ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Vince Banonis, who was a center for the Detroit Lions championship teams in 1952-53, has died at the age of 89.
The Lions said that the standout two-way player died Saturday at Providence Hospital in Southfield. The team didn't announce a cause of death.
Banonis was a star at the University of Detroit as a linebacker and center and was drafted in 1942 by the Chicago Cardinals. His sports career took a break while he served as a Navy lieutenant during World War II, but he was able to help Chicago win the 1947 title before his career with Detroit.
He retired after winning the second of two titles in Detroit. He was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
So much for the idea that the Bears were going to be more balanced offensively.
At best, that promise made last Monday by coach Lovie Smith will go down as a cheap ploy to throw off the Washington Redskins in their preparations. Because in another close game, the Bears pretty much refused to run the ball. Forty-four pass plays were called and just 16 runs.
In the name of balance, the Bears went from a 47/12 split to 44/16. In the last 10 quarters with Jay Cutler on the field, offensive coordinator Mike Martz has called pass plays 76 percent of the time. During those 10 quarters, the Bears have trailed by more than seven points for only 9 minutes, 51 seconds. That means the games have been close enough that a coordinator would have no reason to abandon the run unless he didn't believe in his backs, the line, or didn't believe in running the ball to begin with.
Once again, Smith supported the game plan Sunday, the one that led to four interceptions and four sacks.
"I like our game plan," he said after the 17-14 loss. "We can't turn the ball over as many times. We got ourselves in position. Losing by three points, we got ourselves in position to still do some things. When I say balance, I'm not talking about 50-50, anything like that. I'm just talking about keeping them off balance a little bit with the run, taking what they're giving us and I think we did that for the most part today."
They certainly weren't giving up anything on DeAngelo Hall's side of the field, but the Bears kept taking that. Or choosing that, anyway. On the 65-yard drive that stalled out when Hall returned his second of four interceptions 92 yards for a touchdown, the Bears ran the ball effectively. There were five carries on the drive for 40 yards with three rushes of 10 or more yards.
By not balancing the offense, the Bears are putting as much of the game as possible in Cutler's hands. That formula has failed spectacularly for a multitude of reasons, not all of which are the fault of the quarterback. Cutler has completed 51 of 90 passes for 613 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions in the last 10 quarters. His passer rating for that span? A dismal 56.7.
Here are nine other thoughts about the Bears:
2. The uproar over Smith's failure to challenge the play at the goal line where Cutler fumbled on the quarterback sneak is understandable and predictable. Smith even admitted that he'd usually pull the trigger and fire the red flag in a situation like that. But if he'd challenged that play and lost, he'd have been out of challenges and down to only one timeout with 28 minutes remaining in the game.
In the bigger picture, Smith needs to re-evaluate his challenging tendencies as a whole. It was the failure of his challenge on the previous play that clearly made him keep the flag in his pocket. Wide receiver Earl Bennett's left knee touched the ground before he was in the end zone. Smith challenged without a good replay to show him whether it was a smart challenge. The officials found a very clear replay to prove Bennett did not score and the Bears lost a challenge and a timeout. That dropped Smith to 1-for-5 this season on replay challenges and 3-for-15 since the start of last season. He's at 31 percent for his career.
Here's the rub, though: I don't believe a challenge of Cutler's quarterback sneak would have overturned the call on the field -- a fumble recovered by the Redskins. Fox provided multiple angles of the play and while compelling (and certainly more worthy of a challenge flag than the Bennett play), there was no "indisputable" evidence to overturn the call. That's the measure the officials are using. Fox analyst Troy Aikman said as much: "I don't know if there is enough there."
Focusing solely on this issues obscures the bigger picture: The Bears have a broken offense with Martz. The bigger poblem with this play was that the Bears ran a quarterback sneak at 335-pound Albert Haynesworth. The mammoth defensive tackle leaped over center Olin Kreutz and stuffed Cutler. No way the offense should have run a sneak in the direction of Haynesworth. Why weren't they sneaking to the right, away from a guy who can be in the doghouse for seven months or so, and then come out and make a difference against the Bears?
3. Speaking of Haynesworth, did you catch his sack in the first quarter? He drove left guard Chris Williams back 10 yards into Cutler for a sack. It was like Williams was riding the blocking sled for him. That's what you can get, on occasion, for $100 million.
"He's a good football player," Williams said of Haynesworth. "He's a really good football player. Just go out there and fight as hard as you can to block him and try to get it done."
Said Haynesworth of the sack: "Just a good play, I guess. I have done it before. Not on this stage."
4. General manager Jerry Angelo spoke on the WBBM-AM 780 pregame show Sunday about the offensive line, the position that is under great scrutiny from Angelo, who serves as the team's cross-checker for the position when it comes to the draft.
Injuries knocked Williams out of three games, and Roberto Garza missed his second game after arthroscopic knee surgery. Angelo maintained it's about continuity.
"When you lose a player, or players in our case, it makes it tough on the other guys because one player affects the other four; it just goes with the territory," Angelo said on the show. "That's why I keep emphasizing, it's not about getting great players, it's about getting the same five players playing well together."
Not about great players? Sure it is. What team in the league wouldn't go for Joe Thomas at left tackle? Nothing trumps talent in the NFL, and it strikes me that Angelo is trying to obscure the fact that the Bears are left with a cast of late-round picks and waiver claims and reaches after he failed to address the position during the five-draft span from 2003 to 2007. In those five drafts, as I have documented, the Bears drafted one offensive lineman in the first five rounds. That was guard Josh Beekman in the fourth round of the '07 draft. In that span -- we're talking a total of 25 rounds -- 141 offensive linemen were chosen leaguewide. So when the cupboard went bare after John Tait retired and veteran players flamed out, Angelo had no players that were developing in the system and ready to contribute.
Angelo was asked if the Bears could have done more for the offensive line?
That's overkill," he said. "I've heard that, seen it written, but that's not the answer. The answer is getting five players that fit what you want to do offensively and then getting them on the same page. We haven't been able to do that. It's not an excuse. It's a reason. We need to get better. Nobody is going to cry for you and we're not looking for tears. We're looking to get better and we're looking for answers and we'll get 'em."
5. Washington's Hunter Smith punted seven times and five went out of bounds with another sailing into the end zone for a touchback. Devin Hester got his hands on one for a return and picked up 12 yards. That wasn't part of the Redskins' plan.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had Hester return two kicks for touchdowns against him during a 2007 game when he was with the Broncos, and Washington special teams coach Danny Smith is a veteran who knows what he's doing. So they instructed Smith to kick for the sidelines.
"It does (frustrate me)," Hester said." It's not the first time that has happened and it won't be the last. Hopefully I will get more opportunities. Their special teams coach came up to me after the game and he said he couldn't sleep the whole week. That was their whole game plan and they made sure they stuck with it. It was good on their part."
What the Redskins did was eliminate the edge the Bears have on special teams, or a big part of it anyway. Take that factor out of the game and then more of the burden goes to Cutler. The Redskins were much happier taking their chances that way.
6. I turned to the Tribune's former defensive back Matt Bowen for a little information on DeAngelo Hall after he tied an NFL record with four interceptions and got enough balls for all four members of his family at the game to take home a souvenir.
"They should know DeAngelo Hall likes to sit hard, inside on those routes," Bowen said. "That's what he does. They were saying (Johnny) Knox could have closed on the ball. He could have. But it was just so poorly played."
Bowen points out the 92-yard interception return by Hall is all on Cutler. Knox was running an out route with Hall playing off man coverage. Hall is inside and off and should not be able to make a play on the ball. But by lobbing the ball in the direction of Knox with an off-balance throw, it allowed Hall to break on the throw and make a spectacular one-handed interception. A sharply thrown pass does not get picked off.
"Jay allowed it to happen," Bowen said.
Bottom line is the errant third-down pass was a 10-point swing because it would have been a 31-yard field goal for Robbie Gould.
7. So which defensive lineman gets cut this week? Maybe that won't happen, but that has been the trend of late as the Bears try every combination imaginable to ignite the pass rush. They got so-so pressure on Donovan McNabb, sacking him twice and forcing him into a pick six. Nickel back D.J. Moore was in the process of sacking McNabb when he released a pass that Israel Idonije batted into the air. Moore pulled it in and raced 54 yards for a touchdown. Other than that, Idonije had a sack to give him a career-high 4 1/2 and lineback Brian Iwuh, subbing for Lance Briggs, made one. Julius Peppers went sackless for the third straight game. He has two for the season, and while he had decent pressures at times in the loss, he's not dominating a game like he's being paid to do. With 11 sacks, the Bears are on pace to have 25 for the season. That's not an acceptable figure.
8. It looked like punter Brad Maynard was struggling. It was a bit windy and he is a directional punter, but his net average on seven punts was 36.3 yards. Asked if he was healthy after the game, he said he was, but Maynard wasn't pleased with the line of questioning. Perhaps the off week comes at a good time for him. He has dealt with groin muscle issues in the past, and had hip surgery last January. Maynard felt good coming out of preseason.
9. The off week also will come at a good time for Briggs, who needs to heal his sprained left ankle, and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who hasn't been at full speed for a few weeks because of a groin muscle pull. No team wants to enter an off week after a loss, but these guys will find the rest valuable.
10. If you lost track keep score at home, the Bears are now 0-for-10 this season on goal-to-go plays from the opponents' one-yard line. Cutler's botched quarterback sneak, the goal-line play so many had been calling for, is just the latest to fail. Let's review:
Week 1 vs. Detroit:
3-1-1: Matt Forte rush minus-1 yard
1-1-1: Forte rush for no gain
2-1-1: Incomplete pass intended for Greg Olsen.
3-1-1: Forte rush for no gain
4-1-1: Forte rush for no gain
Week 3 vs. Green Bay
4-1-1 Incomplete pass intended for Desmond Clark
3-1-1 Forte rush for no gain
Week 5 at Carolina
2-1-1 Chester Taylor rush for no gain
3-1-1 Todd Collins pass intended for Devin Hester intercepted
Week 7 vs. Washington
1-1-1 Cutler rush for no gain, fumble
10 a. What does the off week bring? The Bears will have meetings Monday. It's a standard day off Tuesday and then there will be a practice Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe they'll focus on individual drills and try to clean up some areas that have been problems. Certainly, the off week comes at the right time to make wholesale changes, but I've never gotten the impression Smith is the kind of coach who would consider such action.
10 b. Everyone loves how aggressive kickoff returner Danieal Manning is. He ran the ball out from six yards deep in the end zone in the third quarter. Some complained. Based on the way the offense was going, it was probably a gamble worth making even if he was run out of bounds at his own 16-yard line.
10 c. Sunday marked the fourth time in the last 19 games Gould has not attempted a field goal.
10 d. Back to those goal-line failures: Kellen Davis caught three touchdown passes last season. Clark had two. Olsen led the team with eight. Brandon Manumaleuna can catch. Martz should use these players at the goal line on some play-fakes. They've proven they can make plays happen here. They just might succeed again.
10 e. Going 2-for-10 on third down raised the Bears' conversion percentage on the season to 17.9.
10 f. Here's hoping Angelo will hold his typical off-week press conference in the next few days.
The tape shows: The Bears line up with four wide receivers, two on each side of the formation, and one running back, Matt Forte. Cutler takes the snap from shotgun.
All four receivers run nine routes. The Redskins defenders stay on top of every route, and none of the four Bears is open. There is no play action, no pump-fake or no double moves to draw defenders off the routes.
Left defensive end Vonnie Holliday slips inside left guard Lance Louis and forces Cutler to throw. Cutler doesn't have an outlet receiver to throw to because Forte was forced to stay in and pick up blitzing safety Kareem Moore. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh also is blitzing.
Instead of trying to escape pressure with his feet or throwing the ball out of bounds, Cutler throws a pass his receiver has no chance of catching and is intercepted by Hall.
More criticism: Former NFL coach Tony Dungy criticized Cutler's mechanics during NBC's "Football Night in America" pregame show.
"Jay is making some bad decisions right now," he said. "A lot of it is his offensive line. He's getting rushed, but part of it is not using his fundamentals, not making good decisions."
Lovie Smith was asked Monday about such criticism coming from his former boss and a guy he respects.
"Yeah, I have respect for my mom, my wife, my sons, and everyone else too," Smith snapped. "But I'm just saying on one play and some of the bad plays, yeah, you can say the mechanics were off, that he didn't have his feet set. Yeah, you can say that. Normally on bad plays that was the case, but that wasn't case throughout the entire day."
High praise: Martz seemed rather impressed with the offensive line despite four sacks allowed.
"The offensive line … J'Marcus Webb was really outstanding," Martz said. "He made a quantum leap. Olin (Kreutz) always plays well. And Frank (Omiyale) played exceptionally well on the left side. We made a remarkable — or significant, I should say — improvement on the offensive line which will now continue to allow us to do the things that we need to do."
Martz did not mention guard Chris Williams, who was pushed all the way back into Cutler by Albert Haynesworth for a sack.
BEARS IN BRIEF: Lovie: Despite woes, team in good position
In defending his quarterback and offensive coordinator, coach Lovie Smith downplayed any concern about the Bears' 4-3 record after a rough finish to their October schedule.
''Just keep in mind where we are in the season,'' Smith said. ''They don't give out championships in October, all right? You start getting yourself in position to make a run in November, in December. We have ourselves in position to make a run.
''We have to tighten up some things -- I realize that -- but a lot of teams have to tighten up some things. We're one of them, and we will.''
Asked if he's concerned about Jay Cutler losing the confidence of his teammates, Smith was diplomatic in his answer.
''Well, I can understand why you would ask that question,'' he said. ''But you guys had a chance to talk to our team.
''What I'd say is that they would say no. Jay, of course, would like to have some of those throws back. There are so many things all of us would like to do differently. But our team is just that: a team. We lost as a team yesterday. Everybody had an opportunity to make plays. Maybe some had more opportunities.''
Smith, like offensive coordinator Mike Martz, continued to say the offense is getting closer on a range of concerns, from third downs to scoring in the third quarter.
''We're going to continue to work,'' he said. ''I just think the odds say we're going to get that part taken care of.''
'D' not satisfied
Although the defense has been the strength of the team, defensive tackle Anthony Adams said he's not satisfied with how the unit has performed, especially after Ryan Torain had 125 yards on 21 carries.
''I take it personal,'' Adams said. ''Anytime a back gets 100 yards on you, that's never good. If you're getting double-teamed or whatever the case may be -- if you miss a tackle -- you have to rectify that and correct that situation and not have repeat performances like that.''
Adams said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and the rest of the staff have prepared them well, which only makes three losses in four games more frustrating.
''You've got somebody sitting here and telling you in meetings that this guy is going to do this or going to run this scheme, be aware of this, read your keys, but at the same time use your instincts, and we weren't able to stop the run a few times to get the ball back to our offense,'' Adams said.
''That hurts. Like Coach said, we let one slip away from us.''
Linebacker Lance Briggs tried to play on a twisted ankle Sunday but left the game in the first half and did not return.
Smith said Briggs should return when the Bears play the Buffalo Bills in Toronto on Nov. 7.
Guard Edwin Williams left the game with a back injury and should also benefit from the bye week. Smith said he also expects guard Roberto Garza (knee), safety Major Wright (hamstring) and cornerback Zack Bowman (right foot) to play against the Bills.
Outside of a couple of broken plays made huge by Matt Forte in Carolina, the Bears haven't run the football at all this season. Mike Martz knows this, so Sunday he got creative with the run game.
With the Bears up 14-10 after the terrific Danieal Manning interception the Bears from their own 22 opened with some nice misdirection, and with the Bears and Skins all moving east, Chester Taylor took the handoff and went west for a 12-yard gain.
On the next play Taylor bounced it right for another dozen. Out of the no-huddle, and using the Skins' aggressive rush against them, Forte took a screen for 13.
On a third-and-2, Cutler hit Devin Hester with a short pass across the middle for 7 yards and the Bears were in field goal range.
Forte bounced one off left tackle for 10 and the Bears were on the verge of putting the game away, considering the Skins' terrible offense and the Bears' defense.
It was a strong drive down to the 13 against a weak defense that could hurt the Bears only through QB pressure and Cutler mistakes.
It didn't end well as Cutler, while backpedaling, threw a soft jump ball halfway across the field in the direction of Johnny Knox, which went the other way with DeAngelo Hall for 92 yards and the game-winning TD.
Once again, if Martz is willing to take small chunks of yards and points on the board, there still are wins on the schedule. The revenge
When asked about Cutler's comments that he would throw at DeAngelo Hall again, Hall said Monday morning on SportsCenter that sometimes he doesn't think Cutler “understands the game of football. He threw at me in Denver and got me a few times, and he made some smart comments about that after that game.
“I knew he would come after me again and it didn't work out for him.'' The call
In a shocking turn of events, Lovie Smith admitted Monday that he should have challenged the Jay Cutler fumble on the goal line.
“Yes, I should have. I need to be able to make that call,'' Smith said. “I wish I had challenged it. I didn't.''
It's nice to hear, and he should be applauded for this rare moment of accountability.
He probably was afraid of getting skewered for throwing the red flag on consecutive plays, knowing he might lose two challenges and two timeouts in two plays.
What you have to wonder is who told him to challenge the play before, and whether the same person was unable or unwilling to convince Smith to try again. And finally …
Albert Haynesworth, on causing the now infamous fumble: “Right before the play, Jay (Cutler) and (Olin) Kreutz and (Chris) Williams were talking, so I figured they were probably going to try and come on my side and I kind of used that against them.'' email@example.com