THE MORNING AFTER: Bears fans optimism thrown a flag
CHICAGO – A few Bears fans might have looked with envy at the opposite sideline on Sunday afternoon.
It’s not just the fact that the Cardinals are a team ready to make a charge for a division championship and perhaps a Super Bowl. It’s the fact that the guy making it happen could have been doing the same thing in Chicago.
Yes Bruce Arians, the creative head coach of Arizona, was in Halas Hall to interview for the vacant Bears’ head coaching position in early 2013. He was coming off an impressive season in Indianapolis where he served as the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach when Chuck Pagano underwent Leukemia treatment.
Arians interviewed for the job. So did Marc Trestman. The latter won the job. The former went to the Cardinals, revived a veteran quarterback and took a once average team and turned them into a contender.
Under Trestman and GM Phil Emery, the Bears tumbled into mediocrity and to the waiting feet of Arians’ Cardinals on Sunday, who gave the Bears a harsh kick of reality after a bit of a mirage a week ago.
Unlike their opener against the Packers-where the Bears stood toe-to-toe with the NFC favorites for the better part of 60 minutes-this game was over in about 35. Jay Cutler was hurt and Jimmy Clausen was ineffective. The defense allowed 28 points in the first half then 20 more in the second. That’s 48 points, a franchise record for home games. Yes, franchise as in dating back to 1920’s.
Plus there are the penalties. Fourteen of them for 170 yards. That last number was also a franchise record.
“Penalties suck, we’ve got to figure that out,” said Kyle Long after the game.
Stopping the yellow flags is one of the things that John Fox will have to ponder about this team that looks a lot worse than it did a week ago. First there is Cutler, who injured his hamstring diving for Tony Jefferson who just picked off the quarterback for a touchdown. A tight-lipped Fox gave little on the injury after the game but what happened following the quarterback’s departure spoke volumes.
With backup Jimmy Clausen in the game the Bears could get little generated. After a pair of turnovers deep in Cardinals’ territory at the end of the first half the Bears could only muster seven yards in eight plays and settled for a pair of field goals. The first drive of the second half lasted just three plays as Clausen was sacked then intercepted deep in his own end, leading to a touchdown that sparked a rout.
“The biggest thing is not getting reps with the ones and a little different tone of voice being out there with those guys and changing up the snap count,” said Clausen, who finished 14-of-23 for 123 yards. “There’s no excuse for it. Just have to keep practicing. That’s the reason you practice. You just have to go out and execute.”
Clausen wasn’t alone in failing to do so. The special teams allowed a 108-yard kickoff return to David Johnson on the game’s first play in which not one defender had a significant shot to make a tackle. Cornerback Kyle Fuller had a forgettable pass interference in the first quarter that led to a touchdown and struggled enough against a talented Cardinals receiving corps that he was benched in the second half.
Not that anyone had an answer for quarterback Carson Palmer (185 Yards, Four Touchdowns) or receiver Larry Fitzgerald (Eight Catches, 112 Yards, Three Touchdowns), who made everyone in the Bears’ defense look bad over the course of a game. To finish it off in style, Fitzgerald stiff armed Fuller’s replacement Terrance Mitchell on his way to his final score of the game.
Not exactly a confidence boost of an afternoon for a team that might have surprised a few a week ago. While fans might have had their feelings hurt by the defeat, Fox claims his players weren’t.
“We get paid to do this. We get compensated pretty well. Almost everybody in there is classified as a professional, and that’s what professionals do,” said Fox when asked about keeping up the team’s morale after a loss like this. “They don’t worry about morale. We get paid to win.”
You can’t blame a Bears fan for looking over at the other side of the bench at the person who is getting paid by Arizona to win. On this day they saw a lot of red with scattered yellow flags flying around in the wind.