In the midst of what will go down as a truly memorable day in NFL league-wide history, the Chicago Bears made sure Sunday wouldn’t be just another day for its fandom either.
Chicago’s team started its day making a shared silent statement of unity that likely suited some but that this writer felt was middling in the face of what our President provoked with his comments last Friday.
Maybe in its unification the team chose to make its greatest impact on the field against their opponent Pittsburgh, an overwhelming favorite coming in, but who left a windless yet Windy City 23-17 losers in overtime.
In spite of a couple bad to the bonehead mistakes and some glaring miss calls by the refs, the Bears both impressed and gave a sense of what could be with this performance. Elements of all three phases of the Bears’ game — offense, defense, special teams — jumped at our attention but so did an all-time goof-off by Marcus Cooper as well as quarterback Mike Glennon’s already defined limitations as a playmaker.
Nothing really changes about the Bears’ near future prospects after this one, it’s more of just a feel-good treat, the kind that comes so unexpectedly that it makes slogging through painful efforts like last week’s almost worth it.
This is where rooting for an NFL team can get you sentimentally. “On any given Sunday” and whatnot…the Bears are particular masters of the unexpected galvanizing victory, pulling you in just enough to keep you on the ship and keeping enough mind-altering punch on board to keep fans lubricated and ready for more good times.
You know this team is a Jordan Howard red zone drop in Week 1 away from being 2-1…with Mike “Sir Longneck” Glennon as quarterback.
Pass that punch, let’s keep the party going.
100 Yards & Runnin’
Excuse me as I double up on the washed Hip-Hop references (+1 for those of you who can place the subhead in proper context), but in opposition to what was once said by the Pharcyde, you can keep running away, especially if you’re relying on a pair of running backs like Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
A rejuvenated offensive lone, one welcoming back its best talent, Kyle Long, provided space that the Bears’ thunder and lightning running back duo chewed up with aggression, making plays all day and in spite of physical peril. 220 yards in total, led by Howard’s 138 on 23 carries, Cohen added 78 on 12 carries. Both runners averaged over 6 yards a carry, helping the team average over 5 a rush combined — that’s good running, that wins games.
Howard added to his lore in this city with pure grit, taking hard hits every down and suffering through a (torn?, separated?) shoulder that had to feel weaker each time he toted the rock. You couldn’t tell as he broke through open field in overtime to make the deciding score as Steeler defenders fell all around him, likely half relieved that a long hot day in Chicago was finally over with.
Lil’ Tarik Cohen dazzled in typical scrimmage plays to provide great change of pace from the bruiser Howard and made a fantastic run early the overtime period, as great a single play as the Bears have seen in recent years.
It comes up short in the annals to say, Devin Hester’s kickoff return in Super Bowl XLI, because while that was a score, and Cohen’s technically was a score, Cohen’s score mistakingly wasn’t recognized. The fact that the Bears scored right after was due to their determination to win Sunday, but credit also has to be given to how devastating a play Cohen’s runback was — how his allusiveness, his pretty toeing of the sideline and evasion of freeflung yellow and white blurs — provided the Steelers with the set-up blow for Howard’s knockout punch.
The refs inserted themselves and decided the game wouldn’t end via the Mighty Mite of the Midway, but things were decided at that point.
Reviled & Revived
Marcus Cooper (please forget the Sr.) will on some level always be remembered as a bonehead in Chicago.
Cooper may someday intercept a ball that wins the Bears the division, maybe even recover a fumble that takes them back to the Super Bowl, but no matter what good things he could do he’ll always be remembered for dropping the football willingly a yard prior to the end zone to end what was a really great special teams play, the blocking of a Pittsburgh field goal attempt at the end of the first half.
Instead of stamping a two touchdown deficit on the Steelers (21-7), the Bears merely carried a 17-7 halftime lead thankfully because of the unintentional downing of the ball at the 1, which led to a field goal at the buzzer.
Mr. Cooper winds up with a gaffe that would make Mark Curry jealous for its hilarity and thankfully for him it’s left at that. In so many other Bears games that moment would have been the crack in the firmament that led to a 2nd half collapse, but it didn’t, much in part to a visibly vigorous performance in his regular position at safety.
Cooper, along with a returning Prince Amukamara — playing much of the same role in bringing new energy to his unit as Kyle Long did to the offensive line — and an eye-opening Kyle Fuller, set the tone defensively as Chicago’s other backfield mirrored Howard and Cohen in effectiveness.
Pittsburgh throws the ball a lot, it has a deep receiving corps, including maybe the best receiver in the league and a quarterback who has no problem throwing 50 times in a game. Ben Roethlisburger threw 39 times and connected 22 times, so-so. Even more so-so, the 6 yards gained on average with the passes.
Only Antonio Brown, the all-world wideout, had a suitable game (10 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD) but he did so with constant harassment from Fuller, who matched him physically at every opportunity. Only two plays were made over 20 yards by Pittsburgh’s pass attack and Martavis Bryant, a typical threat, only made two catches for 30 yards despite being targeted 8 times.
In the running game the Bears leaned on an obvious strength to ensure victory but the pass defense did another thing that’s oh so important to winning — containing, even shutting down in some ways, the opponent’s most reliable strength.
Armed & Disarmed
Of course, I’d be remiss I didn’t offer some thought on the Bears and Steelers’ chosen ways to address and make a statement in the wake of Donald Trump’s crass addressing of past and present silent protests in the NFL, mostly done by kneeling during the National Anthem, which is played prior to every NFL game.
A dissection of why the anthem is now a supposed requirement of the NFL game experience (and major American sports in general, it should be added) will be done another time. It should be clear that the Steelers in mostly deciding to not take the field during the anthem proved that teams indeed do not have to take place in any spectacle of any kind of they don’t want to. Along with their statement (can’t call it a protest necessarily, according to Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin), Steelers tackle and active Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva paid reverence to the flag and the anthem as typical, just off the entrance to the field.
Some observers like ESPN’s Bomani Jones on Twitter saw Villanueva’s singling himself out as a possible undermining of his teammates and Tomlin’s authority. It was a bit problematic to me as well but I was more willing to let Villanueva live due to his obvious convictions as a member of the military and a man who has risked his body in war.
In general the Pittsburgh statement left me more enthused with them than what the Bears did. I can respect the Bears willingness to “stand as 1” and that certainly isn’t something I mind as a Bears fan, but I think the Bears in locking their arms together, a form of stance approved by Trump, came up limp and might as well just stood for the anthem as regular.
Going back to Colin Kaepernick and the sacrifice he made and the risk that has been taken on by others since like Eric Reid, Michael Bennett and others, the movement as established called on taking a knee at least, even just sitting on the bench works.
When taking stock of who did the locking of arms across the league it seems that that is a moderate statement made by people moderately invested in the real purpose of the protests to begin with — bringing to light the unequal treatment of black citizens under the law including no less than state sponsored murder via law enforcement.
It is clear that the Bears and teams like them were more protesting being unfairly treated by Trump than they are state sponsored murder. It provides more insight into why no Bears have previously taken the knee and why we can’t expect any to going forward.
Again, it is comforting on a competitive level to see the Bears move as 1, but is there not one individual on their roster who feels the urgency to show alignment with the greater community around them? An urgency to connect with they who call on their strength and platform to represent the strength we have to collect from ourselves to keep fighting police harassment and abuse and a President who is callous at best to anything even representing the cause of empowering people of color in America?
To see the Bears team come up short in this way and to hear the boos from the likely suburban and ex-urban crowd throughout Soldier Field that reigned on Pittsburgh I felt a distinct lack of connection with the type of Chicagoan I know myself to be.
The type of Chicagoan I mostly know are men and women imbibed with a distinct view of our country, colored by long established battles fought throughout our own communities regarding police abuse, economic and social alienation from the parts of our city — like Soldier Field and the skyline CBS opened and closed every segment with during the game — so often showed to the rest of the country while Trump and his kind treat the rest of our city like Baghdad and Aleppo’s worst baby come to life.
I can’t help but think that if one Bear came from the Chicago I know then that Bear would have kneeled Sunday, if no other day. A hero didn’t emerge at that time — guess that’s why they play the games.
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