Resilient Bears find themselves in enviable position
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist December 17, 2013 9:30PM
- Interactive graphic: Pro Football Focus rates the Bears
- Charles Tillman out for Bears' season
- Interactive graphic: Jay Cutler's stats compared to franchise quarterbacks
Updated: December 18, 2013 1:06PM
How did we get here?
The Bears are in first place in the NFC North with two games left in the regular season.
The playoffs beckon, with the Super Bowl leering seductively and vaguely, like a high-fashion model waving through the fog from Fifth Avenue.
Really, this is all quite confusing. Weren’t the Bears the team that lost its starting quarterback for the better part of two months? Didn’t the Bears go 3-6 from Sept. 29 to Dec. 1? Aren’t they in the NFC North with the almighty Packers and the formerly front-running Lions?
Yes, yes and yes.
The thing is, at 8-6, the Bears have held up through the mayhem of an NFL season to become a resilient team with more quarterbacks than it knows what to do with. Talk about a ‘‘problem’’ to have.
This plethora of good quarterbacks — OK, two — is something Bears fans only could have dreamed about in recent decades. The ratio of playing time allotted to Jay Cutler and Josh McCown has started arguments among seemingly rational Chicagoans who think the resplendent McCown is getting screwed and so on. Yet Cutler won the last game against the Browns without McCown so much as warming up.
And might I remind you of something as recent as the 2011 season, when Cutler went down with a wrist injury and the Bears’ offense was put in the hands of Caleb Hanie. That, my friends, was a problem.
If the Bears win their next two games — on the road Sunday against the Eagles and at home Dec. 29 against the Packers — they’re division champs. They even can, in a certain scenario, win only one of their final two games and still be champs. They likely would play a team such as the Panthers, Saints or 49ers at Soldier Field in January, something that could be amusing if those teams are terrified of playing in snow and ice.
Of course, the Bears could lose their next two games, lose to the Packers in the finale or see the Lions sneak in somehow. There are lots of ways to blow this.
But, again, the Bears are in first place. Can ‘‘In Tresty We Trusty’’ T-shirts be far behind?
The Bears have held up better than the Lions or Packers through the injuries and confusion that inevitably occur in the NFL. After all, they have had to go a long time without cornerback Charles Tillman, who is out for the season, and replacement Zack Bowman seemed to be a big question mark. But Bowman’s two interceptions Sunday against the Browns — one of which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown — seem to prove he belongs. And if the Bears get injured linebacker Lance Briggs back soon, as hinted, then the feeble defense could take another step forward.
That’s kind of how it is with most teams in the NFL right now: Whom have we got, and how can we use them?
Consider the Packers. They started to nose-dive after quarterback Aaron Rodgers was injured against the Bears in early November. Indeed, breaking Rodgers’ collarbone might have been the most impressive thing Bears defensive end Shea McClellin did this season.
But Matt Flynn has done well in relief, and Rodgers might be ready to play Sunday. If he’s back to normal, that’s a big deal. Because normal is real good, and Rodgers has sliced and diced the Bears way too many times.
There is also the next quarterback the Bears will face, the Eagles’ Nick Foles. This 24-year-old second-year man out of Arizona, who stepped in after Michael Vick was injured, has been nothing short of amazing. Not only did he become the first quarterback in NFL history to have 149-plus passer ratings in consecutive games, but he also threw an incredible seven touchdown passes with no interceptions Nov. 3 against the Raiders. Only five other quarterbacks have done that since the NFL began.
So do the Bears deserve to be in first place? Hard to say, except that there they are. And you get what you take in football.
In a recent magazine interview, Foles summed up the vagaries of being the No. 1 quarterback, which isn’t much different from being the No. 1 team.
‘‘Being the No. 1 guy doesn’t matter. . . . It’s a label that can be taken away at any time,’’ he said.
If somebody grabs it.