Boden: Welcome to the crossroads of the Bears' season
November 24, 2012, 11:33 am
A year ago, the Bears celebrated Thanksgiving grateful to have a five-game winning streak that improved their record to 7-3, before feeling indigestion about the loss of Jay Cutler the rest of the season with his broken thumb.
They celebrated this year, also 7-3 under the unknown of when they'd get Cutler back from his concussion, with the knowledge in the back of their minds that whenever their No. 1 quarterback gets back out there, another blow anytime soon like the one that knocked him out against Houston would likely end his 2012 season for good.
At this time last season, they were undone by backup quarterback ineptitude (and a Matt Forte injury) as the offensive line finally stabilized after some early experimentation by exasperation.
But Phil Emery's trust (and belief?) in the staff he inherited placed offseason O-line improvements down the priority list behind stud wideout, backup quarterback and Forte insurance - from injury and contract. Now, here the Bears stand through 10 games with a line that seems to take two or three steps back with every step forward. And two new starters.
So will this Band-Aid (and the hoped-for health of Cutler) produce better than the 1-5 finish of last season? Can J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer (the same tandem that saw Clay Matthews zip past them for 3-1/2 sacks the last time they started together) keep Jared Allen without a sack for the third straight game? Allen had 3-1/2 sacks vs. Webb the last time these two squared off. Combine Allen with Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, and those Vikes defensive ends have combined for 16-1/2 sacks this year. Just so Jonathan Scott's aware, too, as he makes his first Bears start, sliding in for Gabe Carimi.
However they get it done, these next two home games loom monumental for how the rest of the season may unfold. Minnesota and Seattle are both 6-4, a game behind the Bears, and on the NFC playoiff bubble. The former 7-1 Bears would put themselves on that bubble if they don't deliver setbacks to the Vikings' and Seahawks' postseason aspirations.
And that's not even considering the rematch with the Vikes in two weeks, followed by Green Bay, the lone home game in the final four of the regular season.
So does 7-3 turn into 7-5 if the Bears take the wrong path? Or 8-4 or 9-3 with the right one, no matter the obstacles that might be in their way?
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said it about his offensive linemen Wednesday, but it really applies throughout the roster, as this team is starting to really feel some heat for the first time this season, coinciding with improved competition:
"At a certain point, a guy needs to grit his teeth, buck up and win a fight," Tice said this week.
These next two (three? four?) opponents will be fighting to keep playoff dreams alive. The Bears will need to approach it the same way. If not, "too late" often comes quicker than anyone sees it coming.
Tags: Jay Cutler
, Clay Matthews
, Seattle Seahawks
, Minnesota Vikings
, Matt Forte
, Chicago Bears
, Chris Boden
, Jared Allen
, Mike Tice