Rozner: Gutsy Bears hang on for win, jump atop North
It's not enough to say this is no longer your father's NFL.
Right now it's not even last year's NFL.
Long gone are the days of four or five truly dominant teams you can point to before a season and know for certain they'll run roughshod over the league.
As we sit here today, there is one complete team in Cincinnati and probably another in Seattle, though no team has returned to the Super Bowl in a decade and the odds are against the Seahawks getting back to the big game.
But that's this week.
One major injury and next week the Bengals become like everyone else, trying to get by without enough depth at important positions because of expansion, the salary cap and defections among great athletes to less violent sports.
That brings us to NFC North, which now sees the Bears and Lions tied atop the division with 2-1 records after the Bears' gutsy 27-19 victory over the Jets on Monday night in New Jersey.
The Bears jumped out to a 17-3 lead due to the generosity of New York QB Geno Smith and some strong drives by Jay Cutler, but it was the Bears' defense that stood tall in the second half.
The Bears went 3-and-out three straight times after taking a 24-13 lead on the opening drive of the second half, and the much-maligned defense forced Smith into difficult decisions and held the Jets to field goals twice with New York inside the 10, and shut them down one last time at the 9-yard line on the final drive of the game.
It was impressive considering the Jets' prolific running game and the Bears' difficulties stopping the run, not to mention all the injuries on both sides of the ball already this season, but especially on defense.
Amazing because not long ago the sky was falling and the rats were leaping, but with the Bears winning in consecutive weeks on the road at night and in hostile environments 2,500 miles apart on opposite coasts, even with all their injuries, they can make a case for having the best team in the division at the moment.
Sure, the Lions are the flavor of the day after a win at home to open the season against the dreadful Giants (1-2) and a victory at home against a 1-2 Packers team that doesn't look very special.
In between, Detroit was manhandled in Carolina (2-1) by a Panthers team that was taken apart Sunday night at home by a 2-1 Pittsburgh squad previously unable to stop anyone but able to put so much pressure on a shaken Cam Newton that he hardly looked like an NFL quarterback.
So the first half of the Bears' schedule doesn't look nearly as daunting today as it did when the season began.
They get Green Bay at home Sunday, the Packers looking awful at times on defense and even on offense.
Carolina is the week after that. Atlanta (2-1) looks to be back in form after an injury-plagued season, with a big win over New Orleans -- which looks very mediocre so far -- a tough loss at Cincinnati and then the destruction of Tampa last week.
To finish the first half, the Bears get Miami (1-2), which still doesn't have a quarterback, and New England (2-1), which has a loss to Miami, a win over the pathetic Vikings and had to hang on for dear life Sunday at home against the 0-3 Raiders.
Sad as it may be to say, the Patriots and Tom Brady may have finally gotten old before our eyes, and they are no team to fear as we sit here five weeks away from that game.
Thing is, it's not even a week-to-week league anymore, where the team you watched on tape last week is not the team you'll face next week. It's a possession-to-possession league, where the team you faced last series is not the one you'll see next series.
The Bears are as good an example of that as any team, comparing the first half of the Niners game, when they looked like a winless team, to the second, when they looked like champs.
But after Monday's performance and secure at 2-1, the Bears stand a good chance to be over .500 going into the bye -- through the toughest part of the schedule -- which seemed unlikely to most when the season started and impossible to nearly everyone after the season-opening loss to Buffalo.
Just like that, they'll be favored against the Packers on Sunday. A week ago, who would have guessed that?
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