TAMPA – Maybe the game story from the Bears’ 26-21 victory Sunday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is, as bard said through Macbeth, “a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”
Maybe. But it more than likely does signify something. What exactly, will probably have to wait until next September to start becoming evident.
Beating Lovie Smith and Tampa Bay (6-9) doesn’t make the Bears good. It doesn’t even make them .500; they blew their three chances at that. But had the Bears come out Sunday and turned in the same sort of abysmal performance they did last Sunday in Minneapolis, or like the uninspired ones against San Francisco and Washington the two weeks before that, more than a few Bears would rightly have earned a label “quitters.” It doesn’t matter when someone quits; if they quit when they’re not supposed to, they’re quitters. Were that the case Sunday, GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox wouldn’t be looking at making changes next offseason; they’d be tasked with a fumigation or at the very least, a de-lousing.
The Bears decided they wouldn’t be quitters, inspired in part Saturday night when defensive end Willie Young had something to say to the team.
Young stood up and spoke of not necessarily ignoring each other’s mistakes, but likewise looking beyond them and to each other.
“I think it all goes back to Willie Young giving that speech last night,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee, “and if you know Willie Young, he’s got character. It was a serious speech about us coming together and having each other’s back no matter what. We just all played ball, had fun, high-fiving, jumping around.
“It was a funny reality check. It was funny but it was a reality check. Having your brother’s back.”
Young said he was declaring that he didn’t care about guys making mistakes; didn’t care when a mistake happens; irrelevant, it doesn’t matter.
“What matters is how you deal with adversity,” Young said. “There’s too much football left to play to be crying about what happened in the past.
“You prepare all week, we put the work in, so come out and have fun. We know what we’ve gotta do. We knew what they were going to do. Just fly around, hit guys as hard as you can and wrap ‘em up.”
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The message was not lost, not on a defense that shut down the NFL’s No. 2 rusher, Doug Martin, with 49 yards and 2.9 per carry. It was not lost on an offense that mauled the NFL’s No. 2 rushing defense with 174 yards on the ground.
“I was fired up when Willie was talking last night,” said right tackle Kyle Long. “I know what kind of guy he is on the field and to be able to have that leadership capability off the field is even cooler.”
Talk doesn’t show up on scoreboards or stat sheets. And it doesn’t really matter in a season where the only question is six wins or seven.
But the Bears were rocked by the events of the past several weeks, hadn’t won a game in a month and seemed at times last week almost resigned to a finish all would rather forget.
But “I never had any doubts,” said coach John Fox. “This team has responded pretty well. Last week [at Minnesota] was not one of our better performances. [The players] knew it better than any of us standing here. I like the way they responded… I liked our toughness.”
Does toughness at 5-9 matter or is that just posturing for offseason decisions? Consider:
It was easy to scoff at any thought that Jay Cutler throwing zero interceptions through the first weeks of training camp might matter. It didn’t mean anything, being just practice. Although conversely, if he WERE throwing daily interceptions and in volume, those would have been “tells.”
In fact, what Cutler set out to do to redefine himself back then has played out. With Sunday’s 20-of-27 passing for a very modest 156 yards and a touchdown (and a rating of 100.7), with no interceptions, Cutler’s INT percentage dropped to 1.7, in line with Russell Wilson and better than Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, to name a few. It was not too much of a stretch to think of the Bears seeking a little redefining on Sunday.
The numbers aren’t important, just like the numbers 6-9 aren’t, either. But setting a course can happen anytime and the sooner a direction is set, the better. Cutler set his in training camp.
The Bears may have started setting theirs on Sunday.