David Haugh's In the Wake of the News
8:31 PM PST, December 22, 2012
Inside the locker room during their last trip to the University of Phoenix Stadium one night six years ago, ecstasy made Bears players oblivious.
They didn't realize somebody let reporters into their inner sanctum quicker than usual after the Bears had rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat the Cardinals 24-23 in Glendale, Ariz. Several Bears shook their heads staring at the TV in disbelief as "Monday Night Football'' analysts recapped the most incredible victory of coach Lovie Smith's tenure. Others danced and celebrated. Nobody noticed an audience observing unrestrained emotion unleashed one spontaneous whoop and holler at a time.
Until former Bears center Olin Kreutz shouted with a voice that carried to the Grand Canyon: "Media's present!''
Too late. The mental snapshot of men acting like boys after pulling off the Great Desert Heist produced the defining memory of the Bears' 2006 regular-season. Whenever anybody on the Bears talks about building chemistry, that team remains the standard and that scene its enduring image.
"If you don't have a good locker room, you won't have a good football team," former general manager Jerry Angelo said at the time. "No team gets into the playoffs without good chemistry."
No time like the present to prove it. If ever there was a time the Bears needed a bonding experience to create an intangible element that has been anything but obvious on this team, it comes Sunday in the same building. After a week dominated by linebackers insulting fans and wide receivers challenging jobs loudly enough to have everybody at Halas Hall looking over his shoulder, the Bears can use the unrest as an opportunity to refocus attention on their actions instead of their potentially fractious words.
Win and change the subject to coming together and making the playoffs. Lose and Bears fans will come one step closer to getting the new coach for Christmas so many want.
No valid excuses exist if the Bears lose for the sixth time in seven games. The Cardinals will be playing in their own stadium to a crowd expected to be half-full of Bears fans who should provide the visitors a homey feel. You will know it is Soldier Field Southwest if the Bears offense is booed after its first three-and-out and Brian Urlacher grunts.
Beyond the comfort of the venue, the Bears should benefit from another obvious advantage: Cacti in the Valley that have shown more growth this year than the Cardinals offense. Not even the Bears struggle this badly moving the ball. Averaging 264.2 yards per game, the Cardinals rank worst in the NFL and probably last in the state behind Arizona, Arizona State and Mesa Community College. They have scored 20 offensive touchdowns in 14 games; Bears defensive players have scored eight. This game excites only punters and pass-rushers. It threatens to be decided by penalty kicks.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, a sixth-rounder, has completed 51 percent of his passes and thrown six interceptions. His next touchdown pass will be his first. If you wonder why Larry Fitzgerald only has 61 receptions — 47 fewer than Brandon Marshall — you won't after the first quarter. Lindley makes Cardinals fans nostalgic over the Josh McCown Era in Arizona (2002-05).
In theory that gives the Bears a huge advantage at the position with Jay Cutler. But, in reality, more people in Chicago believe in Santa Claus than the quarterback from Santa Claus, Ind. With the playoffs on the line, the Bears need Cutler finally to show up in a big game and play sharper than he has the last two weeks in completing a Lindley-like 52 percent of his passes.
It won't be easy against a blitzing Cardinals defense that held the Lions to 10 points and leads the league in interceptions with 22. Quarterbacks average an NFL-low 68.0 passer rating against the Cardinals. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, according to Marshall, might be the most athletic cornerback the Bears will face.
To make Marshall matter, it will take more awareness and ingenuity than offensive coordinator Mike Tice showed with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left last Sunday with the Packers leading 21-13 and the Bears facing fourth-and-9 at their 44. Inexplicably, the Bears sent their best playmaker, Marshall, on a 6-yard route. Cutler unsuccessfully threw to a covered Alshon Jeffery. Hands waved. Heads shook.
Perhaps that unimaginative fourth-down call prompted Marshall's postgame venting over accountability. Cutler's willingness Wednesday to wait until the end of the season to evaluate the potential for staff changes spoke louder for what he didn't say. Clearly, an offense averaging 14 points the last six games arrives with unresolved issues.
The Bears need an intervention. They need solutions. Mostly, they thirst for points.
Their football oasis awaits. It wouldn't be the first time the Bears returned home from the desert feeling refreshed and ready for anything.
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