In the Wake of the News
11:25 PM CST, December 23, 2013
Before the 54-11 annihilation by the Eagles that really wasn't that close, Bears Chairman George McCaskey revealed the organizational mindset during an impromptu casual conversation.
"The next two weeks should be exciting for you guys,'' I told McCaskey.
"You mean the next six,'' he responded, smiling.
No, the thought of the Bears playing in Super Bowl XLVIII with a historically bad defense never crossed my mind. But never have the Bears needed McCaskey's kind of confidence that starts at the top more than now, after one of the franchise's most demoralizing defeats in years.
The Bears must replace the blank stares of shell-shocked players late Sunday night in the losing locker room with nods of approval. They must stop moping and start moving on toward the biggest regular-season game since the Bears lost the 2008 finale to the Texans with the playoffs on the line. They must recover mentally quickly enough to avoid losing a game and the season on the same night. They treated their trip to Philadelphia as if it didn't mean anything to them, so, in its ugly aftermath, it truly can't now.
Nobody outside Halas Hall in his right football mind would dare suggest this Bears team can make McCaskey's Super Bowl dream a reality. But making the playoffs — a reasonable expectation under the circumstances — would define Marc Trestman's first season as an unequivocal success.
It would make attempting the field goal on second down against the Vikings and leaving Jay Cutler in the game too long against the Lions easier to digest upon postseason reflection. It would go a long way toward building credibility for any current Bears players still judging Trestman or future free agents looking for reasons to sign. Interestingly, it would give the first-year head coach one fewer victory than Lovie Smith had in 2012 before getting fired, though Trestman need not apologize for anything if the Bears make the playoffs.
A playoff-clinching victory also should be what the Bears achieve by taking advantage of the factors in their favor. The Bears will host the equivalent of a playoff game at Soldier Field against a seven-victory Packers team that could be without its starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and best defensive player, Clay Matthews. An ankle sprain also might limit running back Eddie Lacy, which against the Bears likely means the difference between a 100- and 200-yard rushing game. Still, the Bears have every reason to think they can outscore a flawed Packers team, even if Rodgers returns after an eight-week layoff because of a broken left collarbone.
As awful as the Bears defense has been, the Packers have given up only one fewer point the last four games — 135 — and now Matthews reinjured his thumb. With both defenses giving up an average of nearly 34 points per game the last month, the slight advantage goes to the team playing at home. The 11-point, five-sack debacle represents the exception, not the rule, for one of the most explosive Bears offenses ever. Besides Rodgers, do the Packers have any offensive playmakers the Bears would prefer at their respective positions? For the first time since perhaps the Lynn Dickey era, the answer is no.
That places most of the pressure on Cutler, who will be as good as his protection. Cutler handles the Packers even worse than the occasional news conference — he is 1-7 as a Bear against their rival — yet remains the right man for the job despite Monday's predictable clamoring for Josh McCown. A big game with high stakes against a vulnerable defense and Cutler would be appreciated properly and celebrated as a quarterback worth keeping for the long term.
Even so, resist looking too far ahead this week. Based on feedback, all Bears fans want for Christmas is a dependable defense, a consistent quarterback and adequate special teams this roster hasn't produced. The Bears can find answers to those questions later. Now, all that matters is finding a way to win one football game seven days after looking incapable of beating anybody. Evaluating the big picture can wait until seeing what unfolds on the small screen during Fox's national broadcast.
Trestman established the right tone Monday by encouraging selective memory that, come to think of it, isn't a bad idea for everybody around the holidays.
"We have to have good amnesia,'' Trestman said.
That means forgetting a 43-point loss to the Eagles but remembering the third exhibition game last Aug. 23 when the Bears defense forced then-Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn into two interceptions on six pass attempts — the same guy who will start if Rodgers can't go.
That August experience ended Flynn's stint as the Raiders starter before it began. If the career backup plays Sunday, the Bears really have no excuse not to end his season — and make theirs.
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