This is the Bears' second drive of the game, reduced to just the play stoppages. The drive… Read more Read more
So, really, literally: Was anyone ready for some football? This was a matchup between a defending division champion and an undefeated up-and-comer. At least one of Monday's contestants ought to be a playoff team this year. Especially since a whole batch of this year's expected contenders—the
Eagles, the Falcons, the Cowboys—have failed to rise to the opportunity. Somebody has to be good, right?
But it's hard to believe you're watching the NFL's elite when the teams can't even line up for a snap. The Associated Press, eager to dispense some sunshine,
wrote after the game that the Lions' "67,861 fans created enough noise to rattle the Bears into nine false starts." If so, the fans need to be more judicious, because they rattled their own team into four neutral-zone infractions. In the end, Detroit and Chicago combined for 15 assorted penalties for premature action.
Early in the second quarter, though, with the Lions on offense, my glazed eyes noticed a pair of long blue socks lining up at the top of the screen.
Hey, there's Calvin Johnson—and then Matthew Stafford heaved it down the field, and the towering receiver shed his initial defender, gathered in the ball, and stiff-armed the safety with disdain, like a mailman shutting the gate on a yappy Pomeranian. Seventy-three yards. For a brief moment, football seemed glorious.
Those moments were widely dispersed, though. There was a really fabulous gritty catch by the Bears' Devin Hester—one series after the speed specialist let a possible touchdown slip through his fingers—which set Chicago up for a touchdown and a 10-7 halftime lead. And there was the third-quarter handoff to the Lions' Jahvid Best, who darted through a nice big hole at his own 12-yard line, made a single cutback, and found the whole field open. The 88-yard run was the second-longest rushing touchdown in Detroit's history, the TV broadcast said.
I assumed the longest had belonged to the astonishing Barry Sanders, the only person who'd made Detroit Lions football interesting or relevant in my lifetime up till now. When I checked—the game did provide plenty of downtime for looking things up on the Internet—it turned out that Sanders's longest career run was only 85 yards. Nor was it a touchdown. The actual record-holder is
Bob Hoernschemeyer, who broke off a 96-yard scoring run against the New York Yanks (né New York Bulldogs) on Thanksgiving Day in 1950.
Where was I? Oh, the Lions-Bears game. Right. The Lions are good, probably? Their offense was like an 11-man tribute to Sanders: no gain, no gain, no gain, long touchdown, no gain, no gain. And Detroit certainly did have the best player on the field, regardless of which team had the ball: Johnson when they were on offense, and Ndamukong Suh on defense. Detroit's rampaging defensive line could have been the story of the game, if they hadn't kept undoing their own efforts with roughing or facemasking or illegal use of the hands.
But they did keep getting flagged, and so Bears quarterback Jay Cutler kept picking himself up off the ground to confront yet another set of downs, whether he wanted it or not. The announcers, groping for something uplifting to say about the game (actual quote: "The Bears respond! Forte! Lost a yard"), seized on Cutler as their protagonist: "This is a great performance by Jay Cutler. ... He is just slinging strikes right now. ... He might be the toughest guy I've ever seen tonight. ... He's doing it all right now."
And it was remarkable, in its way. The play-by-play, with cruel indifference to degree of difficulty, merely says "pass short left ... pass short left ... pass incomplete short left ... pass short right." But Cutler—last seen
being criticized for his failure to stick out a playoff game on a wrecked knee—was constantly on the run, throwing off the wrong foot, delivering the ball to the nearest Bear he could find. Not many quarterbacks would have been able to match that desperate precision, under the circumstances.
By game's end, the Bears had become detached from the traditional narrative logic of game calling, let alone
the deeper percentage calculations. The clock was dying and the percentages were dying even faster. The only thing for the Bears to do was to strike for a touchdown—to have already struck for a touchdown—for them to have any imaginable chance of winning the game.
But Cutler had crossed over into the same waking nightmare state that
Donovan McNabb was in during Super Bowl XXXIX, as the Eagles offense dawdled away any hopes of a comeback. Cutler's intentions no longer had anything to do with winning, or even scoring—his world had shrunk down to the space between finding the next dumpoff receiver and getting clobbered by the Lions again. Checkdown, crawl to his feet, checkdown once more. That was the only thing he could do, so he did it.