With eleven games in the books and five to go, the Chicago Bears and their 8-3 record are finally getting some love. Granted, we’ve seen some low lows and endured enough doubt and anxiety to inflate the Goodyear blimp but, at the end of the day, a .737 winning percentage speaks for itself.
While everyone else is looking ahead to this weekend’s game against the lowly Detroit Lions (who do have two wins, by the way), let’s glance back in our rearview mirror. Conveniently, we’ll ignore the wreckage by the side of the road that is, say, the sackfest at the hands of the New York Giants on Oct. 3 or the back-to-back losses to end that month. No, let’s focus on the positive. In no particular order, here are our Top Five Bears games of the season (thus far):
1. Sunday, Sept. 12; Bears 19, Lions 14
Can a single play define a season? No, probably not. And Calvin Johnson’s infamous catch in the Lions end zone during the final seconds of this game shouldn’t define the 2010-11 Bears (the Lions, maybe). But the controversial ruling that kept the score in Chicago’s favor and ushered in an Opening Day win may have been a pivotal moment in a season that has seemingly teetered on disaster throughout.
The Lions are a (relatively) better team this year than they were last. But, unfortunately for the good fans of Detroit, they remain a squad that must be done away with by any team with legitimate postseason aspirations. Had Johnson gotten away with that catch, the Bears would’ve only affirmed all of the doubters who grew louder and louder during their 0-4 preseason. Instead, the refs' dutiful call granted the team a reprieve of sorts to gather themselves and head to the following game against the Dallas Cowboys (speaking of lowly), in which the Bears gave us a loud, bold hint of good things to come.
2. Monday, Sept. 27; Bears 20, Packers 17
What, you thought a win over the Green Bay Packers wouldn’t make the list? Granted, it wasn’t the prettiest victory in team history. In fact, many observers
noted ranted afterward that this wasn’t so much a Bears win as a Green Bay giveaway. They referred, of course, to such late-game high jinks as a helmet-on-helmet hit by Frank Zombo against Jay Cutler that negated a Packers pick. There was also a late hit by Nick Collins on Matt Forte that put the ball on the Green Bay 29, setting things up quite nicely for Robbie Gould to kick a game-tying field goal.
Even Cutler admitted afterward, "I thought we were out of sync," and "We didn’t play our best game and we won." But we’d suggest that we were already seeing glimpses of a defense that has gone on to become one of the NFL’s best. The Bears held the Packers to only 63 yards rushing and middle linebacker Brian Uhrlacher forced a key fumble. Anytime you beat a fierce divisional rival it’s a good thing. This game also made the Bears 3-0, creating a nice cushion for some of the tough times to come.
3. Sunday, Oct. 31; Bears 0, Opponent 0
Uh, dude, that’s a bye week. How can a bye week be one of the top five games of the season so far? Well, forgive the pun, but bear with me.
In the days before and after this particular, given Sunday, what happened off the field may have been one of the most important and overlooked aspects of the 2010-11 Bears to date. This is the week in which Lovie and his coaching staff reconfigured the offensive scheme, creating more balance in the team’s pass/run ratio as well as adding more "quick pass" plays and play action. They also cut down on the number of blocking schemes used. Doing so solidified the O-line, which had been much-maligned up to that point.
We saw the benefits of the team’s reconfiguration the very next week in the Bears' 22-19 win over the Buffalo Bills. Granted, the Bills weren’t exactly the most formidable of foes. But the game took place on foreign soil — literally — and the Bills aren’t quite as bad as their record would indicate. They’ve won two games since.
4. Sunday, Nov. 14; Bears 27, Vikings 13
This game had more plot lines than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Two teams competing for their division, for starters — though the Vikings, heavily favored heading into the season, were already two games under .500 at that point. Randy Moss had been released by Minnesota just a week or two previously. Now-fired head coach Brad Childress’s job was already in question. Then there’s Brett Favre, of course. He was making yet another post-post-post-retirement start (would he survive?!), and news of his alleged sexting escapade (sextescapade?) was still fresh in the minds of just about everyone — though "fresh" probably isn’t the right word to use there.
On the Bears front, Jay Cutler was still reportedly dating Kristin Cavallari and the team was wearing cool retro uniforms!
This was a game in which our guys really needed to build on their reconfigured success against the Bills a week before. And they did. The defense took another step forward, snagging three Favre attempted passes and holding star running back Adrian Peterson to 51 yards rushing. Offensively, their more balanced attack really paid dividends. Cutler threw three TDs and 237 yards total while Devin Hester continued his
slow march quick sprint to the Hall of Fame with two big returns.
Honorable mention:The Bears’ 16-0 shutout of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday, Nov. 18. Yeah, the fish were hurt, but some odds makers were still picking Miami to win at home on this oddly scheduled game. Didn’t happen. And any thoughts that Chicago’s defense was anything but tenacious and "for real" were laid to rest.
5. Sunday, Nov. 28; Bears 31, Eagles 26
It seemed so long ago. Fine, maybe we’re still high off a victory that occurred only a couple days previous, but this past Sunday’s game sure seemed like a statement. The Philadelphia Eagles had won three straight heading into the match-up. And their quarterback Michael Vick was a national story. His comeback from a December 2007 dog-fighting conviction and consequential 23-month prison term made for great water-cooler discussion and debate. And it didn’t hurt that his impressive athleticism was igniting highlight reels on TVs and computer screens across the country.
The Bears could’ve bowed to this momentum. They could’ve let Vick and his back story and his impressive arm and propulsive legs get the better of them. Instead, our defense snagged the first interception Vick has thrown since 2006 and sacked him four times. Give the guy some credit, he still threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns, including a rather unnerving fourth quarter TD that was of the too-little-too-late variety, but was still, y’know, unnerving.
Above all, this was a game in which everything seemed to click. Suddenly, no one is questioning Jay Cutler’s approach — not after he tied his career high with four touchdown passes — and very few are second-guessing the stability of the O-line. The defense, as mentioned, is stellar. In short, things are looking up heading into a rematch with the Lions this Sunday. Safety Chris Harris probably summed things up best when, after the game, he said, ""The doubters aren’t in this locker room playing football."
Honorable mention: The Atlanta Falcons 20-17 win over the Packers earlier that day. Now that was a great game, too.
Acknowledgments: This week's Top Five couldn't have been written without the help of our Bears contributor, Don Hamel. Thanks, Don!