The Bears aren't who we thought they were
There are three undefeated teams in the NFL after week three. One has already taken down two Super Bowl contenders. This same team has played mostly without their starting left tackle, free safety and number two wide receiver. Yet, this group is treated like an aberration among NFL pundits. They're brushed off with a flick of the wrist like Christine O'Donnell in The New York Times newsroom. The Chicago Bears are 3-0. So why are they treated like they're the opposite? I'm not sure who the Bears have to beat this year to get some respect. The '72 Dolphins?
The root of this question is based on Chicago's week one performance. Facing the woeful Lions, the Bears blew chance after chance until Detroit's Calvin Johnson pulled in what looked like a go-ahead touchdown pass in the final seconds. The referees correctly ruled that Johnson "did not finish the process of the catch." As good as it looked, the touchdown was voided. This was certainly an ugly victory, but an old Al Davis quote summed up the Bear mentality following the game. "Just win, baby, win." It doesn't matter how you do it.
The Bears last two opponents, Dallas and Green Bay, were picked by most analysts to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year.
Playing in Dallas' new monstrosity of a stadium, Bears QB Jay Cutler picked apart an All-Star Dallas defense to the tune of 277 yards, while the Chicago 'D' limited Tony Romo. The most impressive part of the win, however, was how Chicago's makeshift offensive line kept Cutler relatively upright against a fantastic Dallas seven-man front.
Under the bright lights of Monday Night Football this past week, the Bears snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, squeaking out a 20-17 win over the Packers. Neither team played well, but the Packers struggles were magnified after the game. Green Bay committed 18 penalties, which surely was the reason why they lost. (How a "contender" sets the record for penalties in a game is beyond me.) Outside of Chicago, the general consensus was that the Packers are a better team and simply handed the Bears the game -- therefore Chicago shouldn't take much satisfaction in the win. This is ridiculous on multiple levels. As I previously said, any win is a good win, especially against a hated division rival on national television. Second, Jay Cutler threw six interceptions in two games against Green Bay last year. In these matchups, the Packers won by six and seven points respectively. These two victories were the difference in the Packers making the playoffs. By the media's logic, the Bears handed Green Bay last year's games, giving them less value. Fans and journalists get into trouble when they start justifying losses this way.
The Bears are a completely different team from last year. New offensive whiz Mike Martz has gotten some publicity, but the real additions have come on the defensive side of the ball. Chicago added all-world defensive end Julius Peppers -- a 6-7 300 pound physical specimen -- to shore up their line. They brought back hard-hitting safety Chris Harris, a defensive leader from their Super Bowl run in 2006. Most important, people seem to just forget that the heart and soul of this team Brian Urlacher, missed all of last season with a broken wrist. Take Ray Lewis off the Ravens and see how they do. Look what happened to the Steelers D last year when Troy Polamalu didn't play. Certain marquee guys affect the play and effort of the rest of their defense. Ironically enough, it was Urlacher who forced the eventual game winning fumble on Monday night.
The Bears still receive no credit, because of pre-season expectations. Sports Illustrated, ESPN and everybody in between picked the Bears to be a league afterthought at best, bottom-feeder at worst. Like pundits in all professions, it's hard for most of these people to admit when they're wrong. The Bears go to New York to face the struggling Giants this week, then face Carolina, Seattle, Washington and Buffalo. The team that was predicted by many to win three games could now realistically start the season 8-0. Although judging by the first three weeks, there probably will be an explanation for that too.