- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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So let's get this straight. With no evidence to support it and no examples of why we should believe it, the Bears' latest rationale is this:
Half a season remains, a lot of time left to play better football.
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Hope you enjoyed the show, be careful driving home.
That was the best they could come up with?
"They don't announce a winner after halftime," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "You have to come out and play the second half, and we're happy we get a chance to play San Francisco as quick as we do. There are a lot of disappointed teams in the league right now. It's what you do from this point on."
Yes, I would imagine Thursday can't come soon enough for the Bears after they went from bad to worse with their 41-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. But another national stage Thursday might not be the remedy, even against a team that has lost its past four games.
On top of their other problems, the Bears have become something of a laughingstock of late. Fox commentator and former NFL quarterback Troy Aikman pretty much summed it up on a day of similar critique: "I'm just going to call it the way I see it: I don't think the Bears are a very good football team."
What they are is a rattled football team, a team with big problems in the trenches. That's a big problem, indeed. Sometimes the Bears can run, sometimes they can stop the run, but they can't do either well enough or consistently enough to make us envision them as better than .500, much less a playoff team.
On Sunday, Cardinals wide receiver extraordinaire Larry Fitzgerald victimized the Bears' secondary for 123 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns, and the cry was, "How could you not double-team him?" Well, the Bears were blitzing, yet they still couldn't put enough pressure on Kurt Warner to so much as muss his uniform. They could have tried going with 12 men on the field, but NFL officials, even Ed Hochuli, generally tend to notice such things.
You also could say that the loss of defensive tackle Tommie Harris for all but four plays of the game hurt the Bears. Or you could have a stiff drink and reconsider.
"Certainly he would've made a difference," Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said, "but he wouldn't have made a 41-point difference."
Harris, who was ejected for slugging Deuce Lutui in the head, said his teammates forgave him after the game. Just the same, he might not hold his breath for rounds of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" any time soon. The only way he can get back in good graces is to play well again, and we're just not seeing it. In fact, we're not seeing any great playmaking ability on defense.
How much of it is a lack of consistent effort defensively, and how much a lack of talent? When the defense revved it up a bit in the fourth quarter, you wondered.
"To me, it was nice we didn't give up, and we kept fighting," Hillenmeyer said. "At the same time, does it take that to make you play your best? If anybody out there really feels they weren't playing their hardest until then, then that's a problem because it shouldn't take [that] to all of a sudden say, 'Oh, now we might have a chance to win. Now I'm going to step my game up.' It needs to be that intensity from the first quarter until the end of the game."
The whole on-any-given-Sunday premise aside, however, sometimes even intensity isn't enough, as much as the Bears try to tell themselves that's it. Oh yeah, that and belief in themselves.
"Lance [Briggs] stood up in the locker room yesterday and pointed out that the most important thing [defensively] is that you've got to believe that you're going to win out there," Hillenmeyer said. "You've got to believe that you're better than the other team. And I think that's the biggest difference, regardless of X's and O's and missed tackles and whatever else.
"When we played Cleveland, I know they're a bad football team and they're not as good as the team we played the week before and the week after, [but] we went into the game knowing we were going to win. We went into that game with a confidence and a swagger and an attitude. I know that people thought that game was an ugly win, but that was our best performance we had on defense all year. And regardless of who your opponent is, if you go into a game with that mentality, better things are going to happen."
Better, perhaps. But being confident against the Cleveland Browns and being confident against the New Orleans Saints won't necessarily bring about similar results -- not when you're playing like the Bears.
It has become more about rhetoric than football as they drag themselves into San Francisco, decimated in the secondary with Charles Tillman (shoulder), Al Afalava (scheduled for an MRI on his shoulder, Monday) and Kevin Payne (back) all nursing injuries.
Of course, there is a whole lot of football left.
Just not sure whether that's the good news or the bad news.
Intensity and confidence aren't enough for the Bears to turn it around.