Oh, brother-what a win!
BY RICK TELANDER rtelander@suntimes
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is hit by Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers during the first half.
TORONTO-Beating the Buffalo Bills is like beating up your little brother.
If you lose to the runt, you've got a lot more problems than just the bloody nose he gave you.
So the 5-3 Bears were able keep their dignity intact, barely, beating the the super-runt of the NFL, the now 0-8 Buffalo Bills, 22-19.
I heard some TV people postgame at the domed and echo-y Rogers Centre saying this game was a come-from-behind win by the Bears.
No, it was a fall-from-ahead loss by the Bills. These hapless creatures from upper New York have figured out more ways to blow stuff than a tornado.
Add one more. The Bills might have won this down-to-the-wire game, had it been held at their home field, two hours and another country away.
This was a Bills home game, you say-
Tell that to the thousands of roaring, orange-and-blue-clad Bears fans in the cavernous baseball dome.
``It seemed like it was close to 50-50 out there,'' said depressed Bills coach Chan Gailey.
I'd put it more at 40 percent Bears fans, 40 percent Bills fans, 9 percent lost Blue Jays fans and 11 percent drunken Maple Leafs fans hoping for a hockey game and/or fight to break out.
The favorable Chicago cheering may, indeed, have been a factor in the Bears doing something right that they haven't done right in a long time--consistantly convert third downs.
``I think things clicked,'' said Bears tight end Greg Olsen, who caught a third-down touchdown pass from quarterback Jay Cutler in the second quarter. ``I think we did a good job of keeping third downs manageable.''
That means not a lot of third-and-longs. Even so, the Bears converted on 3rd-and-12 (illegal use of hands penalty on Bills), 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-10 (pass interference), and third-and-10 again. For the game they were 7-for-12 on third downs.
For the Bears, this is thrilling. Like not just pounding on your little brother, but holding him down and drooling on him.
There was a recent stretch when the Bears went 0-for-28 on third downs with Cutler at quarterback over the course of four games. In their last game, a 17-14 home loss to the Washington Redskins, the Bears made just two of 13 third down attempts.
The Bears had been 9-for-70 after the season opener. Coming into this game their season conversion percentage was 17.9 percent.
That's OK--for shooting flies with a BB gun--but it was the worst third-down conversion rate in the NFL.
Don't mean to bore you with these stats, but third downs are very, very important in football.
``They're huge,'' said center Olin Kreutz. ``Convert them and we stay on the field, and our defense stays off.''
Touchdown drives flourish or wilt depending on third downs. Don't convert them and you generally must punt or try a field goal on fourth down.
``We were over sixty perdent today,'' said a happy--I think--Bears coach Lovie Smith.
Well, they were 58 percent.
But I'll throw in the key two-point conversion--Cutler to running back Matt Forte on a shovel pass in the fourth quarter--as a virtual third down conversion. By that I mean it was a critical, one-chance play, and the Bills had missed their own two-point attempt earlier. Plus, the Bears were 0-for-2010 on 2-point tries.
So give them that and it puts them at 8-for-13, or 61.5 percent. Two of Cutler's touchdown passes came on third downs, and no matter how you slice it, that's better than a Canadian five-dollar bill with some odd-looking prime minister on the front and kids playing pond hockey on the back.
Why do you suddenly get good at third downs-
Let's not forget the doormat quality of the opponent.
Nor the fact the offense took the preceding bye-week to, as Kreutz put it, ``focus mentally on where all of our mistakes have been.''
But also the Bears seem finally to have a healthy, cohesive offensive line. Cutler, who scrambled for 39 yards and was sacked just once, said, ``I'd like to stick with this group the rest of the season.''
Maybe he'll be able to.
Which would be nice.
Remember, there was a stretch from the second half of the Bears-Green Bay Packers game to the second half of the Bears-Redskins game--one month--when the Bears converted 3 of 49 third downs. Six percent.
A trend like that, you'll agree, is good for nothing.