7:08 PM CST, November 22, 2012
When the ribbon was cut on this NFL season in early September, nobody gave a second thought to the Bears' Week 12 assignment, Leslie Frazier's Vikings.
No, you don't dismiss any divisional opponent, especially one that possesses the threat of Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings were coming off a 3-13 season for the former Bears cornerback and gave no reason to be taken seriously. Peterson was returning from reconstructive knee surgery and quarterback Christian Ponder never has made opposing defenses quiver.
Defensively, the Vikings were expected to be exceedingly mortal. Only the Buccaneers allowed more points in the NFC in 2011. So, it was slow down pass rusher extraordinaire Jared Allen and pencil in a victory over another tomato can.
It was in Week 10 against the Texans — and last week against the 49ers in San Francisco — when the Bears were going to find that extra gear and stand toe to toe with the league's elite. Those games, before national audiences, were to be a coming out party for the Bears' new technicolor offense.
The reality is Sunday's date with the surprising 6-4 Vikings could wind up defining the season and, potentially, coach Lovie Smith's long-term future with the Bears.
A Vikings victory, regardless of what the division-leading Packers do Sunday night visiting the Giants, dumps the Bears into third place. If the Bears contain Peterson and muscle out a victory, coupled with a Packers loss, they are back on top of the division and memories of the nightmarish performances against the Texans and 49ers fade.
It's time to accept that the Bears will sink or swim based solely on their defense getting back to forcing turnovers and putting points on the board. As it did to pave the way to a 7-1 start.
An offense that was expected to erase decades of pedestrian results hasn't. After their 41 points scored Opening Day against Indianapolis (Jay Cutler's only 300-yard passing day this season), the Bears have reverted to playing a prevent offense.
Can a team win a Super Bowl when its best weapon is a set of brass knuckles? No, it can't.
Even the Ravens didn't, though some remember it that way, when they whacked the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. That team surrounded journeyman quarterback Trent Dilfer with excellence.
The Ravens had professional offensive tackles. The Bears don't.
The Ravens had a plow horse running back in Jamal Lewis. The Bears have Matt Forte, who once was a threat in the passing game before Mike Tice got his hands on the wheel.
Those Ravens were terrific on special teams, with Jermaine Lewis returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. The Bears have Devin Hester. Or should I say, the shell of Devin Hester.
It's noteworthy, too, that middle linebacker Ray Lewis was a puppy, just 25. Brian Urlacher is 34, and he he looked it Monday night in San Francisco.
Maybe the Bears' early defensive performances weren't as jaw-dropping as they appeared. It's entirely possible that the turnover harvest and Pick-6 outbreak were more of a statement about the opponents than the Bears defense.
We will know if Ponder authors a Colin Kaepernick-type performance in the biggest game of the year Sunday.
Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC