NFC North: Jim Kleinssaer
After Carolina's 20-17 victory over the Bears, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
1. The Bears won't lose faith in tight end Greg Olsen after he fumbled following both receptions Sunday. The way their offense is shaping up around tailback Matt Forte, Olsen will be in position for so many play-action passes -- as long as offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterback Kyle Orton continue feeding him the ball. Olsen ultimately will be the best pass-catcher on this team, especially if Devin Hester is sidelined because of a rib injury.
An aside: Watching Olsen's struggles Sunday reminded me of an October day in 1999, when Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser fumbled twice -- against the Bears, ironically -- in a 24-22 Vikings loss. Then-coach Dennis Green moved him to fullback the following week, and the Vikings have never considered Kleinsasser much of a receiving threat since. There's no chance the Bears will go to those lengths with Olsen, but for some reason it jogged my memory. Anyway ...
2. Yes, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart gobbled up 76 rushing yards in the second half. But I choose to attribute that performance to heat and conditioning rather than a leaky run defense. This was textbook maneuvering by the Panthers: Bring in young, fresh legs against a veteran group that has been baking in dark jerseys all afternoon. Stewart sliced through the Bears on a number of occasions, but before the heat got to them, Chicago held starter DeAngelo Williams to 31 yards on 11 carries. That's more reminiscent of the quality of the Bears' run defense.
3. It's interesting how quickly it became public knowledge that Orton was responsible for changing the call on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. Orton switched from a run to a pass that fell incomplete and was nearly intercepted. On fourth down, the Panthers stopped fullback Jason McKie for no gain. The Bears want Orton to be more than a "game manager," but it's clear they also have some unwritten limits for him. Afterwards, Turner second-guessed himself for giving Orton an option.
And here is one question I'm still asking:
How badly is Hester injured? He did not return Sunday after bruising his ribs, and the Bears aren't the same team without him. The mere threat of him as a returner changes the way teams play, and the Bears are far from knowing how good he can be as a receiver. The team should be holding its collective breath while awaiting Hester's prognosis.