If you look hard enough, not everything about the Bears' 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday night was as desolate as the surface level might suggest. The Bears' defense allowed only one touchdown to a very competent Houston offense. Chicago's offensive line didn't surrender a sack against a formidable pass rush. Despite a rash of costly turnovers, traumatic head injuries and rainy conditions that limited whatever quick-strike ability this offense harbors, the Bears still had a chance to tie the game on their final possession. This isn't quite the falling sky some would lead you to believe; if you think any less of the Bears' long-term viability after suffering their second defeat of the season, you're probably overreacting. Let's not get it twisted: Sunday night wasn't fun by any stretch. It was an unwelcome dose of reality to a fanbase beaming with confidence. But, more than anything, Bears-Texans amounts to an opportunity lost.
The Bears were robbed of a chance to defeat an elite team, robbed of a chance to cement their status as true Super Bowl contenders, robbed of a chance to keep the city's collective football-related swagger at a record high. This all happened the moment Jay Cutler took a vicious hit from Houston's Tim Dobbins in the second quarter, or maybe on the next play when the Bears' quarterback capped an 11-yard scramble for a first down with a head-first slide into the Texans' defense. We're past the point of questioning Jay Cutler's toughness, but it comes with a price. It's a scary one.
Cutler would go for six plays after the scramble before he was ruled out because of concussion symptoms. It's believed to be the sixth concussion of his career. The short-term losses are disappointing, as next week's highly anticipated matchup with the 49ers would now appear to be a battle between Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco starter Alex Smith also suffered a concussion this week).
Long-term? We know enough about the physical and psychological repercussions head trauma can bring to recognize how worrisome this is for Cutler's long-term health, not just as a quarterback but as a human being. Oh, Jay will be back out there, probably on Nov. 25 against the Vikings, maybe with his team sitting at 7-3. Thing is, now there's another layer. There's something larger at play every time J'Marcus Webb gets beat and Cutler gets crushed. If Cutler's fragile brain doesn't leave you with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, you might not actually be alive. We root for the laundry in sports, but there are people behind those facemasks. It's impossible not to worry about Jay Cutler.
Cutler wasn't the only Bear to leave the game with a concussion: promising rookie Shea McClellin did, too. It's another sobering reminder of how brutal this sport can be. Defensive players cry every week to "let the players play" and sportswriters blast commissioner Roger Goodell for his misplaced morality and underwhelming efforts to make the sport safer. Truth is, there likely isn't much anyone can do. We don't need another Dave Duerson or Junior Seau to know this sport is a gut-wrenching test of the viewer's empathy. Chicago wants nothing more than another Super Bowl, but is it really worth it if Cutler one day ends up like Jim McMahon? These are the questions the modern day football fan is faced with as concussion awareness reaches the mainstream.
Oh, but football. It would still go on in the pouring rain even after Cutler was sidelined, and it wasn't pretty. The Bears lost on Sunday because Jason Campbell was bad -- not Caleb Hanie/Craig Krenzel/Jonathan Quinn bad, but not good enough to score the single touchdown the Bears needed to tie the game. Such is life. Campbell was paid a handsome amount of money to insure Chicago against another Hanie situation, but his first appearance of the season, without any practice reps, didn't instill much confidence. He should be better next week when he gets the call to go against the 49ers, though San Francisco's tenacious defense have likely would have even confounded Cutler. With backup quarterbacks in tow on both sides, it would seem like Vegas can't make the "under" low enough.
Before the 49ers game takes over everyone's consciousness, though, let's not forget where the Bears went wrong vs. Houston. Maybe you can't glean too much from a game without Cutler, but there still remains some very real issues on this offense. I love Brandon Marshall, and so do you, but he had another costly touchdown drop in the first half on a perfectly thrown ball from Cutler. It was at least the third TD Marshall has dropped this year, and it was the closest Chicago came to the end zone all day.
Speaking of drops: don't be surprised if this team uses its first round draft pick on a pass catching tight end next April. Kellen Davis' blood is all over this loss thanks to his shaky hands' inability to a) catch the ball, or b) hold onto it after it's caught. There's also the issue of Mike Tice's playcalling, which simply has to improve if the Bears are going to solidify themselves among the league's elite.
The offense has to get better, but there's reason to believe it will. What Cutler's concussion really does is stunt that progress.
Next Monday's looming showdown with the 49ers now becomes discounted, just like the loss to the Texans. That's unfortunate because the Bears needed the test. There's still one more on the calendar, a December meeting with Green Bay that's sure to play a role in playoff seeding. Now that game might represent Bears' final chance to show this city what it has before the playoffs.
Still, it's hard to think about future matchups and X's and O's right now. America loves the NFL as much as it loves anything, but it's a sport that becomes harder to reconcile with by the week.