The Not Ready for Prime Time Players
In 1975, Saturday Night Live's original cast, the "Not Ready For Prime Time Players," were relatively unknown comedians, expected to play a secondary role to the host and musical guests. As the show progressed, however, the troupe of actors took focus and turned their back-up role into a starring one. For the past two seasons, the Bears' outstanding defense has taken the spotlight, leaving an inconsistent offense hiding in the wings. Anyone with a pulse could see the lopsided nature of the team, but the 2005 and 2006 squads kept criticism of the offense at bay by posting regular season records of 11-5 and 13-3, respectively. With a few personnel changes but the core of the team intact, this year's Bears were expected to follow that same "defense first, offense whenever we can get it" philosophy all the way to Glendale. Unfortunately, the Bears defense is far from first in the league in any category and "whenever we can get it" has turned out to be almost never. This season, the Bears offense has consistently been pushed into the spotlight with the game on the line, and, unlike the original SNL troupe, they've been revealed as a pack of truly not ready for prime-time players.
Monday night against the Vikings, the Bears defense showed flashes of its former brilliance: Urlacher at his best, covering the whole field; Vasher finally back in uniform, forcing turnovers and grabbing picks; even the new guy, Matt Toeaina, putting the hurt on Adrian Peterson. Despite a solid game on defense, the Bears still lost, managing just one touchdown and one field goal—both the result of interceptions. The team had several more opportunities to capitalize on the defense's spectacular effort, but, as Roseanne Roseannadana would say, "It's always something." This team has failed because it hasn't put together enough complete games. Monday night while the defense and special teams coverage excelled, the oft-penalized offense looked confused, flustered and out-of-sync. You can chalk it up to an inability to adjust to yet another quarterback, but the bigger issue is this: There's talent on this offense, but no playmakers. Until the Bears address their needs on offense, the defense is going to be the Chevy Chase of the team, while the offense sulks in the corner Garret Morris-style.
Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson should both be 2 backs behind a guy like Chester Taylor, Julius Jones or Michael Turner (all in the last year of their contracts). No matter who the Bears get to run the ball, they won't have any success unless they get some playmakers on the offensive line—namely, a stud OT. Chicago's skilled wide receivers and tight ends are going to waste in a system that can't use the run to set up pass plays. Berrian has the wheels to be a good speed receiver/deep threat but the Bears still need a true star-quality possession receiver. Of course, the biggest playmaker on a football field is the quarterback, and all three of the Bears "starting" QBs should be backups—or, in the case of Captain Neckbeard, out of the league entirely, hawking "Super Bass-o-Matic '76s". Sure, Orton didn't have much of a chance to succeed Monday, coming off a two year hiatus, but he also doesn't have the physical skills to lead an NFL team. Grossman's got the arm, but he's too injury-prone and takes himself (and the team) out of the game with his mental mistakes. And Griese is just, well, old. He's a solid back-up who did some good things for the Bears this season but he's not the future of this franchise.
The Bears won't have to touch too much on the defense and special teams side of things. A new strong safety, the re-signing of Lance Briggs, the health of the current starters (and a renewed interest in tackling) is all it'll take to ensure the second coming of 1985's "Black and Blues Brothers." With the acquisition of some playmakers on offense and the return of the Monsters of the Midway, Bears beat writers everywhere won't be writing about next season with two games to go. Yup, while it may feel like it, this season isn't over. Before the Bears can begin to address their future, they have to take care of the present. Next week will be an old-school showdown with the Packers and then the Bears will finish the season off with a chance to play spoiler to the Saints' playoff hopes. Fans can be sure that when Reggie Bush comes strolling into town, hoping to do some more end zone acrobatics, he'll meet a Bears team playing for more than just pride. 'Cause if their soul-singing, fellow Chicagoans have anything to say about it, this pack of "Blues Brothers" will finish on a high note. No one can stop them, they're on a mission from God…