Panic hasn’t set in yet for the Bears
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org September 29, 2011 10:00PM
Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense have not impressed early on against some good teams. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: November 15, 2011 8:42AM
About a half-hour after last Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, four veteran defensive linemen huddled together in a corner of the Bears’ locker room at Soldier Field for at least 10 minutes.
Most players quickly showered, changed and departed the stadium, but Julius Peppers, Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina lingered, a few of them covered with only a towel.
“Just talking about the game,” Peppers vaguely said. “Just talking about the game.”
Later, Idonije didn’t shed much more light, except to say that they were discussing the problem.
“We know who we are,” Idonije said. “Now let’s go and get better.”
Leadership has been a popular point of emphasis — particularly outside of Halas Hall — since Olin Kreutz wasn’t re-signed during training camp. To a man, from coaches to players, members of the organization were adamant there were plenty of leaders on this team.
We’ll soon find out.
The Bears acknowledged how unkind the schedule would be to open the 2011 season, facing three NFC playoff teams.
But they’re 1-2, and they’re a mess.
Over the last five quarters, the offense looks as inept as it did early in 2010. In all three games, the defense has surrendered 100 or more rushing yards and allowed nine plays of 20 or more yards, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Devery Henderson. And the usually brilliant special teams have looked surprisingly average.
Consequently, some consider the game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers a must-win.
“Is there urgency? Is this a big game for us? Yes,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We want to finish this first quarter at 2-2. NFC, home game. There are a lot of reasons.
“But you can start with us needing a win. We haven’t played well the last couple of weeks.”
Like last season, the Bears haven’t pointed fingers.
When given an opportunity, the coaches and players have accepted responsibility for their failings.
Besides, there’s plenty to fix: After three games, there isn’t a receiver who has double-digit catches, quarterback Jay Cutler has completed only 54 percent of his passes, the defense isn’t applying consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and players across the board are committing too many penalties.
Former Super Bowl champion coach Brian Billick said the Bears’ offense isn’t in shambles and shouldn’t panic.
“They are out of sync,” said Billick, a Fox analyst who will call the game Sunday at Soldier Field. “That sounds simplistic. But they recognize what they need to do. You can see in the comments. They know they have to run the ball more.”
Billick noted that the offense is at or near the bottom in key categories such as rushing attempts and three-and-outs.
“That’s a tough combination,” he said. “They don’t want to be there, and they know they can’t win being there.”
But Billick added that running for the sake of running isn’t the answer, either, pointing to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday. With a 20-0 lead in the second half, the Vikings ran the ball several times on first down but didn’t gain much ground.
“You can’t do that,” Billick said. “Last year, interestingly, [the Bears] threw for  yards. But they ran very, very well.”
Billick, though, warned that this “is a different Carolina team and a different scheme.”
Although he’s a native of North Carolina and he started his career with the Panthers, Peppers wasn’t too interested in reminiscing about his tenure there.
“There’s nothing really special about it anymore,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a must-win this early. But it’s a really important game for us to win.”
Just as they were overlooked heading into the season — projected by virtually no one to repeat as NFC North champs — the Bears aren’t fazed about the doom and gloom they hear about their team outside of Halas Hall.
“It will show the character of the men on this team,” Idonije said. “We really shot ourselves in the foot. We played some good teams, absolutely.
“But have they come out and physically abused us? No. We made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes. Real character is when you put yourself in a hole and you dig and you climb out of it.”
Idonije and his teammates will have a chance to do just that as they prepare for another crucial stretch of games.
Before heading to London on Oct. 23 to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before their bye weekend, the Bears play three teams that didn’t reach the postseason in 2010. Yet all three are dangerous, most notably the 3-0 Detroit Lions.
“There’s a lot of football left,” Cutler said.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen. I don’t think we need to start panicking quite yet.”