In the beginning ... we predicted 6-10 for the Chicago Bears and it seemed just about right.
Then, after we saw the Ghost of Jimmy Clausen in that 26-0 loss to Seattle, it looked more like 3-13 and good luck finding the three.
But then Jay Cutler returned ahead of schedule and things settled down, and now, weeks after fans stopped watching games between their outstretched fingers, this looks like, knock on Mike Ditka’s pompadour, it could be a wholly respectable team with a longshot chance of making the postseason.
This is where you chime in, “That’s why the NFL is king. Because you just never know.” But even the most experienced NFL fan has to be a little shocked the Bears shifted into competency so quickly in the middle of a season.
Now, a week after their best win of the season, 37-13, over the St. Louis Rams, the Bears unexpectedly have a strong shot to return to .500. Well, before a looming beatdown in Green Bay on Thanksgiving night, that is. But after that, the schedule softens up with five winnable games.
If the Bears finish with a winning record, Cutler won’t only be back next season, but maybe he’ll get his own radio show. What’s that? He had one already? It’s been so long, I almost forgot.
With lanky backup quarterback Brock Osweiler leading the charge, beating the 7-2 Denver Broncos doesn’t seem like that big of a stretch for a Bears team that was three phases shy of relevancy two months ago.
After opening as underdogs, the Bears were a consensus 1-point favorite at VegasInsider.com, which aggregates Vegas sportsbooks and online sites, on Thursday night. By Friday, they were downgraded to a 1-point underdog.
The Bears haven’t been favored against anyone all season, and with Denver’s defense, you wonder where the Bears are going to win individual matchups, but you have to credit offensive coordinator Adam Gase for coming up with realistic game plans that fit his talent. You won’t see Cutler taking too many deep drops against the Broncos.
The Bears defense has performed admirably, given its uneven talent, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is proving he’s a huge upgrade. Rookie running back Jeremy Langford has filled in quite well for Matt Forte, and the passing game success is dependent on Alshon Jeffery’s shaky health.
So it’s not all about Cutler, but you can’t write about the Bears’ thrilling return to competence without mentioning Ol’ No. 6.
He had a career-high 151 passer rating against the Rams, completing 19 of 24 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, but he wasn’t gloating this week.
“That has to do with Adam, the offensive line, play-calling, guys around me,” Cutler said of his recent success. “I mean, the Rams game ... the rating is high. I didn’t do anything. I dumped a few balls off, managed the game and your rating is high. You hand the ball off from time to time, you’re going to get games like that. There’s been other games -- on first and second down, Adam has done a really good job of play-calling; running the ball efficiently; getting to third-and-manageable. I think we’ve stayed in third-and-manageable a lot this year. When we are third-and-long, we call appropriate plays and try to stay out of some danger zones. Guys around me have played really well, no matter who it is. We’ve lost guys, and guys have stepped into some roles and went out there and performed.”
Cutler’s biggest problem has always been turnovers, whether they were self-induced, trying-to-do-too-much mistakes or hard-to-pin-down communication problems with his receivers. What we know is he has five interceptions through eight games with no multiple interception games. That’s the fewest interceptions he’s had through this point in the season.
Last year, through eight games, he had eight interceptions, with three two-pick games.
In each of 2012 and 2013, he had eight (He had a four-pick game against Green Bay in 2012). In 2011, he had six interceptions, nine in 2010 and 12 in 2009.
“Statistically, we've got the turnovers down,” Gase said. “We got a long way to go. I think we've made some strides as far as our ball security in the pocket. I think a lot of it has been he's getting the ball out quick. He's been decisive. There's no hesitation, and I think he and (quarterback coach) Dowell (Loggains) have done a great job within practice being conscious about it and working on drills to make sure that we're better in that area.”
Denver cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, along with the Broncos’ nasty linebacking corps, will make things challenging for Cutler, but if he keeps his wits about him, and doesn’t force anything, the Bears can win their fifth game of the season about a month earlier than all of us experts predicted. And then, everyone can pretend the Bears can win in Green Bay for the next four days and three nights.
The Bears aren't everyone's favorite underdog quite yet, but they're better than we thought. What looked like a season where we counted down until the draft has morphed into one where the games matter for all the right reasons.