Is Chicago ready for some football? Heavens, yes
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com | @MorrisseyCST August 9, 2014 12:56AM
Updated: September 11, 2014 6:39AM
I can’t tell you how good it was to see football players in Bears uniforms facing off against football players in Philadelphia Eagles uniforms Friday night. I don’t care if they were third-stringers, fourth-stringers or Staley the mascot’s love children. Not after what we’ve been through this summer.
If you’ve paid any attention to either baseball team in town this year . . . well, don’t you feel silly? The action at Soldier Field was the antidote to a dull White Sox season and a Cubs season built, apparently, on Javy Baez’s First, Second and Third Comings.
If the Cubs are selling hope, the Bears are selling a much more potent strain of it, one based on actual performance at a high level. At least offensively.
Many of us came to the first preseason game ready to concentrate on the Bears’ defense, which was the team’s undoing last season and no picnic for those of us forced to watch it.
Here’s a sentence that couldn’t be written in 2013: Pressure by Willie Young and Lamarr Houston led to Ryan Mundy’s first-quarter interception against the Eagles. Those are three players who weren’t on the Bears’ roster last season. Come to think of it, the notion of defensive pressure wasn’t around last season, either. A little later in the Bears’ 34-28 victory, Houston even made a tackle while flat on his back. Imagine how it all might look when Jared Allen, who didn’t play Friday, suits up.
‘‘We have depth; we have guys that can provide changeups,’’ Allen said after the game. ‘‘We have a solid D-line. It’s great on paper, but you’ve got to put the work in. That’s all we’ve been doing.’’
When Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis picked off a pass in the first quarter, it meant that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had thrown as many interceptions in the game as he had all last season. Meaningless to him, maybe, but not meaningless here.
‘‘The defensive line did a good job of getting after the passer,’’ Mundy said. ‘‘[Foles] never really seemed comfortable when we were out there. It always seemed like he was stepping up, going to the second and third option.’’
The Bears’ first-string defense looked good in limited action. We didn’t see free-range running backs in the secondary, the way we did so often last season. Too small a sample size to get worked up about anything? Maybe in your even-keeled world. In my knee-jerk universe, defensive end-turned-linebacker Shea McClellin might want to learn to how to shed a block. See? I’m in midseason form.
I’m sorry if I’m being gushy. The combination of football and a few decent defensive plays has made me giddy. I must be undergoing a ‘‘transformational process,’’ as Bears coach Marc Trestman might put it. By the way, the Bears have a player named Tress Way, which I thought was the team’s philosophy, not a punter.
There was one buzz kill. Actually, multiple buzz kills: Officials were throwing their freak flags all night, which is great only if you like penalties. There were eight in the first quarter alone, 13 by halftime and 23 for the game. No one should be as intimate with referee Ron Torbert as the viewing audience was Friday. All the yellow was harshing my mellow.
By midseason, we might not remember who the heck Zach Miller is, but we found out that (a) he is good enough to catch two touchdown passes in a preseason game and that (b) he’s from Wahoo, Nebraska. Now you know.
There were a few smaller offensive highlights from the starters, including a one-handed catch by Brandon Marshall off a pass from his personal MVP, Jay Cutler. Matt Forte took out the legs of an evil-minded pass rusher on a block, reminding everyone how valuable he is in other ways besides running the football.
Cutler played only two series, leaving us to the Jordan Palmer-Jimmy Clausen backup ‘‘battle.’’ Clausen hit wide receiver Chris Williams on a 73-yard touchdown play in the third quarter, and the portion of Chicago that lives for this stuff immediately cut Palmer.
The Bears gave up a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and somebody probably got himself cut on that play alone. The NFL is a cold, beautiful world.
This is how desperate the city was for any non-baseball pursuits: Starters Martellus Bennett, Kyle Long, Tim Jennings, Jordan Mills and Allen didn’t play, and it didn’t matter.
On a lovely night in Chicago, football was back. And it was good.