For those of you who don't know me personally (a great number of you, most likely, unless the only readers are my close friends and family, which is a possibility I hadn't considered until just now, and it's depressing) I recently moved to Denver for a job offer. Not this blogging opportunity, though if Matt wanted to throw a few more beers my way I wouldn't object. It's been an interesting experience so far, but a side effect is that I have had to change my sports viewing habits.
The biggest difference, perhaps predictably, is the time zone; NFL games kicking at 11 AM is an interesting twist on the game-watching experience. On one hand, once the game ends, you have more of the day remaining to enjoy; on the other hand a disappointing result has more day to ruin.
Beyond the time difference, I'm not used to watching sports by myself. I've done it before, of course, but I've always preferred watching with a few friends who know sports, preferably friends who share my fandom, allowing for jokes and snark and analysis that really works. Without that shared Bears fandom, for example, I wouldn't have died laughing a few years ago when my uncle Joe, upon seeing a ground level camera angle, said "Hey, the Tommie Harris Cam." And he wouldn't have had an audience for it.
And though I've met some cool people out here, including some cool Bears fans, I still miss having a rapport like that while I'm watching. So, in search of a different viewing experience, I went to Wyman's with Annie and Cat (two of the aforementioned cool people I've met here) to watch opening day.
Wyman's is a Chicago bar here in town, and it proved to be an interesting, though perhaps ultimately unsatisfying environment. I enjoyed the beer, the welcome sight of Bears apparel (one woman sported a "Bear Down For What" shirt, which was awesome), and a few fun moments (the crowd exploding in cheers for the announcement of offsetting penalties, for example. And a guy yelling "Enough with the f****** flags!" after a play, seeing the call was on Green Bay, and yelling "More f****** flags!") I don't think it's the best way for me to absorb the game.
For one, I just couldn't see that well. It's hard to analyze the play when you can't follow the action closely enough. I honestly couldn't tell you how Shea McClellin looked (although this certainly isn't a good sign), for example, or how well Kyle Long protected the edge.
I can give overall impressions, which are that the team is definitely still a work in progress, in all phases; that John Fox demonstrated more emotion, energy, and passion on the sidelines in that one game than Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman combined to show during their entire tenures; that Matt Forte is still really good; that Aaron Rodgers is still really, really good, sadly; that the Bears' passing defense is likely going to struggle; and that, finally, this season is likely to not be the debacle that some pundits predicted.
I'm not saying the Bears can battle for a playoff spot, but as I lay in bed later that afternoon, curled up around a heating pad as my stomach fought a losing battle against the effects of morning beers and early afternoon deep dish pizza, I watched the Lions collapse in Lions fashion.
The next night, I happily watched Minnesota bumble around as though The Monstars had paid a visit to Vikings training camp this summer.
The Bears' performance was much more encouraging than either of those, and it came against much better competition.
Was I thrilled that they couldn't pull it out? No, I wasn't.
But I was pretty happy that, when Green Bay scored late following the Cutler interception (a combination of multiple factors, but none indicative of a bad pick; the throw wasn't forced into a nonexistent window, it was just slightly underthrown, which is rarely Jay's problem. Clay Matthews made an incredible play on the ball, and that was that. I hung my head like everyone else, but aside from game situation, it was about as acceptable as interceptions get) to increase the lead to two touchdowns, the Bears didn't fold.
That was probably my biggest takeaway from that game (one more than the Bears defense had): this group wants it. Of course, it's easy to want it on opening day. It's another thing to be resilient midway through the season after a few more disappointing losses (hopefully interspersed with a few uplifting wins).
But they did not look a cut below the Packers, which hasn't been the case often in recent years. (Not since Week 17 in 2013, at least.) There were enough positive signs, as well as a few obvious spots where improvement needs to and could reasonably be expected occur, that this season will at the very least be interesting to follow.
Which brings us to Week 2.
The Arizona Cardinals are perhaps the most overlooked good team in football. Sharing a division with a budding dynasty in Seattle, as well as the tail-end of the Harbaugh-era 49ers run, as well as an intriguing bunch of talent in St. Louis (argh, Aaron Donald was so close to ours!), Bruce Arians has rescued Carson Palmer's career, building a functioning offense from the bones of a group that for years scared absolutely no one, aside from Larry Fitzgerald fantasy owners. Now, they boast a very good defense and an offense that is likely to pose similar issues as Green Bay.
The Bears' secondary is not a great one, though any secondary is going to get exposed without at least a threat of a pass rush. The Bears couldn't muster much of one last week, though in terms of mobility, pocket presence and feel, and generally annoying unhittability, Carson Palmer is not Aaron Rodgers. I like to think Vic Fangio is only going to get more accustomed to how to best use the talent at his disposal, and as long as Pernell McPhee can go, I expect the Bears to pressure Palmer much more often than they managed against Rodgers. (Which, again, is a low bar.) That in turn helps out the defensive backfield, and the linebackers in coverage, etc.
As to the other side of the ball, Kyle Long is only going to get better at right tackle, though I'll never understand why they didn't make that move earlier in the offseason. I doubt it was for any sort of strategic advantage, as whatever miniscule gain that may have provided was heavily outweighed by the potential gains of having your starting offensive line work together throughout the preseason. I guess they were really holding out hope for Jordan Mills or Charles Leno?
In any case, I think the Bears can make some things happen on offense, especially as their receivers (sans Kevin White, whose explosiveness they obviously miss) are all apparently healthy, and Martellus Bennett looked engaged, which is a matchup problem for any opponent.
I'm hoping the Bears can pull off what I (and Vegas) would consider to be consider to be an upset, and as with just about any NFL game, forcing turnovers, not committing turnovers, and playing well on third down are the likely keys. The Bears did one of those things well last week, and it obviously wasn't enough. Given the roster deficiencies, it's likely Jay Cutler is going to have to play a very good game for the Bears to win. I certainly hope he does, as starting out 0-2, and 0-2 at home, would be a difficult hole from which to escape.
I tend to think the Cardinals are a bit too strong on both offense and defense, though I hope I'm wrong.
However, I'm excited for the game! If you read my season preview post from last week, you know that was a struggle for me. The Bears playing hard for an entire game was apparently a cure for my fan apathy, even if it proves a short-term solution.
I don't yet know where I'll be watching the game, nor with whom, but I'll definitely be watching it. Hopefully on a bigger television, in a quieter environment, and without Joe Buck. (I just checked, and it's Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and a roaming Tony Siragusa. I can't believe this, but...may I have Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, FOX? Please? Joe can call the entire second quarter in his stupid Irish accent that he used to promote UFC, and it would still be a better listen than Thom Brennaman.)