Commentary

No smoke, no fire in Urlacher's remarks

Injured linebacker's quotes no big deal

Updated: December 2, 2009, 12:54 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

So Brian Urlacher wishes the Bears ran more, laments that they couldn't elude the Minnesota Vikings' tacklers, is disenchanted with his team's latest lopsided defeat, and is bummed that he can't be on the field and somehow alleviate the agony.

Um, OK.

Urlacher's comments ran in a piece by Michael Silver on Yahoo Sports, and they were interesting in the way any candid chatter would be from a star player who has been injured and unquoted all season.

To interpret them as anything particularly controversial, however, is reaching.

Let's take the one comment that seems to be getting the most attention:

"Look, I love Jay, and I understand he's a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him," Urlacher said. "But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

Again, what's the big deal? A lot of people hate the way the Bears' identity has changed, undoubtedly most of Urlacher's teammates included. He's not saying Orton is a better quarterback than Cutler. He's saying that Orton was not the flashiest player but that running the ball and doing it effectively helped the Bears to nine victories.

"When you're not winning games, obviously you're not running the ball, you're not wearing people down, you're not keeping your defense off the field," Olin Kreutz said when asked about Urlacher's comments. "Urlacher is obviously the leader of our locker room, so if he's not happy with our game, we're all not."

Bears coach Lovie Smith said he could understand why "everyone who's a part of our football team is frustrated right now."

"As far as our identity changing," Smith said, "I think every team in the National Football League needs to be able to run the football. They'll all say that. And at times, they need to be able to pass it. Sometimes you need to pass it more than you need to run it. That's what we are; that's what we've been throughout. For us saying we're a running football team, that doesn't change what we try to do each week."

Interesting that Smith acknowledges that what he calls the Bears and what they actually are, are two different things. Anyone who has watched the Bears this season is well aware of that, and to think it doesn't hit at the very heart of the team on both sides of the ball would be even more troubling.

Later, Urlacher raved about Cutler's precision pass to Johnny Knox for the touchdown. As a team leader and the main cog on the Bears' defense, Urlacher's attitude toward Cutler matters. That's why a mild offseason flap was created when it was reported that Urlacher had referred to Cutler as a "p----" to former teammate Bobby Wade. Urlacher denied saying that and cleared it up with Cutler before it became an issue.

But Urlacher has been through too many Bears quarterbacks not to recognize a potentially great one when he sees him. And there is no reason to go out of his way to praise him if he didn't mean it. Same way it should not be construed as divisive when Urlacher, in referring to a screen pass to Matt Forte that was stopped for no gain, sputtered that, "You know why that doesn't work? We don't make anyone [expletive] miss. I guess I just don't realize what great tacklers these [opposing defenders] are. They're amazing."

Same deal when talking about a Forte run that went for 2 yards in the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing by 26 points, Urlacher criticized the play call, "Now we're going to run that [expletive]."

That's why the Bears miss Urlacher, not just for his play but for his leadership on a defensive unit that has lost its soul. It brings to mind the famous Mike Brown "We suck" comment after the Bears blew a late lead at Cleveland to fall to 1-3 in the 2005 season. The team went on to win the next eight games and take the NFC North.

And if the Bears "sucked" then, their current condition is not fit for a family Web site.

The fact is, they are not good enough to defeat the Vikings or most of the teams on their current schedule. Whether that is because of injuries to the likes of Urlacher and others or because Smith is doing a subpar coaching job or because Jerry Angelo is not doing a good enough job assembling the talent necessary to absorb injuries probably won't matter to whoever it is that makes the most important decisions at Halas Hall.

And whatever Urlacher has to say about it doesn't change a thing.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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