MORRISSEY: It’s hard to get a handle on what Bears’ 4-1 record means
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com
How good are the Bears? The standard-issue Bears fan probably thinks that question falls somewhere between blasphemy and insanity. His team is 4-1 good, and nothing more needs to be said — got it, heathen?
But it’s a legitimate question, especially in the context of a bigger one:
What does “good’’ mean in this odd start to the NFL season?
Let’s start with the Bears’ schedule so far and see if we can find some answers. They opened with a stirring victory over the sorry Colts and followed with a poor effort against the talented Packers. But five weeks into the season, the talented Packers are 2-3, with one of those losses coming Sunday to the sorry Colts, who aren’t so sorry at 2-2.
The Bears beat an underwhelming Rams team at Soldier Field and pushed around the Cowboys on the road. That underwhelming Rams team knocked Arizona from the ranks of the unbeaten Thursday night. The Rams are 3-2. Maybe they’re not so underwhelming.
On Sunday, the Bears beat whatever that was representing the city of Jacksonville by a score of 41-3.
They have taken care of business when other teams haven’t. Points to them for that.
Now let’s look at the NFL North, which, other than the Bears, seems to be operating in some Bizarro alternate universe. The Vikings, who were supposed to reside in a basement apartment in the division, are tied with the Bears atop the North at 4-1. Who saw that coming? The Lions, who were supposed to fight the Bears for a wild-card spot — given that the Packers were going to run away with the division — are 1-3.
It’s early. Things are bound to change. But it has been hard to make sense of anything. The Bears are being led by their aging defense instead of their enhanced offense, the polar opposite of what was expected, envisioned and predicted. It has lot of people feel dumber than normal, including yours truly, and that’s not easy.
“We’ve got some good karma going,’’ cornerback Charles Tillman said.
What we know for sure is that the Bears are a nice team that can be very good one week and not so good the following week.
So how good does that make them? Good enough, often enough. Elite? No. They’re going to have to show us a lot more, especially on the offensive line.
We’ve before here before. Under coach Lovie Smith, the Bears seem to reach a certain point but can’t get any farther. If the pattern holds, we’ll start talking about them being in the same stratosphere as the Patriots or the 49ers or the Giants. Then reality will hit, and the city will stumble away concussed.
So let’s try to keep a bit of perspective.
Throwing 17 passes to one receiver, the way Jay Cutler did to Brandon Marshall on Sunday, is not a recipe for sustained success. But Cutler feels comfortable with Marshall, especially with Earl Bennett out, and if we’ve learned one thing since Cutler arrived in 2009, it’s that he gets whatever he wants.
Sunday’s victory turned out to be a blowout, yet Cutler was lucky the Jaguars didn’t pick off more than one of his passes. The number easily could have been three in the first half. That’s how Jay rolls. We know that. But it’s hard to see the Bears getting away with it against better teams.
And yet … that defense. After five games, the Bears have given up 71 points, though the defense has allowed only 57 of them. Scary. And with the way Brian Urlacher has galumphed after ball carriers, the defense’s achievements are even more impressive.
Look at the rugged landscape ahead. Going into Monday night’s Texans-Jets game, the Bears’ second-half opponents are a combined 27-12. It appears the Bears can play with most anyone — when they’re playing well. But playing well is not a given, not for this team, not if the first five weeks are any indication.
They have a bye and then face the Lions at Soldier Field. The big tests come Nov. 11 against Houston at home and Nov. 19 in San Francisco. They likely will not go into the latter game favored. That seems appropriate. They don’t look as good as the 49ers.
“We’re headed in the right direction,’’ Cutler said.
That seems fair. No more, no less. Good enough, for now.