Monday, December 12, 2011
Bears-Broncos: Five Things We Learned
By Jeff Dickerson
DENVER -- Here are Five Things We Learned following the Bears' 13-10 overtime loss in Denver:
1. The Bears gave it away: There was plenty to like from Marion Barber, who ran for 108 yards and scored a touchdown against the Broncos. But all of that got overshadowed due to a pair of epic blunders near the end of the game. Barber's lack of awareness and failure to stay in bounds during a run right after the two-minute warning was staggering for a seven-year NFL veteran. With the Broncos out of timeouts, all Barber had to do was fall down in bounds and milk crucial extra seconds off the clock. That mistake was actually worse than Barber's overtime fumble, because coughing up the football can be chalked up to physical error, which everybody in the league makes from time to time. But for the second straight week, Barber cost his team dearly due to a lack of football intelligence -- he lined up illegally on a play against Kansas City that took a Bears touchdown off the board. Barber's silly career stance to boycott the media further complicates the issue. What kind of veteran messes up so royally then high tails it out of the locker room and forces his teammates to account for his actions? Not a veteran I want on my team.
Marion Barber was not available to the media following Sunday's loss. But he has some explaining to do.
2. Tim Tebow is nothing special: I'm not a Tebow hater. I have no issues with his beliefs. I admire the fact he's a good person. He's a winner. But as a quarterback he is remarkably average. The Bears' defense dominated Tebow until the end of the game when they took a more conservative approach. Clearly, the Broncos can win games with Tebow. But I hesitate to say they win most of their games because of Tebow. Good player, don't get me wrong. But let's not get carried away.
3. Playoff hopes are fading: Dropping three straight this late in the season is not a good sign. Victories on Sunday by Detroit and Atlanta puts the Bears in a hole I'm not sure they'll be able to dig themselves out of. Lovie Smith's team is finding ways to lose games, which is not the sign of a playoff-caliber organization. It figures to be an interesting offseason if the Bears continue this collapse. With Green Bay looming on the horizon, it's over if they can't beat the Seahawks at Soldier Field.
4. Caleb Hanie made some progress: The numbers weren't very pretty, but at least Hanie protected the football and gave the Bears a shot to win for the third straight week. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz realized the limitations of the group without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte, and authored a smart, conservative game plan. Hanie missed a few throws, but he connected on 12 of 19 passes and posted a respectable quarterback rating of 79.9. As Lance Briggs said after the game, 10 points was enough to win. Hanie didn't play great, but you can't pin the loss on the QB. Expect Hanie to start Sunday at home against Seattle, then the Bears will re-evaluate the status of Cutler moving forward over the final two weeks of the regular season.
5. Craig Steltz rose to the occasion: This was a perfect matchup for Steltz, who thrives when asked to tackle in the box. Steltz forced a critical turnover when he stripped Tebow of the football, and was credited in the press box with five total tackles, plus one stop for a loss. When the Bears face Green Bay in two weeks, Major Wright might be a better option because of his athleticism. But when it comes to playing against ground-orientated teams like Denver and Seattle, Steltz is the best option at strong safety. A game like he played in Denver will only help his chances as a free agent after this season.