More than anything else, football is a game of attrition. Statistically improbable good fortune in the injury category can carry a team to the playoffs --see, Bears 2010 season--, while snake-bitten injury reports can rapidly unfurl a promising playoff run before it gets going --see, Bears 2011 season. So far this season the Bears have had about average "luck" with injuries. Matt Forte goes down for a few weeks, Michael Bush is inserted and everything remains disco. Jay Cutler gets his soft, soggy brain concussed? Enter Jason Campbell. So how will Campbell and the Bears react on a Monday Nighter against a vicious San Francisco defense? The doomsayers in the peanut gallery are already foretelling a terrible Hainie-esque 2011 redux, but fret not, Campbell is no Caleb and let's remember that this scenario is EXACTLY what Jason Campbell was brought in for during the offseason. Mind you, Jason Campbell won't be perfect, the 49ers defense is leagues beyond what he's seen, save for the second half of the Houston game. But the Bears defense is no bunch of slouches either and San Francisco has their own concussed quarterback and his backup to worry about.
So what will Monday's bash in the Bay Area bring? Probably relatively sloppy quarterback play and a lot of handoffs. Most telling for the Bears' fortunes will be the line play. In the rain on Sunday night against Houston's bruising o-line and equally nasty d-line, the Bears collection of "big and uglies" got pushed and bullied around. Houston is definitely a Super Bowl contender and, lo!, the 49ers are too and are armed with just as nasty a roster of men in the trenches. The Bears all season have been lumped in the same rare air of "Super Bowl contenders" and playoff games are, more often than not, won by the team with the better, more aggressive, "push you 'til you stay down," offensive and defensive lines. Chicago can get all the wins they want against the Jacksonvilles and Tennessees of the NFL, but for them to honestly remain in the altitude of Super Bowl, they're going to have to push back against another hulking bully in the form of San Francisco. Following the Monday Nighter, Chicago's schedule only gets relatively "easier" against a schedule of Minnesota, Seattle, Minnesota, teams with, surprise!, very talented lineman who the Bears will have to line up and dismiss. With so much of the focus on Jason Campbell's immersion into the spotlight, the frequent and familiar betrayal of a crumbling offensive or defensive line against a more aggressive opponent could be the difference between a win or a loss. Time for the Bears "uglies" to draw a line in the sand.
"[I]f you don't have a quarterback it doesn't matter who you have out there. You can bring Jerry Rice back in his prime and he's not going to be effective."
"Jason Campbell is more than capable. I think he came in and did an amazing job and had control of the offense. Really, got us into some good situations, made some great checks. Again, I think the guys around him need to step up, myself included. We let him down and the team, that won’t happen again."
I very vividly recall that magical year. Being five years old and singing the Superbowl Shuffle on the bus on the way home from school. For Christmas, my brother and I got Bears championship t-shirts, and for the life of me I now wonder if those weren't printed and distributed before the Superbowl was even played. It was a happy time in the Chi. And, oh yeah, 1985 was also the last time the Chicago Bears won at Candlestick Park.
Granted they are out of division and thus a less frequent opponent, but based on how much the 49ers sucked in the 2000's, being 0 for the last 18 years in San Francisco is a pretty shocking stat for those that root for the navy and orange.
No matter the outcome tonight, the winner will come away with an asterisk - or as I like to call it, scoreboard herpes - as two of the league's best teams are both (reportedly) without their respective starting quarterbacks. I suppose the fact that the Bears have been preparing Campbell to be the starter all week helps their cause, as Alex Smith still hasn't been ruled out officially, mere hours before the game. But either way this is going to be a test of the line of scrimmage, in who can break that one big play, in who can make less mistakes. It is very much the kind of game the Bears have won with regularity in the Lovie era, but the 49ers are the one team that can go toe-to-toe in that regard. Sucky quarterbacks are nothing new in these parts.
It would be quite beautiful, and ratings-friendly, to frame this game as the full circle maneuver the Bears need to return to the glory of 1985. It beats the hell out of calling it a meaningless test of backup quarterbacks against completely dominant defenses. Either way, despite a fantastic first half of the season, with the Packers once again nipping at their heels Chicago needs to break its Candlestick curse under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
Bears 23 - 49ers 17