If before the season started someone told me the Bears would be 1-1, I’d say that sounded about right. But I’d assume that meant a win at home against Buffalo and a loss in the new stadium against San Francisco.
But even after losing in Week 1 the way they did, I did not count the Bears out on Sunday night. Going into Sunday, it didn’t look good for us – Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall were still questionable on the injury report, the defense was coming off a pathetic performance against an underwhelming offense, and the 49ers were prepared to run all over us on the opening night of their new digs. The script sounded like it had already been written. And as the game started, it sounded pretty accurate. After a “just don’t ‘F’ it up” three-and-out drive, the Bears’ punt was blocked and the 49ers very quickly made it 7-0. Yup. I rushed home, avoided all social media and normal human interaction for this? The hazards of being a Bears fan.
The Bears were playing not to lose. Partially paranoid about making some of the bad mistakes they made last week, and partially because of their injured receivers, who, even though they played, looked slow and allowed the 49ers defense to focus on stopping the Bears’ short game. But despite the tough start, the defense was actually keeping them in the game.
The turning point came with under two minutes left in the first half, when Jay Cutler took a helmet cannon to the sternum that left me short of breath and clenching my chest. But there was something about Cutler’s face when he got up that struck me. I said out loud at that moment, “this is the turning point.” The next play was one of the most incredible catches I’ve ever seen: a one-handed grab by Brandon Marshall that looked like it could only have been made with “Stick ‘um” like Rashid “Hot Hands” Hanon from Little Giants.
From that hit to the sternum on, Cutler went 15-of-16 for 138 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. But it wasn’t just that. The Bears defense grew some cahones and ultimately kept the Bears in this game. Willie Young was outstanding; Chris Conte made an interception flying through the air; rookie Kyle Fuller had two picks; Jared Allen was pressuring the quarterback. This was the defense we hoped to see. Not great, but forcing turnovers and doing enough to keep them in the game.
Now, we cannot talk about this game without at least acknowledging the fact that the 49ers accumulated about 800 yards in penalties. That didn’t hurt. They got some big breaks. But a win is a win, the Bears are now tied at 1-1 with everyone else in the division, and it’s all about what you learn. I do think they learned some things this week. But I still have concerns. The special teams are atrocious on both ends; injuries are starting to get out of hand on both sides of the ball – most recently with the report that Charles Tillman will be out for the rest of the season. And the Bears still have a really difficult schedule ahead of them where the margin for error will be non-existent.
The Bears have an extra day off this week to recover, and then are back on the road and in primetime again on Monday night. I still don’t know what to expect from this team week to week. They have yet to establish an identity. But for at least the time being, they have given us all permission to take our collective heads out of our ovens.