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Are The Bears Who We Thought They Were?

The Bears may have started 3-0... but they weren't that good, and now may have two injured quarterbacks.

All of you, I am sure, remember this Dennis Green tirade after the Bears came from behind to beat the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 16, 2006. Go ahead, watch it again -- it's always good for some laughs (Green is now coaching the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League):

 

No one is going to "crown the Bears' ass" after their pathetic 17-3 loss to the Giants last night, in which they set a franchise record for most sacks allowed and let Jay Cutler get thrown around like a rag doll. Cutler left the game at halftime with a concussion; with the new NFL focus on caution surrounding head injuries, who knows whether Cutler will be able to return next week? Backup Todd Collins was also shaken up during last night's game, forcing the Bears to play third-stringer Caleb Hanie.

Who's next? Does anyone have Erik Kramer's number? Steve Fuller's? Bob Avellini's?

Those thoughts are too horrible to contemplate. But are the Bears who we thought they were?

The answer to that question, if you can climb down off the wave of optimism you had after they started the season 3-0, is probably "yes", as long as "who we thought they were" was a .500-level team. The Bears weren't going to go winless this year -- losing four games in the preseason isn't reflective of regular season play because of the way personnel is used and the fact that no one wants to hit too hard in preseason games lest anyone suffer a season-ending injury in a game that doesn't count. This is one reason the NFL wants to add two regular season games, since they are already charging regular season prices for meaningless exhibitions and fans are getting restless about that. One suggestion that's been made to avoid more injuries if they do this is to have an 18-game season where every player would have to be ineligible for two games. That would protect the integrity of the 16-game season record books -- since no one would play more than 16 games -- and it would also get more players playing time. Every team would need a game-ready backup quarterback, since you'd need someone available to start at least two games in this system.

Which brings us back to this year's Bears. Is Todd Collins really a player who you could count on in that kind of system? Now in his 12th season, Collins has started only 20 games, only three since 1997. This system would mean that teams would have to groom more than one quarterback ready to play and in the case of a game like last night's, at least under such a system you'd have someone who didn't have to shake off tons of rust. Since he was the primary starting quarterback for the Bills in 1997, Collins played in only 21 games between 2001 and 2009.

Beyond that problem for the Bears -- if Cutler is out for any length of time -- were they really 3-0 good? I'd say no. The Bears beat a pretty bad Lions team only because of a bizarre call at the end of the game and defeated the Packers (who barely beat that same Lions team) primarily because Green Bay spent the entire evening beating themselves, with 18 penalties. The Bears were very, very lucky not to go into last night's game at 1-2 -- and despite the mediocrity of some of the upcoming opponents, with the offensive line playing as poorly as it did last night and the uncertain QB situation, the Bears aren't a lock to win any upcoming game.

Then there's Cutler himself. The Bears traded for him because coach Lovie Smith and GM Jerry Angelo were enamored with his arm strength. But Cutler seems unsure of himself on the field at times and in public, he gives off the aura of a man who'd rather be sitting in a dental chair having all his teeth pulled instead of answering reporters' questions. Cutler doesn't have a leader vibe about him. For all his flaws, Kyle Orton was -- and is -- a better player, and a winner (29-19 as a starting QB; Cutler is 24-29).

And for those of you who said "worst game ever" during or after last night's fiasco -- and let's be honest, the Giants didn't play very well, either -- you're either under 30 or have very short memories. You don't remember the Bears from 1969-75, the most horrific era in Bears history. Their combined record for those seven seasons was 28-69-1, and they couldn't even do losing right -- in 1969, they went 1-13, with their only win being over the 1-13 Steelers. In those days they broke draft position ties with coin flips. The Bears lost the flip and the Steelers picked Terry Bradshaw.

In that era, the Bears lost games 46-6, 40-7, 34-0 and 42-0, had a running back lead the team with 475 yards (in 1974) and for two seasons -- 1973 and 1974 -- had a placekicker, Mirro Roder, who the Bears signed after a tryout while he was working as a bricklayer, after emigrating from Czechoslovakia and playing amateur soccer in the Chicago area. He wound up missing almost half his field goal attempts and became the first kicker in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history -- where he missed all three FG's he attempted and was released. Things didn't start to get better until Walter Payton showed up and Jack Pardee -- the first Bears coach hired from outside the organization -- came in as coach.

No way the 2010 season gets that bad. But if you made Super Bowl reservations after the 3-0 start, maybe you should think about canceling them.