Mike Nadel: Bears (7-9) are who we thought they were

Mike Nadel

Lovie Smith says his Bears don’t need “major changes” heading into 2008. Why? Because, he said, “I think we’re close.”

“You look at the games we lost this year,” he said, “and ... we were in every one of those games.”

Ah, the Narrow Defeat Argument. What a wonderful way to deny and justify.

Well, it’s true that the Bears could have beaten the Chargers, the Vikings twice, the Lions twice, the Seahawks, the Giants and the Redskins. Had they won all of those games, they’d have been 15-1 and Super Bowl bound instead of 7-9 and done for the year.

Conveniently, Lovie forgot to mention the close games the Bears won vs. the Eagles, Raiders, Broncos and Packers. Had they lost those, they’d have finished 3-13.

Look, the Bears were 7-9 because they didn’t play well enough nine times. Teams lose close games because they are poorly coached and don’t make enough big plays.

They need to stop fooling themselves into thinking they were better than 7-9 just because they scored decisive victories in their final two meaningless games.

After wrapping up the season Sunday against New Orleans, Smith said: “We’ll tighten up some things, try to make some minor adjustments, and come up strong.”

If fixing the offensive line, figuring out what to do at quarterback and running back, shoring up the safety position and finding receivers and linebackers to make up for the likely departures of Bernard Berrian and Lance Briggs equal “minor adjustments,” well, I’m on board.

Heck, they’re so close, they’re practically champions!

The Bears and the rest of the NFL figured prominently in recent editions of my blog, The Baldest Truth. For more, see www.thebaldesttruth.com. Some excerpts follow.

Drug differences

As you watch the NFL playoffs, ask yourself these questions:

How many of those impossibly huge linemen use HGH or other undetectable performance-enhancers? How many impossibly fast 255-pound linebackers get chemical help of questionable legality?

The NFL must have at least as big a drug problem as baseball does, yet Congress isn’t planning hearings, hard-core football fans aren’t calling for asterisks, and nobody is debating any gridiron great’s legacy.

Last season, Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was caught juicing and got suspended for four games. Not only wasn’t there outrage, but he was voted by fans, coaches and his peers to start in the Pro Bowl.

Meanwhile, any baseball player who used HGH once - before the sport even banned it - is shamed for life. 

What is the psychology behind these reactions?

Does it bother baseball fans more because they feel juicers are sullying the statistics and records that are such a part of the American pastime?

Do football fans simply accept that their behemoth heroes must be on something to be so big and so strong and to endure such a pounding?

Do fans see baseball players as “normal guys” while viewing football players as freakish entertainers - perfect specimens for fantasy league teams?

I have no answers, just plenty of questions.

Playoff picks

Jaguars 19, Steelers 13: The game’s in Pittsburgh, but that won’t faze hard-nosed Jacksonville.

Chargers 34, Titans 10: Talented San Diego is peaking at the right time.

Redskins 17, Seahawks 16: A road upset for a team on a mission.

Bucs 20, Giants 17: I admire New York for playing all-out against the Patriots, but I’m going with the home team here - and Jeff Garcia over Eli Manning.

Looking further ahead ... the Patriots have a difficult path to perfection.

Beating the Jaguars and either the Chargers or Colts on consecutive weekends just to reach the Super Bowl? Brutal! In fact, I’ll say right now that there’s an upset in the offing.

Not so fast

Before the Kyle Orton Bandwagon gets too full, I hope Bears fans notice how long he takes to wind up before delivering passes and how often he throws late and/or behind receivers.

Lovie Smith and Ron Turner aren’t the greatest coach-coordinator combo around, but there’s a reason they repeatedly have chosen a healthy Rex Grossman over Orton.

Bullish on Boylan

After Monday’s well-played, exciting, overtime loss to the Orlando Magic, the Bulls are 2-1 since Jim Boylan took over as interim coach for the fired Scott Skiles.

Boylan, who was the point guard for Marquette’s 1977 champions and graduated a year before I arrived on campus, made one big change in the Bulls’ lineup.

Chris Duhon now is starting at guard, and Ben Gordon is being used off the bench, a move I often implored Skiles to make.

As the sixth man, a role that suits the instant-offense machine perfectly, Gordon has scored 31, 25 and 39 points.

The Bulls are in a nice stretch of mostly weaker opponents. That, combined with the jolt that always seems to accompany a coaching change, could get their season going in the right direction.

Yep, all the Bulls needed was a Marquette man in charge.

Life lessons

Skiles was no angel as a youngster, having served two brief jail sentences on drug-related charges. He pulled his act together and went on to make something of himself, but he never forgot who he was and where he came from.

Whenever asked about athletes who had done wrong, Skiles would quickly point out that he believed in and benefited from second chances.

I’m a big believer in second chances, too. And when Skiles gets another job, I’m not ashamed to say I’ll be rooting for him to succeed.

Mike Nadel (mikenadel@sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for GateHouse News Service.