By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
This past weekend was certainly one in which we as sports fans and media got to familiarize ourselves with what’s beef.
Incidents on the court at the Staples Center Saturday night and on the field at Philadelphia Sunday afternoon could threaten to make a run-of-the-mill game like the Chicago Bears hosting the New England Patriots seem quaint, another paint-by-numbers contest to help the majority of CBS’s NFL audience through the first half of this week’s action.
There’s a lot to be said for the fight action, though in neither case the long-held animosity between the principals did anything to heighten the action in the game — Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo’s brawl was more icing on a great game already provided by the Rockets and Lakers while Eric Reid’s continued philosophical beef with Malcolm Jenkins may be more productively set in a forum inspired by Frantz Fanon instead of a setting where Zach Ertz can clumsily lend himself to not help physically.
The upset win Carolina put together by afternoon’s end seemed more inspired by Cam Newton’s excellent play, though the Eagles have to feel particularly demoralized after Reid scraping a couple of the birds in one sitting served as prelude to a come-from-behind loss.
At a simple NFL contest like the Bears and Pats, though, clumsiness is much less compelling — it lead to a Cordarrelle Patterson fumble during a kick-off that provided some temporary faith that Sunday would be the Bears day. Eventually, the demerits came too fast and too much on the side of the Bears as they fell 1 yard short of a second-consecutive overtime effort in a 38-31 loss to the defending AFC champs.
New England rightfully came into this game as a favorite but they didn’t play like it for much of the time — the most actual resistance the Patriots’ defense offered to the Bears’ attack came with the game on the line in the last seconds, with Kevin White having brought down the longest catch of his Bears career off a hail mary throw by Mitchell Trubisky.
Once disregarded as a factor on this team, White was suddenly in a position to play a role of hero, but enough white shirts engulfed him as he crossed the one-yard marker with the goal line on his mind, those ruiners from the Boston area also obstructing the brilliant idea White had — as he shared later with the media — to hand the ball off to Taylor Gabriel who would freely cross into the end zone.
But no such delirious game-saving would happen this week, which on a level made this loss a bit less theatrical and endearing as the Miami loss, which was like some grand ancient opera translated into Spanish and reset in Little Havana.
Though many highlight plays existed in this one, even quite a few for the Bears, this game seemed more like a young team being put into place, much in the way that Tom Brady and Bill Belichek have mastered as they become more old and greedy, running the AFC with no remorse like the Duke brothers manipulating the lives of Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe.
Unlike in Trading Places, we still got to wait for the NFL’s Dukes to get their comeuppance (not even Patrick Mahomes has finished the job…yet), but it wasn’t for lack of trying from the Bears and our own puckish QB.
Money Making Mitch magically turned a half-way decent game (333 yards passing, 414 total yards and 2 TDs along with 2 INT) out of a horrible start where he only seemed to be able to make plays with his feet (team-high 81 yards on 6 carries).
In the end Trubisky was able to impress Brady, which should be enough to placate most of Bears Nation (guess what: it wont) in spite of some overlooked receivers and rough throws up the field. Trubisky, realistically, had another game that added to his progression though it didn’t add to the team’s progression, which you would hope would happen hand in hand.
The Bears in all wasted a “good-enough” performance from the offense with another horrible defensive showing and an even worst showing from the special teams. Objectively this was the worst game the Bears have played across the three phases of football but they were still 1 yard away from pressing the most intimidating team to face in the NFL to the limit.
And to that end, the Pats didn’t look too intimidating at all — after not even bringing the monster Gronk to Chicago, the Bears (specifically this week’s defensive MVP Bilal Nichols) took out lively rookie running back Sony Michel early in the game and kept Brady from looking like his normal G.O.A.T. self apart from when he connected with Josh Gordon.
But if ever a Bears game will be lost by special teams this year it is this one, with the two special teams TDs given up via Patterson return and Kyle Van Noy return of a blocked punt. Pretty much quiet for the first five games, the special teams made itself known this week and showed once again why that unit is better seen and not heard.
Once very much heard in the NFC playoff race, even leading the NFC North, the Bears are now back in pretender mode at 3-3 and in last place in the North after two weeks leading it. The Vikings look like themselves again, the Packers are maintaining and the Lions out-did the Bears by traveling to Miami and actually downing that soon-to-be 7-9 Dolphins team.
There’s a lot to be figured out still with these Bears — what to make of Khalil Mack’s health and his future usage should be chief among them — but if you’re down in the dumps in long-term sense and not merely in the immediate sense coming out of this game then you’re playing the long-suffering Bears fan role too dramatically.
At 3-3 this year’s Bears team is no better or worse than our expectations for this season, they’ve won 3 games against teams they should beat, lost two to teams essentially better than them and lost a freak show that happens at least once every season to every NFL team. That’s it.
Now, going forward in this weird month of AFC East games will be interesting. We could and should be looking at a 5-3 Bears team after Week 9 given that the horrible Bills and not much better Jets are next on the docket.
If the team is anything less than 4-4 at that time then maybe we can talk about the longest winter ever coming upon us, if they indeed are standing two games above .500 and matching their 2017 win total only half-way through this year then we’re not talking about if this season is a success, its only how much of a success will it be.
The Bears may not be bound for a worst-to-first jump but that’s no reason to figure that nothing can be made of this season.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR