Trouncing one of the NFL's worst teams doesn't clear anything up for the Bears
Give the Bears credit.
Not for Sunday's 30-6 victory over a team we were led to believe was Cleveland's varsity squad. But because almost to a man -- almost -- they admitted that this was no cause for any more celebration than a sheepish grin.
Even those players who chose the neutral "We'll have to wait to see the film" route appeared to be deliriously misguided.
Granted, you rarely see this type of reaction after a 24-point victory. But not until you are actually forced to watch the Cleveland Browns up close for what seemed like 13 or 14 hours can you fully appreciate just how bad they are.
So hollow was this victory, Bears players were actually less willing to talk about it than they were last week's 45-10 whitewash in Cincinnati.
"You're not going to come out smiling, 'Yeah, we won the game,' even though we're happy we won the game," explained Matt Forte, and he had his second-best rushing game of the season with 90 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, plus 31 receiving yards on three catches.
"When you know you can perform better than what you did, it's kind of bittersweet."
Whether the Bears can actually perform better is up for debate and obviously remains to be seen. That they must perform better was clear even to quarterback Jay Cutler, who had to be viewing everything else from a decidedly blurry perspective after getting mugged all afternoon by the NFL's worst defense.
Cutler, whose first words of his victory speech were "We've got a lot of work to do," and progressed to "We've gotta get better," stayed loyal to that theme even when he was asked where he was going for dinner and whether he was still spitting up blood.
"We're coming into the November and December months when you've got to start playing your best football to make a push for the playoffs," he said.
But even considering the Bears' playoff chances at this point has no point for a flawed team that is in serious danger of knocking out its quarterback if it continues along this route.
Sacked four times Sunday for minus-26 yards (15 sacks for minus-92 yards this season) and hit seven times, the Bears might consider selling tickets to Cutler's blind side if only to profit in some way from nearly getting him killed.
But just as glaring was the Bears' continuing problems inside the red zone, where they journeyed on six of their first 12 possessions. They settled for three Robbie Gould field goals on their first three trips, and were turned away on downs in the fourth quarter after a first-and-goal at the Cleveland 2-yard line.
"It's frustrating but not a whole lot more than a lot of other things that went on," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who also saw his unit convert just 6 of 16 third-down chances .
Orlando Pace, who was firmly in the "We'll have to wait to see the film" camp, lined up next to Josh Beekman on the left side instead of the beleaguered Frank Omiyale in the only lineup change on offense.
Beyond that, their options are fairly limited, other than maybe getting Desmond Clark into the game more often at tight end with Greg Olsen. But when you're talking about getting the backup tight end into the game to shore up blocking, it's a pretty good indication of how desperate the situation has become.
Right guard Roberto Garza called the line's struggles "part of football. It's part of finding that chemistry and going out there and getting it done on Sundays. Somehow we're not quite getting it."
Of course, it would hardly be fair not to credit the Bears' positives, namely five takeaways on defense, particularly since they either directly accounted for or led to 20 of the team's 30 points.
Most notable was Charles Tillman's fumble recovery and his 21-yard interception return for a touchdown, as well as the play of Danieal Manning, who laid out for an interception in the first quarter and forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter, leading to 10 Bears points.
"Just the language of the locker room and the vibes you were getting," said Manning, "guys were getting a little down that the turnovers weren't coming with the kind of guys we have. And then all of a sudden, boom, they come in bunches."
At the risk of being a killjoy, Derek Anderson, he of the 10.5 quarterback rating (zero in the first half), is the Browns' quarterback. The Browns also rushed for a combined 117 yards on 29 carries -- considerably better than their season average of 97 yards per game.
That said, Browns running back Jamal Lewis was so depressed after Sunday's game that he all but announced his retirement.
So it was a downer of a day for all: winners, losers, nearly everyone but Tommie Harris, who came back after last week's benching in Cincinnati, had two tackles, an almost sack (it doesn't count if you try to push the quarterback instead of tackling him) and was his usual playful self afterward.
"You can't make this game more than what it is," he said. "Don't get caught up in the media, the fanfare, it's still football. It's a fun game that we play. Sometimes, I'm talking about myself, you let a lot of stuff get in the way. I took a lot of stuff personally. I'm just that type of person.
"But for my teammates, I know I have to bring fun back into the locker room, get the crowd back into it. A lot of guys are looking for someone to do that, and we did it today, and we had a great game."
At least one person thought so.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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