We're a few steps away from Sunday, and as I predicted, we're not talking about the loss to Green Bay (although, for all the wrong reasons). We're stuck on inane 'leadership issues' and 'shovegate' and a plethora of lexiconical nonsense that rears its ugly head when your not winning. It was one game, a bad looking game, but a game that leads us to week three, where out of the 32 teams in the NFL. Six teams are 2-0 (if you can name all six, pat yourself on the back), Six teams are 0-2, and TWENTY teams are 1-1. Playoff favourites, such as: New England Patriots, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and your very own Chicago Bears all sit at that .500 mark. Cutler and Co. are in the same boat that twenty other teams are looking for a bit of recompense over their record.
This is the definition of parity in the NFL. The league has talked for the better part of fifteen years about parity and eliminating the dynasty, and bubbling up the bottom from time to time. This is it. And it's a good thing, gone are the days of traditional powerhouses, and every few years new challengers approach and turn on the heat onto the established franchises. The established franchises give way to the young guns, and the cycle repeats itself. San Francisco has turn into that powerhouse from a few years back being a bottom quarter team. How about Detroit going from 0-16 to 10-6 in just a few short years? Or San Diego and Arizona cooling into mid-level teams. It's the churning of the barrel. The barrel churns each year, and there's some good indications for how teams perform through the first 3 games throughout the entire year.
NFL 2011 Season
|Teams that went 2-0
|Playoff teams that went 1-1
|Green Bay Packers
|New Orleans Saints
|New England Patriots
|San Francisco 49ers
|New York Jets
|New York Giants
Just because you going 2-0 doesn't necessarily mean you're going to win a lot of games. Four of the seven teams that started 2 and 0 made the playoffs, three didn't. Eight of the other teams came from the 1-1 bracket.
Of those teams, the New York Giants lost to the 5-11 Redskins, San Francsico 49ers lost to a middle of the road Dallas Cowboys team, Atlanta Falcons lost to the Chicago Bears in a what was a thrashing. What happened the week after? The Giants came back and thumped the sometimes Mike Vick led Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco put up a defense masterpiece against the Cincinnati Bengals... and Atlanta lost (sorry Matty Ice). Teams that are good generally win games.
Whereas I'm not a fan of the concept of baseball's 'clutch', in the sense that as a hitter, you're not more likely to win a battle at the plate than lose a battle of the plate because of the particular situation you're in. To quote baseball sabermetrician Bill James:
How is it that a player who possesses the reflexes and the batting stroke and the knowledge and the experience to be a .262 hitter in other circumstances magically becomes a .300 hitter when the game is on the line?
A teams talent doesn't fluctuate from game to game drastically enough (massive injuries aside). A team does though go into every Sunday with a plan to execute. Execute perfectly, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Just like in baseball, sometimes you'll hit the ball, sometimes you'll hit the ball well, but sometimes there's going to be someone standing right there to catch it. Sometimes you're going to hit the ball off a poor pitcher, and sometimes it'll go into foul territory, and sometimes still, they'll still find a way to strike you out. In football, sometimes a team just wins, they may not be a good team, or the best of team, but they just win the game, it becomes the concept of 'Any Given Sunday', where factors align, individual strengths are neutralized or diminished, and sometimes, things just perfectly align where the better team on the field isn't necessarily the better team next week or at any other time during the season, like the Kansas City Chiefs beating the unbeaten Green Bay Packers last year. Prime example from last week was the defensive dominance that Arizona put on against New England. Arizona is not a very good football team. They're OK at best, but compared to the 12.5 average wins per season New England Patriots, they just seem rather lacking in so many ways. But there they were, a Stephen Gostkowski field goal away from putting their tick in the win column, their name in the positive ledger of history.
And sometimes it just happens that way.
And Tom Brady woke up the next morning next to his supermodel wife, and Rob Gronkowski is probably still sleeping off the Summer of Gronk, Wes Welker who never sleeps... and the very next morning, they're all in the office working for the weekend, putting the loss behind them, and focusing on week 3. Which is exactly what you expect of professional football players.
As I was listening to the Jay Cutler show on Tuesday (a recommended listen on WMVP-AM1000 Chicago), I was listening to Jay answer a question on the offensive gameplan in Week 2 and it's deficiencies. He deflected the question saying something to the effect of 'I'm not thinking about it'. And at first I was furious, questioning why he wouldn't talk about rollouts, running the ball, playing differently against the 2 Man scheme, draw plays and actual tangible answers that I, as an informed member wants to know. But, for him, he doesn't have to know, he doesn't have to think about it, because it's not part of the plan for keeping each game ahead of him. His plan is Sunday, just like it would be for Tom Brady, just like it will be for Drew Brees, just like it will be for Peyton Manning, Matt Stafford, and half of the league. And, once again, I too fall into the expectation trap that we expect more out of our players than sometimes I think we should. Human decency, yes, but like Lovie Smith, the Bears players don't always feel the need to give answers for everything right away, and not everyone is focused on the answers I want to hear or I want to know.
Of course, that's a frustrating feeling as a commentator, and as a fan, but winning solves almost everything for the Bears team. It solves the questions of leadership, of locker room problems, of mental blocks, and of resilience. It's the exact same place the Bears were in this time last year, after going to the NFC Championship Game and losing to the Green Bay Packers, there was this unstoppable feeling of being so close to the big game, and then it was a brick wall of questions; trying to discover the differences between inadequacy and poor execution, was it Mad Martz being bad or was it just that the team overperformed last year? The game was so similar to last weeks mess at Lambeau, a gameplan that seemed ineffective, a line that was overmatched and overutilized, and as always, the lack of a strong running game.
I pose this question: Why, as fans, do we think that every other team can get along and right the ship, but our team is incapable? We catastrophize every loss, but find other teams with similar talent and just instinctively know they'll turn it around. It's a hard look I think, the Bears are a team with a lot of talent, but being able to emotionally know and intellectually know are two different things. On one hand, you know the Patriots are going to turn things around, but, in the same breath, there's doubt with the Bears. Like the Bears and Lovie Smith haven't ever been in this situation before (Saints 2011, Giants 2010, or going 1-3 in 2005), it's not like the Bears are magically cursed to never find a way to succeed, it's just very hard to separate the emotional quotient and the rational quotient from the equation of being systematically crushed defensively by our rivals. But the Bears aren't the only team to ever have a problem like this. Both San Diego and New England had Manning's number for years. Tom Brady had a Miami problem. And sometimes, even Rodgers has a Chicago problem (but Cutler also has a Green Bay problem).
Adversity is our friend, in pushing all the questions away, and no better sacrificial lamb to have on Sunday than the St. Louis Rams. The Rams aren't the best team in the league, nor the worst (which is probably, and unfortunately Oakland), but a team much like the Colts that the Bears should have no problem preying on in all phases. They're a game which a strong win, nay, a Cutler QB rating of over 90 will have people forgetting the doubts in the same manner that 'bumpgate' made us forget the loss, and the bad offense made us forget how strong the defense was against the best offense in the NFL. Stay the course, stay steady, and as always, stay cold.