Minor gains for Bears
Williamses played well, but not playing Adams was Bears' loudest message
Good game or bad game, Alex Brown is an All-Pro in the postgame locker room.
What was the difference for the Bears in their 17-9 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, he was asked, as opposed to their play in previous weeks?
"The Rams," said the veteran end after a thoughtful pause. "Honestly, I don't think we're fooling anybody when we say the Rams aren't Minnesota, you know?"
The Bears weren't exactly the Bears either, though it would be difficult to characterize Lovie Smith's roster decisions as a walk on the wild side or -- please -- the reason for the team's second victory in its past eight games.
As usual, what the Bears don't do is more interesting than what they do. In fact, the loudest statement Sunday was made by Gaines Adams' place on the inactive list.
Adams, you may recall -- though there is no real reason you should at this point -- is the former first-round pick acquired for a 2010 second-round pick who has had two tackles and one pass broken up in a limited reserve role at the end of the past six games.
He was effectively bumped off of Sunday's roster by defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert. Gilbert, the Bears' third-round pick, has also been conspicuously inconspicuous, and didn't even make it on to the defensive stat sheet Sunday, while Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Matt Forte, Earl Bennett and Kahlil Bell did.
But at least Gilbert played, while Adams' performance in practice since arriving in mid-October from Tampa has not impressed Bears coaches enough to make them think he might help their struggling defense.
So we were left with Kevin Payne replacing Danieal Manning at starting safety, while Manning moved to nickel and Al Afalava to free safety; Chris Williams shifting from right to left tackle to replace the injured Orlando Pace with Kevin Shaffer moving to the vacated right tackle; and Jamar Williams starting at weakside linebacker for the injured Lance Briggs.
Not exactly a walk on the wild side for Smith, but then his options are obviously fairly limited.
Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner also gave the ball to running back Bell for the first time since the Philadelphia game and Bell's 72-yard run two weeks ago. Bell didn't knock anyone's socks off with 35 yards on 11 carries against the Rams. But combined with Matt Forte's 91 yards on 24 carries, the Bears' running game actually registered a slight pulse, odd as it was compared to a sudden reluctance to pass.
Of all the "new" starters, Jamar Williams made the biggest impact by far, leading the Bears with 13 tackles, five assists and two pass defenses on a day that was just OK for the defense, considering Steven Jackson's 112 yards on 28 carries. But it was downright exciting when held up to recent blowouts.
"He was outstanding," Smith said of Williams. "He played with energy, made the tackles. He was good in pass coverage. When you have an All-Pro go down like Lance, and to have a guy like Jamar who can step in, it's big for us."
Williams credited the other veteran linebackers for their support and was not in any position, playing behind Briggs, to use Sunday's game as a vehicle for I-told-you-so's in his fourth season.
"It could've happened a different way," he said. "I could've gone to a team, started right away, got injured and my career could've been done. Everything happens for a reason, and I feel like everything has fallen into place the way I thought it would."
He did admit, however, that it was more pleasant not having to look over his shoulder.
"It's a little easier when you know you have the whole game to make mistakes and to make plays," Williams said, "because sometimes when you get out there and you get thrown a quarter, your first thought is 'Don't make a mistake, don't make a mistake,' and then you get a little nervous."
The other Williams spent most of the week insisting it wouldn't be much of an adjustment moving from right to left offensive tackle, the position he played at Vanderbilt. While it looked far from seamless, particularly when the Rams' Chris Long breezed easily past Williams for one of two St. Louis sacks, Smith and Cutler praised the line's play.
"I played OK," Chris Williams said. "I wouldn't mind having a couple plays back, but that's part of it. A couple of things may or may not have looked the way you wanted it to, but the offensive line did a good job of getting it done and we won, so that's all you ask for."
With four games remaining, Bears fans certainly have the right to lament Smith's claim that he's playing whoever gives his team the best chance to win. And, given the Adams situation, feel free to do more than lament. But at this point, you also have to believe that Smith isn't hiding any ringers.
After Sunday's less-than-stunning victory over the now 1-11 Rams, the truth, cold as it is, has sunken in. And as the Bears prepare to play the Packers at home next Sunday, we'll let Brown take it home.
"A win's a win," he said. "When you start getting into the playoffs, they get bigger as you go on. But when you're in the position we're in, you just try to win, to have a good feeling. It was a good feeling today.
"Yeah, we didn't play great, but we played well enough to win. Can we play the same way and beat a Minnesota or a Green Bay next week? Probably not. We have to play better. [But] we'll continue to try to play better and hopefully stack some wins together here at the end of the season."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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