Bears not perfect, but who is?
What matters is Lovie's crew is good enough to keep winning
David Haugh In the Wake of the News
If I hear one more person complain about the Bears because their level of play falls short of some arbitrary local standard, I may lock myself in a room full of vuvuzela-tooting soccer fans just to escape the noise.
Monday was a good day to find a cave in Chicago. Or earplugs.
It's as if dyslexia suddenly plagued the city and everybody thought the Bears' victory Sunday made them 1-4, not 4-1.
The Panthers would finish in the lower half of the ACC. By January, they will have made a valid argument for NFL contraction. I get it.
And it matters not one iota in my football world. Apparently the masses so thoroughly unimpressed with the Bears forget the NFL grades on a curve.
Five games into what I thought would be a bad season for the Bears, they find themselves atop the NFC class. That the class isn't exactly full of football Einsteins is irrelevant.
It's a myth that NFL playoff teams have to fit any definition of good. Just good enough.
The point isn't that the Bears looked so limited in winning on the road without starting quarterback Jay Cutler. The broader point is the win represented the type of game the Bears found a way to lose the last three seasons regardless of the quality of opponent.
Yet based on the reaction, many critics are acting as stubborn and inflexible with their opinion of this team as they accuse Lovie Smith of being about everything. It's OK to adjust your Bears goggles this early.
Believe me, finding fault with this roster isn't hard. It's how I killed time in Bourbonnais between practices. But things change. Every week of the NFL season is like a season unto itself. If Mike Martz can run the ball 65 percent of the time, you can open your mind about this Bears team.
This isn't the same team that underwhelmed us enough in preseason to create such low expectations. This is a team that took advantage of an early schedule opportunity, survived a stretch of three out of five games away from home that included the loss of Cutler and lost only on the road to a Giants team that has the NFL's top-ranked defense.
Nobody's saying that makes the Bears Super Bowl contenders. But can we please stop saying we still don't know what kind of team the Bears have? We know.
They have a dominant defense giving up 14.8 points per game, above-average special teams with threats in the return game and a serviceable offense that's still learning. Based on the state of the NFC and the schedule, that makes the Bears the kind of team capable of finishing ahead of the injury-wracked Packers and scandal-plagued Vikings.
What about that is so mysterious or objectionable?
So much of Monday's post-mortem revolved around the wrath many people felt over the decision to start 38-year-old veteran Todd Collins, who played like Jonathan Quinn's twin brother. Indeed Collins stunk, and if Caleb Hanie isn't the choice to start if Cutler isn't cleared medically, then Smith is the one doctors need to give a diagnostic test.
But is it fair to assail Jerry Angelo for his judgment on signing Collins on the same day Angelo's offseason prize, Julius Peppers, dominated the line of scrimmage again? Or as the other two free agents, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna, finally started to show promise in their niches?
I expected Collins to play better. So did Angelo and Martz and everyone who saw him every day in practice. You hit, you miss, you adjust accordingly.
The Bears have excelled in such areas of flexibility, another source of encouragement. This team responds to coaching and has a staff unafraid to hold players accountable for all phases of their game.
Examples abounded Sunday.
The Bears had their best day rushing the ball in 20 years behind an offensive line that included rookie tackle J'Marcus Webb and street free-agent guard Edwin Williams. Wide receiver Johnny Knox threw a downfield block on Matt Forte's 18-yard touchdown run that could go on an instructional video. Taylor emerged as the league's most expensive short-yardage back.
Defensively, strong safety Danieal Manning showed more fundamental progress at his fourth starting position in the secondary. End Israel Idonije, the organization's poster child of player development, had three sacks. Somehow cornerback Tim Jennings hasn't been exposed yet in his second week as the starter at left cornerback.
As long as the defense plays at this level, the victories that look ugly everywhere but in the standings should keep coming. If they don't, rest assured I will pounce when appropriate. It's just not right now.
Realistically, the team locals find so unacceptable has a legitimate shot to be at least 6-2 at midseason, flaws and all. After that, the Vikings, Eagles and Dolphins in November each promise to be close, final-possession games, but the Bears shouldn't be overmatched.
Sure, the December portion of the schedule featuring the Jets and Patriots may expose the Bears as much as many expect. But by then, the Bears already may have nine wins and need only one more to be in a position so few thought they would be.
It all could shape up to a miserable run to the playoffs in Chicago.