Bad blast from the past
Week 1 optimism fades as Bears offense reverts to last season's ineffective mess
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you thought the Chicago Bears were going to march into Lambeau Field and stake their big, stupid 4th Phase flag into the 50-yard line, well, good luck to you on future predictions.
This is still Lambeau Field and these are still the Bears, and the addition of Brandon Marshall wasn't going to change history or, for that matter, reality.
The reinvented, rejuvenated, good-luck-wishing, points-scoring businessmen that are the 2012 Chicago Bears met a familiar reality in a familiar place Thursday night in a 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
"Now 16-0 is out the picture for us," Marshall said, speaking for a lot of Bears fans.
I think he was kidding, but I can't be sure.
Was it three years ago I watched Jay Cutler throw four interceptions at Lambeau? It feels like yesterday.
Three years later, so much had changed, but we saw the same old Jay Cutler. Angry Jay Cutler, Back Foot Jay Cutler, Can't Throw At Night Jay Cutler. Everything was on display, except Awesome Jay Cutler, because he got sacked seven times and threw four interceptions.
It wasn't just Old Jay Cutler. We saw the same old Bears offensive line, penalties and missed blocks; the same old ineffective receivers, clueless and drifting all over the field; and the same old defense -- an advantageous unit that gave the team the chance to win.
Actually, check that. Cutler was worse than "same old." According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last Bears quarterback to get sacked at least seven times and throw four picks was Bobby Douglass on Nov. 21, 1971, against the Detroit Lions. Cutler had a 28.2 passer rating, completing just 11 of 27 passes. The only happy thing about this Cutler was his feet.
"Jay is a guy that he'll give you a chance," said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who had one interception. "You just need to be in position."
What happened to the cocksure quarterback and his merry band of big, bad receivers? Well, for one, the game started. After that, everything went downhill and Cutler resumed his role as NFL punching bag of the Twittersphere. Asked whether the defensive backs took personally Cutler's "good luck" comment about pressing Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Woodson said, "I don't know if we took it personal, but we thought it was kind of funny that all of a sudden, they're the team to beat because they got a couple new guys."
Cutler wasn't falling all over himself to take blame after the game, but he was right to defend himself over yelling at his linemen. It's his composure in between screaming fits that's important.
"I care about this," Cutler said. "This isn't just a hobby for me. I'm not doing this for my health. I'm trying to win football games. I'm trying to get first downs, and when we're not doing the little things, not doing things the right way consistently, I'm gonna say something. If they want a quarterback that doesn't care, they can get somebody else."
I'm glad he cares. Frankly, I've never doubted it. But something is amiss with the preparation or the game plan. It's early in the Mike Tice offense, but this was a mess from the beginning for the second straight week. Except this time, the Bears were playing a Super Bowl favorite instead of a team that got the first overall draft pick.
Maybe the Bears could fire Mike Martz and Ron Turner again.
The biggest debate on my Twitter feed was whether a Cutler interception in the third quarter was his fault or Earl Bennett's. Here's the thing: It was both of their fault. Bennett didn't adjust to his scrambling quarterback, standing in the middle of the field as Cutler went right to left. And Cutler shouldn't have thrown a ball in the middle of the field with Packers everywhere.
Cutler was horrible, but everyone was complicit.
The line missed blocks because Cutler held on to the ball too long. Cutler held on to the ball too long because his receivers couldn't adjust down the field. When the receivers were open, Cutler was waiting too long. Sometimes because he was under too much pressure. From Gabe Carimi committing a drive-killing unnecessary-roughness penalty to Marshall dropping a sure touchdown pass, on an overthrown pass, almost everyone was at fault, even if the bulk of the blame falls on Cutler's shoulders. It was a team loss.
"It's a combination of everything tonight really," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We didn't have good enough protection, probably made a couple bad decisions, receivers didn't open as much as we needed to, we didn't get the running game going to help the passing game. All of those things didn't work for us tonight."
A bad start last week was washed away in the euphoria of the Marshall experience. But Marshall wasn't targeted at all in the first half and just five times total, because the offense broke down before it could get him the ball. That can't happen again.
"Of course, it wasn't by design," Smith said. "We had plays called to Brandon we couldn't get off. You have to be patient. It happens like that sometimes. Next time we'll do a better job of getting him the ball."
It wasn't just offense, either. Green Bay converted a fake field goal late in the second quarter because the Bears were trying to block a kick that would have made it 6-0 with two minutes left in the half. Holder Tim Masthay flicked a pass to Tom Crabtree, and he ran unfettered for a 27-yard touchdown.
"It was just a good call on their part," Charles Tillman said. "We were trying to block it. That would've been a good game-changer for us if we blocked it."
It was a game-changer, all right. Cutler got picked by Tramon Williams on the next series, and the Packers got another field goal out of it to go into halftime up 13-0.
That call basically said both teams weren't very confident in their offenses, and with good reason. The Bears had only 47 yards in the first half. Green Bay had 201, but Chicago was playing tough.
The Bears' defense was as good as could be expected. Brian Urlacher isn't 29 anymore, but he looked better than last week and was credited with five solo tackles. Undersized corner Tim Jennings had a big interception, Julius Peppers had two sacks, Shea McClellin had 1 1/2 sacks, Corey Wootton and Henry Melton got Rodgers as well, and Tillman, questionable with a shin injury, caused a turnover with his should-be-patented ball punch. Aaron Rodgers went 22-for-32 for 219 yards, taking five sacks and throwing one pick. Green Bay got one offensive touchdown, and it was in the fourth quarter.
Urlacher was left making the same old excuses for a loss that he's made his entire Bears career.
"We knew we had to outplay their defense and we didn't do that," he said with his poker face. "We have to do better. They had four takeaways and I'm not sure how many sacks, but we've got to get the ball back for our offense and give them the chance to score points."
OK, so we've seen the Bears at their best and their worst, and it's only Week 2. In the days leading up to this game, I wrote a glowingly positive column about Cutler's confidence being a good thing and I picked the Bears to lose, albeit in a shootout.
If the Bears have learned anything in the Cutler era, it's how to bounce back from embarrassing offensive performances.
"We're definitely as good as we think we are," Marshall said. "Offensively, we have to do a better job. The defense made some great plays, gave us the ball back a few times. We've got to take advantage of those opportunities and we didn't tonight. That's a great team; that's the team we're chasing. They won the Super Bowl two years ago. It's going to take more than walking on the field to dethrone them."
Marshall is a quick study. No one is going to hand the Bears anything. If there's one thing we know from Bears history, it's that it's never going to be easy.