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updated: 11/7/2010 8:39 PM

How many must-wins can Bears survive?

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The Bears played Sunday like they were living a line by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy.

Here is the cleansed version: "Kissing your wife is like striking out the pitcher."

What does that have to do with the Bears? Well, beating Buffalo is like striking out, say, Ted Lilly.

The Bears eked out a 22-19 victory over the Bills, who essentially are the hitting pitchers of pro football.

The win was sort of an obligation more than an accomplishment even if Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said, "It's hard to win in the NFL, especially on the road."

To his credit, Cutler threw just enough fastballs past the Bills for the Bears to prevail.

The Bears survived against a team that has no idea how to win. Somebody will have to hand the Bills a victory, and while the Bears tried, they fell just short of being bad enough to succeed at failing.

The Bears are a reflection of their head coach: Lovie Smith is a survivor struggling to save his job and so far his team is surviving while trying to save their season.

Call it "Survivor: Toronto," where the game against the Bills was played because it didn't deserve to be played on U.S. soil. The Toronto Sun previewed it as "a game between the inept Bills and unwatchable Chicago Bears."

And to think, some people believe Canadians don't know anything about American football.

Anyway, in the Bears' opener two months ago they beat the Lions in what was billed as the earliest must-win game in NFL history.

Half a season later the winless Bills represented another must-win challenge. Win and the Bears remained playoff contenders; lose and they would be certifiable pretenders.

The Bears stayed alive by finishing the season's first half with a 5-3 record. Now a presumably more difficult second-half schedule looms.

The Bears still look like they have no idea who they are, but most of their future opponents don't look like they know who they are either.

Detroit was supposed to be an easy mark but Sunday almost beat the Jets. Maybe the Lions view the Bears as their easy mark.

Minnesota was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender but had to rally to reach 3-5. Maybe the Vikings view next week's game in Chicago as their chance to get well.

The NFL the NFC especially remains a work in progress, though often it looks like a work in regress.

The Bears did improve in some areas at Toronto, like, scoring a touchdown from 1-yard out after failing in their previous 10 tries from that distance.


The Bears also improved on third down and in the red zone, balanced their run-pass ratio and provided Cutler with uncustomary pass protection.

On the downside, all of those positives weren't enough to keep the Bears from having to huff and puff to reduce the Bills' record to 0-8.

The only problem with running the ball as much as the Bears did is they didn't run it well against the league's worst run defense.

But the Bears did win and Smith could say, "We're halfway through the season and haven't peaked yet."

If that's the good news, the bad news is there doesn't appear to be enough hitting pitchers left on the schedule.

They'll all look like Albert Pujols if the Bears don't play better down here than they did up there.