NEWS

Playing smarter would help Bears' cause

Matt Trowbridge

Wow! Where to start?

Alex Brown picks effort.

“For about five minutes there, we actually believed that we could win, and we played like it,” Chicago’s defensive end said after Sunday’s 41-21 loss to the Cardinals. “Why the (heck) can’t we do that from the first play?

Some critics point to leadership.

“I don’t know,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We’ll see.”

A nondenial is damning. So is bringing up leadership’s twin, accountability.

“If someone doesn’t do everything right, that person needs to be held accountable,” Brown said. “I believe they are, but it needs to be enforced just a little bit more, because it is embarrassing.”

The Bears grasp at leadership problems to explain giving up six consecutive scores to both Cincinnati and Arizona in blowout losses the past three weeks, but they staunchly defend coach Lovie Smith and his assistants.

“It’s sad, man, that everybody looks at Coach and dogs him out,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “He’s not a rah-rah kind of guy, but I can point out maybe 10 rah-rah coaches in the NFL and they are not doing anything. It’s unfair.”

“Shoot,” Brown said, “it’s all the players. It’s not the coaches. They make the right calls. We can’t (darn) tackle. (Heck), I missed two tackles in the backfield today. I’m not supposed to do that. I’m supposed to make those plays. We can’t miss plays. We’ve got to MAKE plays.”

Leadership is just a scapegoat. It isn’t what has undermined the Bears.

It’s the stupidity, stupid.

And that’s on both the players and the coaches.

It starts with Tommie Harris getting kicked out on the fourth play of the game for sucker-punching a Cardinals lineman on the ground. But that’s only the start.

Brown laments that the Bears can’t tackle. When do they try? The Bears tackle like Monty Python’s armless Black Knight of “it’s only a flesh wound” fame. Bear after Bear will lower a shoulder into a ball carrier but not try to rap him up, as if they were human bumper cars.

Some of it is strategy. Needing only a stop on third-and-25 from the Arizona 5 to get the ball back with 7 minutes to play and trailing by 13 — after being behind by 27 five minutes earlier — Chicago called an all-out blitz and almost got burned, giving up 24 3-4 yards.

Some of it is timidity. Needing 13 points in seven minutes, All-Pro punt returner Devin Hester ran away from Arizona’s 56-yard punt. On a kickoff, Israel Idonije stood motionless as the ball barely cleared his head — even though there was no kick returner behind him. He got lucky to recover the ball after it squirted through a Cardinals’ arms.

Some of it is silly penalties, such as a needless holding penalty on Olin Kreutz that wiped out a 35-yard pass.

And a lot of it is the Bears deluding themselves. Brown thinks the Bears’ defense suddenly got strong in the second half.

“We’re just not making plays until our backs are against the wall,” Brown said. “Why the (heck) can’t we do that when it’s zero-zero?”

Because the Cardinals had their varsity in when it was zero-zero. The Bears began their short comeback with Matt Leinart having replaced Kurt Warner, who threw five touchdown passes, and with Arizona content to sit on a 34-7 lead.

The Bears (4-4) have potential, but they’ve earned their 1-3 slump on merit, playing with less intelligence than teenage victims in a slasher movie, the ones who are so stupid they deserve to die.

“It could be worse,” Cutler said. “We could be in a bigger hole than that.”

He’s right. The Bears are lucky to still be in the race. But they have to smarten up. And fast. Or see their playoff hopes die even faster.

Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 ormtrowbridge@rrstar.com.