begins - The Great Bear Tease of 2016.
Which should not be confused with the "Bear Tease 2016 New Year's Eve Ass-travaganza" being held at Jackhammer on December 31st.
Coming into the season, many predicted that Chicago would get fat (record wise - though Mike Adams' beard isn't exactly slimming his face) thanks to a very weak schedule.
Ha ha ha ha ha!
Let's see, am I at 1,500 words yet?
Ah ha ha, ah HA HA HA HA HA!!!
(High-fives self . . . journalism accomplished!)
Oh, Carl circa July 2016.
You assumed that the Bears would continue to build on the improved brand of football you saw in the previous season.
But, when you see upcoming dates with the Bucs, Giants, Titans, 49ers and Lions included on the docket of remaining games, penciling in six wins in the final eight doesn't seem so crazy.
A 6-2 finish would get the Bears to 8-8 overall. And given the state of the NFC North . . . yeesh. I'm almost afraid to write it.
After one of the most disappointing first halves in franchise history, the 2-6 Bears have an outside shot at winning the division.
Despite their best efforts, the Bears aren't dead.
Like, in the sense that campaign manager John Podesta claimed Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes weren't dead about 10 minutes before she made a private call to concede, but technically not dead and playing better football at a point in the schedule where wins can be stacked.
So what the hell happened? Where has this team been all year? Are the Vikings just that bad?
Did I leave the oven on? Is the capital of South Dakota really Pierre and did I spell "Pierre" right?
Inquiring minds want to know!
In postgame interviews, running back Jordan Howard was quoted as saying that "they saw something" in the game film of the Vikings' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7.
If you're like me (cynical, yet having your self-worth being chained to the performance of a franchise that hasn't loved you back since you were 5-years-old), you hear a statement like that and scream at your TV:
"Are you fucking telling me that you hadn't been reviewing game film until the goddam halfway point of the season?!?!"
Scream all you want, but coach John Fox will simply gnash violently on a piece of sugar-free Trident in response. Which would actually make me believe that they did, indeed, just start working in the film room.
At the same time that the Bears' coaching staff dusted off the DVD player and begun to effectively scout the opposition, they're also getting healthy and facing a string of mediocre opponents.
There haven't been many 2-6 teams that have made the playoffs, but one example I can think of (read: I did some cursory Googling, found one example and then veered off) is the 2012 Redskins, who started 3-6 but ran the table to make it into the Dance.
So with one more win, you're telling me there's a chance . . .
I mean, not really.
It's just that rooting for this team has really done a number on me.
Now even my fantasies involve eventually losing.
- Running The Football: Like Theo Epstein, I'm working on a month-long bender, so I'm not going to trot out any fancy "stats" or "complete thoughts" regarding another great performance by Howard. But when this guy touches the ball more than 20 times a game, things occur that haven't happened in years, like the Bears winning two home games in a season or Ben Zobrist driving a car (turns out he's more of a biker).
- Offensive Play Calling: Again, I've basically pickled my brain following the Cubs' big win, but to piggyback on my thoughts of Howard's performance, I'm beginning to think that offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains might have improved his approach since we last saw Jay Cutler on the field.
A solid mix of effective running coupled with the threat of the deep ball and efficiency on third down made this game seem out of reach for the Vikings despite the final score.
I'll slow down while you take notes . . . run ball . . . complete passes . . . don't give to other team ball very much . . .
Let me just address the elephant in the room and say for the last time, I was not the offensive guru that the Bears allegedly hired as a consultant between Weeks 7 and 8. Though based on the level of insight I've just provided, I can understand how you might get confused.
I'm just saying that maybe newly minted legend Brian Hoyer wasn't the whole reason the offense looked so competent while Jay was on the shelf.
- Monday Night D: It's never too early in the week for the "D" to rear-up to its full height and stuff the opposing offense. Aside from the injured Lamarr Houston*, the starting linebackers are on the field and playing well. Add the impending return of nose tackle Eddie Goldman and the Chi D Unit (pronounced "Dee you-NIT!") is on the come.
What Made Us Feel Like, As A People, We Have A Number Of Deep-Seeded Systemic Problems That Have Recently Been Exposed
- The End Of Barack Obama's Second Term: Now I can't yell "Thanks, Obama" every time Connor Barth misses a field goal, or Deonte Thompson returns a kickoff to the 17-yard line.
I mean, I'll continue to do it. But snarkily saying "Good job, Trump" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
- The Cubs Are Done Playing: Oh shit, now the Bears can't hide the massive disappointment of 2016 behind the most significant sports story of the last decade. They better get their ass in gear.
- Red Zone Efficiency: Despite dominating for most of the game, the Bears didn't put things out of reach until late. Red zone opportunities presented themselves early, but only led to Bear fans holding their collective Barth, I mean breath, while unpopular kicker Connor Barth attempted each of his two field goals.
Man, that dude makes me uncomfortable.
Might be time to make "Holding our collective Barth" a thing.
Eye On The Opposition: Bucca-Near Competitive
This week's opponent is the perpetually up-and-coming, perpetually almost .500 and perpetually unable to capitalize on the overall weakness of the NFC South Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Led by head coach Greg Schiano, I mean Lovie Smith . . . dammit!
Led by . . . Dirk Koetter?
Wow, three head coaches in four years. Continuity, thy name is Tampa.
Lead by Dirk Koetter and QB Jameis Winston (or "Good/Skinny JaMarcus Russell" as he's known in some circles), the Buccaneers have been building their way toward respectability, thanks largely to elite pass-catching machine Mike Evans and what was supposed to be a decent running game.
The Winston/Evans tandem will definitely present match-up problems for the Bears' secondary, but the good news is, Tampa can't seem to keep the running backs they employ upright.
With injuries to Doug Martin and our old friend Jacquizz "Have Fun With That, Spellcheck" Rodgers, we'll likely see some guy that sounds like his name was automatically generated by Madden '16 in Year 40 of Franchise Mode start on Sunday (Peyton Barber).
On defense, the Bucs rank near the bottom of the list in pass, rush and total defense.
But other than that, don't judge them too harshly.
Kool-Aid (3 of 5 Souvenir Glasses Of Pina Coladas)
The game is in Florida, we're enjoying the outstanding effects of global warming here in Chicago, the arrow is pointing up for the Bears and holy shit am I milking any possible positivity out of one win.
Time to fire up the hammock and sip on something sweet.
Here we go, another imminently winnable game for our Bears.
Outside of the problems Evans will present, the Buccos don't do anything that should scare you.
In addition to being bad by most defensive metrics, they're extremely mediocre on the offensive side of the ball.
A by-the-numbers strategy should get it done.
Use J-How to run it down their throat for the first quarter, followed by some deep passes on Cutler roll-outs.
That should spell doom for Tampa Bay.
Also, I know what you're thinking and you're right: I'm basically a genius.
Goldman's return would all but guarantee Tampa's running game will be held in check.
With the "D" on point and Cutler doing what he does best, which is hand the ball off to Howard and occasionally huck the ball downfield to draw an offensive pass interference penalty, I smell a fun win.
Or maybe it's burnt toast.
I've been drinking to excess lately.
Bears 30, Buccaneers 17
About The Author
The Author would like to remind you that even though you might have been celebrating non-stop since the Cubs won the World Series, there's never an excuse to roll into work with stank Barth, errrr, breath.
Bloodshot eyes from dehydration and lack of sleep? Acceptable.
But nasty mouth, never.
Carl Mohrbacher is our man on the Kool-Aid. He tolerates your comments.