Commentary

Bears should count only blessings

Lovie Smith happy with three wins in four games, but offense cause for concern

Updated: October 4, 2010, 9:47 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Lovie Smith feels good that the Chicago Bears are 3-1, and well he should.

He should feel good that Detroit's last-second touchdown was called back in Week 1, and that the Bears won despite four turnovers, four sacks, nine penalties for 100 yards and an inability to push the ball over the goal line in four tries from the half-yard line.

He should feel good that Jay Cutler survived the first three possessions against Dallas in Week 2, in which he was hit seven times and sacked twice, and that the Bears won despite 34 completions by Tony Romo.

He should feel good that the Packers committed 18 penalties in Week 3 and that the Bears won despite again failing to convert from the 1-yard line. And Smith should feel especially good that his quarterback left the field Sunday night upright, even if he might not have known whether he was walking off a football field or an airplane jetway.

The first quarter of this wacky NFL season is over. Only the Kansas City Chiefs are perfect. (There's a sentence for you.) And at this point, only the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team you can say with any confidence will win more than it will lose.

And so Smith was irritated Monday following the Bears' 17-3 loss to the New York Giants -- one of those games that ought to ban both teams from national television for a while -- when he apparently was asked one too many times about the proficiency of his offensive line.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
Andrew Burton/Getty ImagesCoach Lovie Smith says there's no need to panic after the Bears' first loss.

"We've played four games and lost one," he said. "Let's not panic around here, all right? The reality is, we're 3-1 right now with this group. Our offense has done a lot of good things. Last night we didn't get it done, no more than that."

Except that it is much more than that when you're currently down two quarterbacks, and the same offensive line that got you there is banged up, lacking continuity and not getting any younger.

The Bears said the proper effort wasn't there Sunday night, a strong admission from players, even more from a coach. Then again, isn't that better than saying, "We stunk last night and we might stink again next week"?

The schedule still favors the Bears in the next few weeks as they travel to meet the winless Carolina Panthers this Sunday before returning home against Seattle, but who's to say for sure? Assuming a winless team is a weak opponent at this point in the NFL season is using the same twisted logic as saying the Bears are strong at 3-1.

The Bears now are 10-of-47 on third-down conversions. And they have yet to prove they can -- or even desire to -- run the football. Pinning their ears back? The Giants' ears were all but glued in place, so ready were they to blitz a Bears team that, on the rare occasion it did run the ball, could hardly generate any forward progress. Think maybe the Panthers might tee off as well, even without Julius Peppers?

While the availability of Cutler against Carolina certainly is of paramount concern and Smith said he hopes all three quarterbacks will be able to practice Wednesday, the worry should be much bigger-picture than that. Can the Bears protect their franchise player or his backups from further injury?

Smith said left tackle Chris Williams is making progress and that the team will welcome him back "with open arms" when he returns from his hamstring injury.

"Going into the season, we had him penciled in as our starting left tackle, and we don't have him right now," Smith said. "So, it's got to be a positive once we get him back."

But with little more than glimpses of good play from Williams, do we really know that?

Smith was relying on a vapor trial Monday, creating confidence from one valid victory and pinning belief on no more than hope.

We were told that Cutler showed symptoms of his concussion only on the last sack before halftime, dispelling the notion that perhaps his lack of presence and sound judgment in the pocket throughout the first half was caused by the concussion.

If that is the case, Cutler clearly is not as far along as the Bears desperately want and need him to be. More likely, he is still a work in progress, as we saw the previous week against Green Bay, a player who still has bad habits and questionable mechanics.

In Cutler's defense, aside from a couple of instances in which receivers were open against the Giants, there were still more examples in which they apparently were not where they were supposed to be.

And despite Smith's insistence that the Bears were still going to play smashmouth football and that they would not abandon the run, they couldn't even rely on it to protect their quarterback Sunday.

"You have to have a commitment to it, and we do," Smith said.

And yet the Bears have had a grand total of 11 rushing first downs all season, Matt Forte is 35th in the league among rushers and the Bears are 31st on the ground as a team.

So yes, the Bears are 3-1. And for this, they should feel grateful.

But good? Not for a second.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.

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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