Optimism if a fragile thing, a lesson the Chicago Bears and their fans learned the hard way last Thursday at Lambeau Field. The Bears' Super Bowl aspirations were already very real even before the Week 1 touchdown parade against the porous Indianapolis Colts, but Week 2 brought heavy doses of realism and tempered expectations, if not full-on chest tightness.
Sports fandom is often described as a roller coaster ride, a timeworn if true analogy for how quickly extreme highs can be followed by bottomless lows. Chicago sports fans are well-versed with how these things work, but the way this Bears season has gone from ecstasy to despair in just two short weeks feels more exaggerated than ever before. For example:
After Week 1: Life is so much better when the Bears are good. The world is in the palm of our hand. "19-0", "Super Bears", ect. With this offense, no matter the deficit, the Bears are never out of a game. Brandon Marshall might lead the league in receptions. Why did it take us *three years* to give Jay Cutler some better weapons? Sky's the limit for him now that he has real receivers. There's no way he doesn't make the Pro Bowl, right? The defense hasn't forgoten how to force turnovers and the offense has learned to score points. The offensive line looked better as the game went on, and the defensive line looked inspired. This is going to be a fun season.
After Week 2: This season sucks. How is this football? Why did Phil Emery ignore the very obvious problems on the offensive line? When will Cutler learn? The quarterback is supposed to be the leader of a football team, and Cutler is a terrible leader. Cutler is going to get killed if he doesn't kill J'Marcus Webb first. Can the Bears win with such a moody, petulant quarterback? Cutler really isn't much different than Rex Grossman, if you think about it. Whoops, there goes Matt Forte, out with an ankle sprain. What happened to our normally air-tight special teams? This is the worst game ever, I hate everything.
Fans have an inclination to deem what they're viewing in the present as important and unparalleled. Truth be told, Thursday's debacle in Green Bay wasn't the "worst game ever". There have probably been 10 Bears games over the last five years just as hard to watch. Who remembers Cutler getting concussed against the Giants two years ago after being sacked nine times in the first half? Who remembers the Week 5 abomination in Detroit against the Lions last season? What about the Kyle Orton-led comeback in Atlanta before an ill-timed squib kick gave the Falcons enough clock to get in position for the game-winning field goal? In the humble estimation of this writer, nothing will ever top the NFC Championship Game at home against the Packers in January of 2011. Real physical and emotional wounds, from that one.
The point: as Grantland's Bill Barnwell said of Cutler just after he burned all of his goodwill vs. the Packers, every game doesn't have to be a referendum on his true worth. Same goes for the Bears as a whole. The NFL is a weird, wacky league, and you only need to look at how many people were knocked out of your Survivor League when the Cardinals beat the Patriots last Sunday as proof. Parity reigns supreme, the only safe bet is the unpredictable.
Did the Bears look like garbage against Green Bay? Of course. But that doesn't mean they won't play well against a talented opponent the rest of the season. This team is still formidable. They can still accomplish all of the lofty things we spent the summer daydreaming about.
A home game vs. the Rams offers a nice oasis. St. Louis has won 13 games over the last five seasons, the lowest total in the NFL. St. Louis is 1-1 this season, and I will admit: they've looked pretty impressive. But all things considered, the Bears can thank the schedule makers for a relative cupcake following the crimes against humanity that occurred in Green Bay.
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What's St. Louis got?
The Rams put up a fight against a 10-win Detroit team in Week 1 at home before ultimately falling on a late Matthew Stafford touchdown pass. The Rams' defense looked very potent in the game, picking off Stafford three times. I'm sure Lovie Smith got a little choked up watching the game film.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was solid in Week 1 (17-for-25 with 198 yards and one touchdown), but he really shined in Week 2. With receiver Danny Amendola leading the way with 15 catches for 160 yards, Bradford enjoyed what was likely the best game of his pro career: 310 yards and three touchdowns against one pick while completing 74 percent of his passes. The Rams ran the ball effectively, did well to slow down dynamic Redskins rookie RGIII and converted over half of their third downs. You can't quite say we've officially ushered in a new era of Rams football just yet, but some things are indisputable:
- Jeff Fisher is a great coach and a huge upgrade over Steve Spagnuolo.
- After a highly underwhelming sophomore season, Bradford seems to have turned a corner.
- St. Louis' pass rush (led by defensive end Chris Long) and secondary is better than it's recognized as nationally.
Both the Bears and Rams will likely be without their starting running backs, though nothing is set in stone just yet.
Jackson (groin) missed practice time this week, as did Turner (ankle), safety Matt Daniels (hamstring) and fullback Brit Miller (thigh). Saffold (sprained knee), Wells (broken foot) and defensive tackles Michael Brockers (ankle) and Matthew Conrath (knee) remained on the shelf this week. Watkins (ankle) went on injured reserve.
Running back Matt Forte (right ankle) remained sidelined and is unlikely to play Sunday. Defensive end Julius Peppers (foot) returned to practice. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (coach's decision) was held out. He practiced Monday and Wednesday.