7:07 PM CST, December 23, 2012
What we learned in Arizona on Sunday was the Chicago Bears are back to beating stiffs and the defense is back to scoring.
I don’t know what the Cardinals do for a living, but playing football isn’t it.
It’s true the Bears could only beat the team in front of them to retain any postseason hope, and they did. But it was hardly a team.
In fact, if the Cardinals were an actual NFL-caliber team, the Bears might’ve been eliminated from the postseason pretty quickly. It was a shame either team had to win this game.
The game plan for the Bears' offense should’ve been simple, especially after quarterback Jay Cutler started heaving the ball all over the yard -- high, wide, and omigod.
The Cardinals led the league in sacks and interceptions, but they couldn’t stop the run, so, again, the game plan should’ve been simple, especially with Matt Forte averaging 8-point-something-ridiculous per carry. It should’ve been Forte, Forte, Forte, ballgame.
But no. The play-calling remained nearly as big a problem as Cutler’s misses. It was as if the offense was trying to set up the punt the way John Shoop used to.
Cutler eventually found a rhythm and found someone other than Brandon Marshall. In trying to redeem a miserable offensive first half with a slick two-minute drill, Cutler hit Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett and Forte before finding Marshall wide open in the end zone for a 21-6 halftime lead.
But the Bears needed to show better. A playoff team you can believe in would’ve shown better. A playoff offense, anyway.
The Bears' defense showed up every which way, running out one quarterback and running down another.
The Cardinals started a quarterback who hadn’t thrown a TD pass all season, but Ryan Lindley did throw one to Charles Tillman early in the third quarter.
Tillman’s return was the defense’s second score of the day after Zack Bowman fell on Beanie Wells’ self-inflicted fumble in the end zone to put the Bears ahead 7-0. Tillman’s return also ended Lindley’s awful game, bringing on some guy named Brian Hoyer who had been with the Cardinals for about 30 minutes.
The Bears defense smothered what passes for an Arizona running game and dared Your Name Here to beat them through the air. Good luck getting odds on that bet.
So, if the Bears could get the Cardinals again next week and get them every game in the playoffs, this could be a thing.
But alas, the Bears will have to face a quarterback who might indeed beat them when they get Matthew Stafford in Detroit next Sunday. That means they also get Calvin Johnson -- the record-setting Calvin Johnson.
The Bears' defense can handle it. Or, at least the defense handled it spectacularly well earlier this season.
The bigger question is, can the offense handle anything, even a dumb and dirty Detroit defense?
Starting with Cutler, the offense rarely looked big-time in Arizona. I don’t know who could come away with confidence that this offense is playoff-quality, if the Bears even get that far.
Worse, the Bears lost Forte to an ankle injury on the second play of the second half. He left with 88 yards on 12 carries for a 7.3 average and a score on a short-yardage run. Yes, Matt Forte scored in short yardage.
But when you see that Forte was replaced by Armando Allen and Kahlil Bell, then Forte also left the Bears without the threat of a balanced offense.
Not that the Bears figured out how to make Forte a consistent contributor before this, but at least he was someone opponents had to account for.
Now, though, if Forte can’t go against Detroit, the Bears' playoff hopes would appear to devolve into all Cutler, all the time. When the season began, I would’ve loved that idea. Now, I’m afraid of it.
Cutler started 1-for-11 on Sunday, then hit 10 of 11, then missed on the next three, then, well, you get the idea.
The Bears pay Cutler big money to assume a big responsibility, but he hasn’t delivered with any consistency. The offense hasn’t delivered with any consistency. And that was with Forte.
Maybe Forte will be able to play. Maybe the offense will find a rhythm early. Maybe Cutler will look sharp and decisive from the start.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. After 15 games, you’d think the Bears would’ve given us more than maybe.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC