Sunday, January 3, 2010
No reason to wait
By Melissa Isaacson ESPNChicago.com
Count on the Detroit Lions to muck things up, to mess with perception, to potentially inflict more damage on their division rivals by losing to the Bears as they did on Sunday, than they would have done by winning.
Instead, the Bears' 37-23 victory gives the organization just enough rope to asphyxiate themselves, and just enough rationale to have us believe it was the right way to go.
Some believe Jay Cutler would be hampered by playing for yet another offensive coordinator next season, but that shouldn't influence the Bears.
There was still only guessing to be done after Sunday's exhibition otherwise known as: Why Detroit and Chicago are not in the NFL playoffs this season. We likely will never find out just how much the Bears' final two victories of the season against Minnesota and Detroit were responsible for whatever it is the team does or does not change for next season.
But there were enough expected glad tidings afterward to at least suspect that the 7-9 Bears are a little more satisfied than they have any right to be.
"We beat Minnesota, which was a good team, and that was the starting point for our success at the end of the season," said Devin Hester. "We came back with a victory against Detroit and ended on a good note.
"I can't wait 'til next year. I'm hoping everybody will be back next year, and we can come back and start the way we ended."
If anything, these last two weeks should make Bears' fans question why it took this long to see certain things. Like Devin Aromashodu's production and Jay Cutler's good judgment. Like fewer penalties and better offensive balance and improved play in the red zone.
But while the Bears accounted pretty well for themselves on Monday Night Football last week and against the wretched Lions on Sunday, they also showed just enough glimpses of their usual shenanigans -- i.e. dropped passes, Matt Forte getting pushed backward, Frank Omiyale false starts -- to remind us to keep our eyes on the ball here.
Look, it's easier just to make the case that Cutler and his young receivers would be shaken up by more change; that it's not worth it to eat the approximately $11 million left on Lovie Smith's contract; that it's not entirely the coaches' fault. All of this is true, and what's more, there are no magic snaps of the finger that will guarantee success. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
Cutler, who threw a career-high four touchdown passes in each of the last two games, can throw 26 interceptions next season under a new offensive coordinator, and the Bears will fall short of the playoffs again. Does the offensive line need to be coached up under someone smarter and tougher than Harry Hiestand? Or does it need to get younger and more skilled players?
Is defensive line coach Rod Marinelli not as brilliant as advertised? Or should players such as Tommie Harris have to account for the type of uneven play that resulted in his one tackle and one quarterback hurry on Sunday?
All that said, if change is inevitable -- and there is no reason to think that Smith's defensive scheme is suddenly going to be the answer, and that the current offense is going to eventually bring out the best in Cutler -- then why not do it sooner rather than later?
All indications point toward the exit of at least offensive coordinator Ron Turner, and likely quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, with the following comments by Smith, who presumably has a large say.
"I think all of us didn't do as good a job as we needed to, starting with me," Smith stammered when given the chance to say Turner would return, or at least that he deserved to come back. "And it goes down to coaches, players and everyone who's involved in our organization didn't do as good a job as we need to, to get back to where we belong. ...
"I think changes are necessary from top to bottom with everybody [who] has something to do with everything right now, as far as improving our football team. We just need to change some things to make it a little better and go from there. "
A few things these last two victories did. They re-set expectations for Cutler, and they proved that if nothing else, players did not commit the ultimate sin of quitting on their head coach. But let's not mistake personal survival for a great display of character.
And if Smith is right that "changes are necessary from top to bottom," then start with him. Clean house. And start now rather than making others the scapegoats, bringing in an inferior offensive or defensive coordinator in a lame-duck scenario, and just delaying the inevitable.
Don't let a late rally and a 2-14 football team obscure reality and set the Bears back any further than they have to be.
Don't take the easy way out.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.