Support my attention-whoring ways by following us on twitter!

Get the SKOdcast imported directly into your brain!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What's in a game?

The Chicago Bears are 3-1. Not a sentence I wanted to write. Not one I expected to write. Still, all things being considered, not one I’m as upset as you would think about writing. But God damn are a lot of people really upset about it.

We’re in that ridiculous part of the early season where ESPN insists upon figuring out whether teams are “for real” or not. Any team that has done well to this point now has to justify their success by winning all games, forever, always, lest they be exposed as pretenders.

And for some reason errbody keys on the Bears in these situations. But really, what about that game other than a poor showing from an allegedly ill Jay Cutler exposed the Bears as anything other than a pretty good team with flaws and a decent shot at making the playoffs, much like almost every good team in the NFL?

I’ll begin with the obvious: every team loses games. Exactly one team has ever played an entire season of football without losing any games. I don’t like losing to a division rival, and certainly not one I have such a high degree of disdain for, but a loss is not the end of the world.

This is a complete list of teams with records better than the Bears through week 4: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks. You’ll notice that two of those teams are the teams that anyone with a lick of sense picked to play in this year’s Super Bowl, two of them feature three of the top four quarterbacks in the league, and one is the Kansas City Chiefs somehow.

There are a number of teams who are still “better” than the Bears in the minds of the fans and league for some reason who are doing significantly worse than the Bears this year. The Packers, Falcons, Texans, 49ers, Bengals, Eagles and others are all sitting pretty at or below .500, but still regularly mentioned as teams that are better than the Bears.

And maybe some of them are. I’m not saying being better through the first quarter of the season means the Bears are better than the Packers, that question will have to be settled when the two come face to face. But for some reason only the Bears can lose a single game and somehow be exposed as a “bad team.”

Second, consider the actual game. I’m upset with the way they lost it, but losing to Detroit at Detroit is hardly something I’m on the ledge about. I said it in the Progkakke (which Travis will invariably wait until Sunday morning to post for some reason), and I imagine I will say it again on the podcast: I am prepared to admit that Detroit may in fact be a good team.

Talent has never been their issue, it was always the fact that for every good offensive drive they had a dumbass pick or fumble, or a long play called back on a hold. Defensively, their “bad boy” front seven had a tendency to extend as many drives as they stuffed by breaking pretty much every rule you could imagine. Sure they have holes, but they were essentially the unluckiest 9-7 team you could imagine last year and they added a skilled running back.

The point is, Detroit is going to win a fair number of games this year. They’re not the class of the NFC by any means, but the options are not “NFC Champion” and “garbage,” no matter how much ESPN wants to make it sound like that.

If they’d pissed away an easy win at home against a C-list team, I’d sure as shit be concerned. But this is hardly the end of the world if you ask me.

Third, consider the manner of the loss. Jay Cutler played like shit. Word on the street is he’s got the flu or something and was taking fluids before the game, but either way both the media and Jay himself rightly blame that loss on the fact that he just couldn’t throw the ball right all day.

I know I make as big a stink as anybody about the laser focus this league has on QBs at all times, but in this case that attitude is admissible. When your QB plays like that, it’s hard to win a game against a bad opponent, let alone one that’s putting up 30 points.

People are already going to the “same old Jay” attitude, of course. But whether he was sick or not, I still want to know: what did you expect? Bad Jay Cutler is a force of nature. He just shows up sometimes, puts out a cigarette on your couch, pisses on the toilet seat and helps himself to the last of your milk. I don’t like it, but at this point I think it’s obvious that a single bad game is never a sign of a “more serious” problem with his game. In fact, he is actually 6-1 in games the week after a game in which he threw three or more interceptions.

If anything, I’m more comfortable with the progression of  “good Jay, good Jay, good Jay, bad Jay” than the former “bad Jay, super-bad Jay, fucking incredible Jay, okay Jay, good Jay” scattershot we got before. If he looks like that again next week, we can talk, but even Drew Brees is good for at least one perplexing meltdown a year.

It does bring up an interesting point though. I have multiple friends and relations who feel the need to call or text me every time Jay Cutler does something bad. People I won’t hear from for weeks at a time otherwise. Three good games, three game-winning drives, three perfect-as-perfect-can-be TD throws: not a word. But one interception and my phone just vibrates itself right off the fucking table.

Inevitably, they compare him to Peyton Manning. “Peyton never woulda done that.” “Peyton is a real leader.” “I want Peyton in and around my anus.” Good for fucking Peyton Manning. The only options are not “bad” and “Greatest of All Time.” And even if they were, we are not going to just fire Jay and hire Peyton. It does not work that way.

People are so, so happy when Jay Cutler fails. People who are Bears fans, who want the Bears to win, want to see him play poorly. And they say they like it because then they’ll get rid of him, but why wouldn’t you just want him to play well?

If you just don’t like him, man up and acknowledge it. You hate his face and don’t want him anymore, so own it. Don’t try to hide your childishness behind “See! He’s the same!” when he’s playing out of his goddamn mind 3/4 of the time.

To their credit, ESPN did not do what they usually do and say, “Jay Cutler is bad and was always bad and somehow he played way better than he is physically capable of playing for the sole purpose of hurting your feelings.”

Part of it, I think, is that Jay played their game for once. He went to the podium and took the blame for the loss and said “we’ll get better next week” and just in general did all the things media darling QBs do when they mess up. Whether that’s a sign of maturation in Jay or better personnel management in Trestman, its effect on the media is obvious.

A larger part of it, though, we owe to Joe Flacco. Kyle and I were talking Sunday night about how nobody in the media is really stepping on Jay for throwing three interceptions, and it’s probably because Joe Flacco threw five on the same day. Thanks to the industry standard “Super Bowl win equals elite quarterback” narrative, they are not allowed to criticize him as much as they should.

Likewise, Eli Manning is playing like total dogshit this season, but they can’t even acknowledge it because they’d have to defend him and to do so would be to essentially take back every bad word they’ve ever said about Jay Cutler.

And I think this is a good thing, honestly. The media has long labored under the unspoken assumption that any team without a top-5 QB was bad and should somehow acquire one, even though that is mathematically impossible. Too many talented guys struggled in vain to get the recognition they deserved, but couldn’t have because five or six of the best ever to play the game were on the field at the same time.

If an RB or a WR has a bad game, nobody writes a 1,000-word column about it. If a normally serviceable lineman spends all day getting his ass beat, someone might say “that was weird,” and move on to other things.

Quarterbacks have bad games, too. True, their failures tend to be magnified by the importance of the position, but to expect all quarterbacks to play at an elite level at all times is just ridiculous. ESPN is no longer doing that, and you shouldn’t either.

It is unfortunate that this week’s game is a probable loss to the offensive juggernaut and surprisingly resilient defense that is the New Orleans Saints. Regardless of how good Jay looks, regardless of how well they improve on some of their existing issues, a loss now means we’re going to get to read the word “tailspin” a whole lot. Ron Jaworski is going to talk about 2012 a whole lot, and how “the Bears are exposed and you have to win those big games to be a contender in the National Football League. “

I’m prepared to accept a strong performance in a loss as a good sign here. 3-2 is less than desirable, but the Bears don’t make the schedule. They have two should-win matchups against the floundering Giants and slightly-less-so-but-still-pretty-floundering Redksins, and if they look good against the Saints I still feel good about 5-2 going into a potentially interesting game against the Packers.

In closing, a loss is a loss. A bad game is a bad game. But a loss is just one loss, especially when it is literally one loss. Now is not the time to be talking about next year, or about what went wrong this year. Why Bears fans cannot accept that a single loss does not the season make is beyond me. Maybe they’ve just been hurt too many times.

Also, I meant to write this article about the Bears and it ended up being mostly about Jay Cutler. Who could’ve seen that coming?


Mario S said...

Totally agree with this and hate that this next game will likely be a loss too. This team is going either 13-3 or 12-4 but will have to be 3-2 to get there. I thought they would lost to either the Vikings or Lions on the road and sure enough they did. This team will only start to silence people if they a)beat the Packers on the road (not likely) or b) run of the string of wins I expect between Packer games.

Mario S said...

Should've previewed that. Meant "would lose" not lost and "run off" not of.

John F. said...

You know while i loved the post, most of the anti-JayCutler shit can be avoided by just not watching ESPN. They suck.

I do however understand that most of Bears fandom do watch ESPN, and its good you are teaching the fans how horrible ESPN is.