Doesn't look good for Bears, but it's not over
The general consensus seems to be that the Bears' season is over just because of one loss, one horrible loss, one incredibly rancid, 45-10 loss to the Bengals.
E-mailers and callers to sports-talk radio seem to indicate that conventional wisdom says the Bears, at 3-3, are out of the playoff picture. And, yes, I realize how oxymoronic it is to use "wisdom" and "callers to sports-talk radio" in the same sentence.
But it isn't over. As John Belushi said in "Animal House": "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (Heck) no. And it ain't over now. 'Cause when the going gets tough - the tough get going."
We'll see how tough Lovie Smith's Bears are now, as they attempt to rise from the rubble of the Cincinnati debacle. But, just like almost every other NFL team that suffers a blowout loss, the Bears aren't as bad as they looked Sunday.
The big question is: Are they good enough to make the playoffs?
In four games against playoff-caliber teams - the Packers, Steelers, Falcons and Bengals - the Bears are 1-3. But all 3 losses were on the road.
Six of the Bears' final 10 games are at home, starting with back-to-back contests vs. Cleveland and Arizona. If the Bears don't win both of these next two, they really are done.
And even at 5-3, it will be an uphill fight to make it to the postseason party. Eight NFC teams are better than .500, and only six go to the playoffs.
For the Bears, there remain home-and-away dates with the Minnesota Vikings, who at 6-1 already look like a lock to win the division. Realistically, the wild-card route is the only path the Bears can take to the playoffs.
The loss to the 4-2 Atlanta Falcons could come back to haunt them in that regard, but victories on the road at 3-3 San Francisco (Nov. 12) and at home against 4-2 Philadelphia (Nov. 22) and 4-2 Green Bay (Dec. 13) could be huge in tiebreaker situations. The same goes for the Nov. 8 home game against the 4-2 Cards.
But all this "what if" stuff is meaningless unless the Bears don't get a lot better in a hurry.
The improvement has to begin upfront on defense. The Bears had 14 sacks in the first four games but have none in the last two, and they didn't even come close enough to the Falcons' Matt Ryan or the Bengals' Carson Palmer to chat.
Maybe if malcontent defensive tackle Tommie Harris decides he can play - and practice - with some soreness, like almost every other player in the NFL does every week, the Bears might be able to generate a pass rush.
We've been told that Harris was healthy enough to play against the Bengals but was more or less rested so he could come back strong. So maybe he actually might show up and play a full game Sunday for the first time this season.
You can always dream. It's entirely possible that the defensive line, with the help of a motivated Harris, still can be an above-average unit.
But there is no such hope for the offensive line. That's what happens when you go seven drafts in a row and use just one pick in the first three rounds on an offensive lineman. The Bears have had 22 such picks since 2003, and the only offensive lineman they drafted was Chris Williams.
Filling those gaps through free agency with veterans way past their prime and unproven backups from other teams has left the Bears with a running game that is No. 29 in yards per game (80.7) and tied for 23rd in average gain per attempt (3.7 yards).
It may be time to get off the bus throwing the ball.