- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It was fun watching a contending football team, wasn't it?
But dreams of watching Chicago Bears football past the first week of January have given way to early winter doldrums.
At least I get paid for it. I feel bad for the fans who pay to watch this team, the suckers who bought No. 6 jerseys and willfully identify with this team that went from 3-0 to 4-3 and fading.
"The bye week is coming at a great time for us, period," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Us too, Coach. I hate to be so negative after watching the Bears heroically convert a third down for the first time in a month, but this team has gotten worse every week since a strong start and the early problems -- a bad offensive line, uneven playcalling, no offensive continuity, sloppiness -- have festered and poisoned this team.
If Bears fans really want to frighten people this weekend, they should dress up as the team's red-zone offense.
Smith likes to break the season into quarters. It's lame coaching verbiage that everyone uses to make sure guys remain focused and not distracted by past failure or success.
"We've got opportunity to finish 2-2 in this next quarter of the season and then make a run," Smith said.
I don't care what quarter it is, or how the Bears beat up a lousy Dallas Cowboys team a month and a half ago, this isn't a playoff team we're watching. It's a Neil LaBute play, a character study in the misery and misanthropy of the modern man, with some football mixed in.
"We're a 4-3 football team" doesn't have the same panache, does it?
In spite of themselves, the Bears are still in first place in the NFC North, and with Green Bay losing players to the injured reserve at an alarming rate and the Minnesota Vikings at 2-4, this team can still make the playoffs. But the window is closing. The post-bye schedule is daunting to say the least, and while the Bears' offense can't get worse, can you count on the defense staying healthy and hale enough to win games?
The Bears' offense -- not the Mike Martz offense, as Smith is careful to remind reporters -- has been laid bare by film that should be rated NC-17. I'm not sure Bears tape can travel state lines without breaking some musty decency laws.
I'd love to sit in a defensive team meeting for an opponent getting ready to face the Bears. I have a feeling it would be like sitting in a Def Comedy Jam crowd back in the Martin Lawrence era. Lots of laughs.
Hall got were four picks, tying an NFL record. That's the second record an opposing defense has set or tied this season, following the Giants' nine-sack outing in the first half.
Good work if you can get it.
Cutler said he had no qualms about going at Hall, which is laughable. His last interception came on an unnecessary bomb to Johnny Knox, and it wasn't close. Hall had it all the way.
"That's hard for me to say about a guy I threw four picks to but if we had to play them tomorrow, I'd go at him every time if we could," Cutler said.
Hall answered that comment Monday.
"You know what, man, Jay's a little bit, he don't really understand, I guess, the game, the game of football," Hall said Monday on "SportsCenter." "And in the game of football, you're gonna see guys several times in their career. You know, he completed four passes against me when I was out in Oakland and he was in Denver on a 'Monday Night Football' game, and I knew leading up to the game he was still feeling good about that."
It was a classic Debilitating Loss Monday at Halas Hall, with the Bears trotting out no-name Anthony Adams to speak on behalf of his team. Then Smith showed up 40 minutes late and proceeded to dole out his usual vagaries.
The No-Backers Coach was careful (everything he says is measured by the syllable) to take the blame for not challenging Cutler's fumble at the 1-yard line that looked to have been a touchdown early in the third quarter.
"I wish I had challenged it, and I didn't," Smith said. "Early in the game, we had control and we were going to have more opportunities to still win the football game. It was one play. We'd like to have that one back. There were so many opportunities we had to still win the football game."
Smith is known as one of the worst play challengers in the league (1-for-5 this season), and he explained why:
"Normally, if there's a critical situation, I throw it whether I have a good look or not on it," he said.
So normally he just wings it out there, but for some reason he didn't this time. OK, there was a reason: He had just lost a challenge the play before on Earl Bennett's 48-yard catch that put the Bears on the goal line.
Smith was right in that the Bears had plenty of chances to win the game after that call. His defense played as stout as ever and he wasn't out there throwing four picks and fumbling twice. But the fact is the offense is just as bad under Martz as it was under Ron Turner, who was thrown to the media hounds after games to explain his ineffectiveness. Martz acts like he was dosed with elephant tranquilizers before his weekly chat with reporters on Wednesdays.
I don't really care who is to blame, because it is a team effort, as Smith stated Monday. It takes a village to ruin a season.
Maybe it's the quarterback? Maybe it's the collection of talent the braintrust has surrounded him with, from offensive linemen who can't block to receivers who can't run routes? Maybe it's the guru who can't communicate with his players?
After a first quarter that saw the Bears amass negative-five yards of offense, the Bears moved the ball much better in the second half, but their drive chart looked like this:
Fumble, interception, interception, fumble, interception, Chris Williams catch on third down, interception.
"As far as who's at fault with our interceptions, we all have to take part of that," Smith said. "Jay would tell you, of course, some of them were on him. Receivers can help out with some of the routes. Some of our calls can help out, too. It's 'all of the above' with it."
Cutler took the blame Sunday. His podium leadership shows no bounds.
"All of them," he said, when asked how many interceptions he takes blame for. "I'll take them all. I'll have to look at the film. Obviously, it's very discouraging right now. We let a game get away from us. Our defense had every right to be mad at us. We blew that game offensively. Most of that falls on my shoulders."
While it's not just Cutler, it's becoming clearer and clearer that we're going to have to wait a long time to see him play like a so-called Pro Bowl quarterback.
As a whole, the Bears' offense is putrid. With no running game to speak of -- Martz calls pass plays to run plays at a 3-to-1 clip when Cutler is in the game -- this team has a third-down conversion rate of less than 20 percent (they broke a 28-play drought on third downs Sunday) and are 0-for-10 at their opponents' 1-yard line with two turnovers. They haven't scored in the third quarter all season.
"I think the odds say eventually we're going to get that part taken care of," Smith said.
Yes, the odds are that the Bears will score eventually in the third quarter, but isn't it ominous that we're approaching the third quarter of the season?
Enjoy your Halloween Bears fans, it's only going to get scarier from here on out.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.