Commentary

Gentlemen, start your engines

After another unwatchable Bears display, is there any good news? Yeah: Just two left

Updated: December 20, 2009, 10:15 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Gail BurtonJay Cutler extended his NFL lead in interceptions with three more Sunday against the Ravens, giving him 25 this season.

It's an easy joke, but it's true.

The Bears would have been better off not landing in Baltimore at all.

The Bears' plane, "Bear Force 6-10," couldn't take off as it planned to Friday because of the blizzard blanketing the East Coast, and the Bears were lucky to get out Saturday night.

The NFL moved the game back three hours to give Baltimore extra time to prepare, and by late Sunday afternoon, the field at M&T Bank Stadium was cleaner than Joe Flacco's jersey.

Meanwhile, the Ravens pounded their visitors like it was "The Day After Tomorrow."

Designated 2009 goat Jay Cutler threw his customary interceptions, three in all -- though only two were important -- but you can't blame this latest loss solely on his slumped shoulders. It was another total team meltdown. Another unwatchable game. Another loss.

The Chicago offense is an embarrassing unit, feckless and scoreless in the 31-7 loss to the Ravens. And the defense wasn't much better. You have to wonder what's going through the Bears' collective heads aside from "When can we go home?"

Earl Bennett's 49-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter was the only highlight of the day. The rest of this 5-9 team might have just stayed home.

Johnny Knox and Matt Forte fumbled on the Bears' side of the field during a disastrous third quarter in which the Ravens scored 17 points in the first seven minutes, turning a 14-7 halftime lead into a rout.

"Turnovers," embattled offensive coordinator Ron Turner said to reporters after the game on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. "Same story all year."

With good field position, Flacco completed 21 of 29 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns, and Ray Rice gained 87 yards on 16 carries.

The Ravens started their three scoring drives in the third quarter at their own 35-yard line and at the Bears' 29 and 23. They needed 14 plays, and just more than six minutes, to score three times. The Bears' defense couldn't pressure Flacco, tackle Rice or cover the Ravens' wide receivers. It wasn't as jarring as the offense, but Lovie Smith's defense deserves its share of the blame.

But let's look at the offense again. Here are the Bears' third-quarter possessions:

  • No plays (Knox fumble on kickoff return)
  • Two plays for minus-1 yard (fumble)
  • Three plays for minus-1 yard (punt)
  • Five plays for 22 yards (punt)
  • It should be noted that 20 of those yards in the last drive came on one pass to Bennett. Chicago had just two first downs in the second half.

    What can you say anymore? Baltimore has a top-10 defense, according to Football Outsiders, but this isn't 2000. You can score on this team. The Ravens' front four predictably chewed up the Bears' woeful offensive line and Cutler couldn't get the time to find anything downfield, if the receivers could even get open.

    Although Baltimore opened the game with two scoring drives, coming off Cutler interceptions, the Bears had two long drives in the first half that ended with Cutler's interception at the 19-yard line and a fourth-and-goal turnover on a slightly overthrown fade pass to Greg Olsen in the end zone.

    Cutler completed only 10 of 27 passes for 94 yards, and almost half of those yards came on two plays. He had a quarterback rating of 7.9, which was less than Flacco's average yards per attempt (8.1).

    Cutler's first pick was a telegraphed throw, and Domonique Foxworth jumped the route. The next possession, defensive end Jarret Johnson guessed the play and tipped a pass to Jason McKie in the flat.

    "The ball was deflected, and he caught it," Cutler said, preparing for a future in broadcasting. "It was a good play by him."

    Cutler has thrown 25 interceptions, the most by any quarterback since Brett Favre tossed 29 in 2005 and just six shy of tying Sid Luckman's team record. Cutler isn't going anywhere -- his agent, Bus Cook, should get the Nobel Prize for getting that $30 million extension done during the season -- but he should have some new bosses next season.

    Bears general manager Jerry Angelo didn't give Smith a vote of confidence in a pregame interview with a group of Chicago reporters, noting "he's our head football coach. What else is there to clarify?"

    "I'm not going to get into that,'' Angelo said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "At the end of the year we'll talk. I know we're not in the playoffs, and obviously didn't meet expectations. We did have some problems, and I want to make sure I focus on that first and foremost. I don't look at money in those times. It's not about money. It's about doing what we need to do to be a good football team.''

    To that, I say: Look in the mirror, Jerry. All those years of bad first-round picks have played a major role in the Bears' missing the playoffs the past three years. There are no hidden gems on the Bears' roster, no guys buried by an avalanche of talent. The Dan Bazuins and Michael Okwos have helped destroy the defense's depth, which was tested mightily by injuries. The decision during the season to trade a second-round pick for Gaines Adams, a steep price to pay, is another head-scratcher.

    The decisions to draft Chris Williams and sign Frank Omiyale and Orlando Pace have done more to retard Cutler's growth than Turner's failed wide receiver screen plays.

    No one thought the Bears could win this one. Even the reporters who "pick" the Bears to win every week, out of sympathy perhaps, unanimously went with Baltimore this week. They were dead right.

    Aesthetically, the Bears couldn't have done worse. In a season of ugly games, the Bears' second half Sunday ranks up there with the first halves of the games in Cincinnati and against Arizona for pure rancidness.

    Smith said he doesn't think about his job security, and with $11 million owed to him over the next two seasons, he shouldn't sweat it too much.

    "What's a vote of confidence at this time?" Smith asked reporters rhetorically after the game. "You let the season play out. I'm sure Jerry, like me, is disappointed in the play, disappointed in the record. I'm the head coach, and I'm sure a lot of people aren't knocking down the door, trying to pat me on the back."

    Smith noted in his postgame that you could tell one team was playing for the playoffs and the other was not.

    "Players get paid to make the plays," he said.

    "Every time we go out, we're always playing for something, even when we're not getting paid," he said. "If you're playing a pickup game, you play to win. You want the best effort always. We expect that every time."

    Expecting it is one thing, getting it out of the players is another. The Bears, to a man, back Smith. They like him and they respect him. But they're sure not showing the effort necessary for him to keep his job.

    There are some goofy commercials right now exclaiming that No. 6 is a lucky number in Chicago right now, pointing to Cutler's jersey number.

    No, the best number for the Bears right now is two. As in: Only two games left.

    And honestly, watching this team, you wonder how tough it will be for this team to beat the Detroit Lions in the season finale.

    Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

    Jon Greenberg

    Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
    Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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