The good news is that there is still a lot of football left.
That's also the bad news for a Bears team that seems to alternate offensive meltdowns with defensive disasters, has lost four of its last five games and has defeated one team with a winning record.
All of that greatly overshadowed Thursday night's excellent defensive effort, which was about all Lovie Smith's 4-5 team could cling to after its third interception-filled loss in prime time. In those three night-time losses to the Packers, Falcons and 49ers, Jay Cutler, their "franchise quarterback," has thrown 11 interceptions. So knowing the defense did its job in Thursday night's 10-6 loss was of little comfort.
"We lost the game, so it doesn't matter," said defensive end Alex Brown. "We lost, and that's what counts. We lost. I don't know what you want me to say. We lost the game, so that's it."
Brown didn't mean to say, "that's it for the season," but he wouldn't have been challenged if he did.
Of the Bears' seven remaining games, only two are against teams with losing records, like themselves. They also have two games remaining with the 7-1 Vikings, they face the 5-3 Eagles next Sunday and have the 4-4 Packers at home and the 4-4 Ravens in Baltimore.
Brown said what everyone knows when he was asked how much room for error is left for the mistake-prone Bears.
"None at all," he said. "We have seven more games that we've got to win. But we can't win seven before we win one. We've got to win the first one."
That will be difficult enough for a team whose confidence is in question after a five-game stretch in which the only victory came against a 1-7 Browns team.
QB Jay Cutler
Getty Images: Jed Jacobsohn
That confidence seems especially fragile on offense. In just nine games, Cutler has already thrown more interceptions (17) than all but two quarterbacks in the league threw all of last season, and he was one of them.
Only twice all season has the ground game produced more than 86 yards, and those were against the Browns and Lions, who are also 1-7. Even more disappointing for the offense is that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what's wrong.
"I don't really have an answer," said tight end Greg Olsen, who caught seven passes for 75 yards Thursday night. "We're going to have to see what happened. Everyone wants to say the picks are always on the quarterback, but they're not. There are a lot of things that the receivers have to do better, just the entire offense in general to take some of the pressure off that position, and we all have to do a better job."
NOTES AND QUOTES
General manager Jerry Angelo expressed confidence in the team's maligned offensive line, which he says has struggled in recent blowout losses because the Bears fell behind early and were forced to abandon the run and become one-dimensional.
"I thought we've done a pretty good job as of late in protection and some good things in the running game, too," Angelo said, despite eight sacks of Cutler in the two games before facing the Niners. "Offensive lines take a little longer to evolve, but I feel like right now we're playing pretty good football with our line. Two of the last three games, with what the score was, we pretty much became one-dimensional. We put a lot of pressure on them, when defenses know that you're not running the ball.
"For the most part I think we've done a pretty good job. I like what they did last week [against the Cardinals]. I think we're getting better, and I feel like that's going to continue to get better each and every week."
That was not the case Thursday night, though. The line didn't allow Cutler to be sacked, but he was pressured constantly and hit frequently. And again, the line was unable to create any running room for Matt Forte, who managed just 41 yards on 20 carries against the 49ers. ...
Olsen's three-touchdown game last week came despite opponents continuing to focus on taking him out of the attack, according to Cutler.
"He's been keyed on all year," Cutler said. "That's been a challenge for us to get him the ball because he's been getting jammed at the line a lot. He's been getting a lot of double-teams in the red zone. Teams have known that we want to try to get him the ball. We just were able to find some ways to get him the ball [last week]."
Olsen added seven more catches and 75 yards Thursday night. ...
Angelo believes inconsistent defensive tackle Tommie Harris can be an impact player in the second half of the season, but he won't be convinced of it until he sees it.
"Everything that he needs to do from a physical standpoint we've seen him do, on the practice field and in games," Angelo said shortly before Thursday night's prime-time clash with the 49ers. "But he has to do it for four quarters, and he has to start stacking games up playing at that Pro Bowl level. I'm confident that he has the ability to do it, but he [still] has to do it."
Harris had his best game of the season Thursday night with his first sack of the year and two tackles for loss.
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