It’s do or die today, and I can’t decide whether I love this Bear team for sheer white-knuckled entertainment value, or utterly hate them for putting me through the emotional ringer as a fan, week after week.
Here’s the definitive Bear moment of the 2008 season, and it just happened, a moment ago:
Last game of the season, there’ s 6:39 left in the fourth quarter, Bears are down by seven in a win-or-go-home game against the Texans. True to the high Bear drama all season, on a key play, Houston has a TD called back on a holding penalty. On the play after that, there’ s a coach-challenged fumble by the Texans. Bears’ ball, or not? Now all of Chicago waited on pins and needles to see if today’s hero/goat Danial Manning’s challenged fumble recovery would stand up.
(Manning was only a semi-goat: his early fumbled kick return today changed momentum and set the Texans up to take the lead, though Manning had several other great returns after that fumble, and was clearly a factor in the past two Bear wins to reach this point.)
After review, the refs said the Texans’ runner was down by contact before he lost the ball… a correct call (for once, in a season of worse-than-ever officiating), a call that was essentially the death knell for the Bears’ season.
It was the first challenge of a referee’s call that the Texans won all year.
A few plays later, the Texans put the game out of reach, going up 31-17 with about 3:18 left in the game. But even after all that, the Bears put on a good scoring drive, just to keep suckers like me watching.
That’s where we stand as I write this: Bears knocking on the door at two-minute warning time, waiting to see if some fluke (probably on special teams) will let them stumble bass-ackwards into the playoffs despite themselves.
Here in Chicago –thanks to some marketing genius with the White Sox over a decade ago– we call this “winnin’ ugly”. Winnin’ ugly was what the Bears did in seventeen degree weather when I brought my nephew Bill to his first-ever game two weeks ago. On a Thursday night, it took them until overtime to let the Saints give the game away (overtime in a 4-degree windchill, further proof these Bears are all about punishing their fans). Winnin’ ugly was also what they did last week, when a blocked field goal late led to another overtime victory, against the Packers on a Monday night.
But now it’s over, as the final seconds tick off the clock and they lose 31-24. With 455 offensive yards given up by the Bears defense, how could it be otherwise? When the one bright spot of the season, rookie running back Matt Forte, goes down injured mid-game (apparently, though nothing official has been said yet), it’s just par for the course for this frustrating team.
As if to prove the Bears didn’t deserve to make the playoffs, the Vikings won the division outright with a last second field goal over the Giants, at almost the exact moment the Bears gave away their hopes for another ugly win (with a really dumb defensive penalty). No surprise, given their mediocre talent and numerous errors, in the most aggravating season in recent memory.
There’s no one scapegoat for this alternately thrilling and exasperating season, though. This team is riddled with holes: an aging and whiny rush defense, an easily expolitable pass coverage scheme, unimaginative offensive playcalling, no true wide receivers, a quarterback with no arm strength, no speed, and limited “football intelligence”, and an inconsistent offensive line that appears to suffer from attention deficit disorder.
Getting over this hump won’t be solved by just one draft pick and a big-name free agent at wideout or QB (can you say McNabb?… and BTW, the Bears merely lucked out with Matt Forte in the last draft). No. This stuck in neutral team may need another entire generation –and new team management– to get good again.
Oh well. At least now we can start the new year focused on less trivial matters: fixing the worldwide economy, letting Obama gradually rehabilitate the perception of Illinois politics as corrupt, getting various Middle Eastern “head coaches” to play by the rules, cleaning up the planet, enjoying the multi-talented Dallas Cowboys’ even more ridiculous implosion yet again this year (against McNabb’s Eagles, no less), and seeing to it that the Chicago Cubs acquire that one key player who will finally give them victory, in their own exasperating Hundred Year War.
See, I’m a Cub fan. The “almost good” mediocrity of these Bears the past few seasons (including their EQUALLY FLUKY SUPER BOWL YEAR IN 2006) is nothing compared to watching the Cubs blow it.
Catastrophic Cubs versus back-and-forth Bears: “the child is father to the man” in this town, when it comes to failure.