Winning can't cure all this
Plenty to cheer -- and jeer -- in head-scratching season-opening win over Lions
CHICAGO -- How about this? We'll try not to criticize the Chicago Bears for being happy about their 19-14 season-opening victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, if they promise not to be surprised by our continued skepticism.
After one of the stranger, more hollow victories in recent memory, we have little choice.
How, for example, are we supposed to applaud the Bears' offense for racking up 262 yards passing in the first half alone, when they couldn't punch it in from the Lions' half-yard line on four attempts in the fourth quarter?
How much satisfaction is there to take from a last-minute victory when it occurred despite four turnovers, four sacks against, nine penalties for 100 yards and an officials' call that while apparently was by the book, also defied all rules of common sense and poetic justice?
The Bears would not even cop to relief after this one.
"Normally, things will end up in favor of the best team that day," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
That's one way to look at it.
Here are a few others:
While the passing game piled up gaudy yards -- 89 on a catch-and-run off a screen pass to Forte -- Johnny Knox often looked out of place and confused, and Devin Aromashodu allowed a perfect pass from Jay Cutler go through his hands in the corner of the end zone on the first series of the game.
And after the Bears went less than nowhere in three consecutive attempts from inside the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter -- once over right guard, once over left guard and once on an incomplete pass from Cutler to Greg Olsen -- Smith passed up a go-ahead, 18-yard field goal attempt to try again on fourth down.
Raise your hand if you were surprised that Forte was stopped over right tackle for no gain.
This was, by far, the most baffling and ugliest moment of the day for the eventual winners. Not surprisingly, a defiant Smith defended the call.
"I felt like we could still make them punt and get good field position," he said. "It's a field position game throughout. I make that call every time."
Bears center Olin Kreutz, like his teammates, did not second-guess his coach. But he did not back off from blame either.
We got our [butt] kicked. They beat us down there. ... Your coach can't help you down there. ... It's not rocket science on the goal line. They call a play, and you've got to win down there, period.” -- Olin Kreutz
"We got our [butt] kicked," Kreutz said. "They beat us down there. ... Your coach can't help you down there. ... It's not rocket science on the goal line. They call a play, and you've got to win down there, period.
"Is that acceptable? Do we have to get better at that? Yes. Can you win in the NFL every week if you're getting beat on the 1-yard line? No. These are all obvious statements."
Kreutz also freely copped to the unavoidable fact that while the Bears' offense gained 463 yards, it was hardly a scoring juggernaut, coming away with two field goals on four trips inside the red zone.
"Yards don't win games, points do," he said. "I'd rather have 100 yards and 25 points. We're moving the ball and not scoring points."
Defensively, the Bears did leave fans with some confidence, as linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher combined for 18 tackles. Briggs' forced fumble and recovery to set up the failed goal-line scenario was almost worth the price of admission.
Even the Bears' secondary performed well beyond expectations but was put in a horrible position on Calvin Johnson's disallowed 25-yard catch in the end zone that surely would have given the Lions the victory with 18 seconds remaining in the game.
The officials contend the receiver did not maintain possession "throughout the entire possession of the catch." Johnson looked as though he possessed the ball long enough to contemplate spiking it at the end.
"My stomach made a turn," Briggs said of the apparent catch. "I hate stuff like that. It reminded me of the Green Bay game last year. We played great defense all game and then we gave up one big play."
Surely Bears fans could relate to the stomach-turning part.
Every time you wanted to get excited about something the Bears did well, like scoring 10 points in the final 63 seconds of the first half to close the gap to 14-13, you were forced to take notice of some other unavoidable realities.
Even the Bears' best performers Sunday made costly mistakes.
While Julius Peppers contributed to consistent pressure on starting quarterback Matthew Stafford -- knocking him out of the game late in the first half -- as well as backup qb Shaun Hill, it was Peppers' silly roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-and-8 from the Bears' 40 which prolonged the Lions' second drive of the game and eventually resulted in a 7-yard touchdown run by Lions rookie Jahvid Best.
And it was a fumble by Forte in the second quarter -- one of two for him on the day -- that gave the Lions the ball on their own 40-yard line, a drive that culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run by Best to give Detroit a 14-3 lead.
"We feel like we almost gave it away, but we're just happy we got the win," Forte said. "I think going further in the season, we're going to correct those mistakes. That's the type of offense this is. We have a lot of talented guys. If we can eliminate mistakes and turnovers, we'll be that good."
Blaming Forte for anything on a day in which he also had 151 receiving yards on seven catches, including the game winner on a twisting 28-yard grab in the corner of the end zone with 1:32 remaining, makes less sense than the Bears' win.
But saying the Bears were lucky to prevail with breaks, mistakes and four turnovers is fair game, though Tommie Harris had the perfect rationalization on this imperfect day.
"[Usually], whoever wins the turnover ratio [wins the game]," Harris said. "We didn't win that and that's what makes it ugly. But it's still good to have more turnovers than the other team and still win the game, so that's a good thing. That shows you that we have to improve and we can beat ourselves, not the other [guys]."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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