I hate the clichť of a ďmust-winĒ game, but I would argue thatís exactly what the Chicago Bears are facing this Sunday in their home opener against the Steelers Ė Pittsburgh is a three-point favorite on Bodog.
Chicagoís season opener on Sunday night sort of had the feel of what happened to Oklahoma in its opener against Brigham Young Ė everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Bears and Sooners.
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First there was new Chicago QB Jay Cutler all of a sudden resembling Rex Grossman. And I mean the ďBad Rex,Ē as he often was referred to in the Windy City. Actually, calling Cutler Grossman is almost a disservice to the former Gator and current Texans backup. Grossman threw four interceptions just once in his Chicago career, and the Bears won that game. Chicago wasnít as fortunate on Sunday night, losing, 21-15, to Green Bay behind Cutlerís career-high four picks, including one on his final throw of the game. Cutler and his receivers seemed out of sync all night, and it didnít help that Cutler was throwing across his body or off his back foot at least half the time.
OK, maybe we just chalk Cutlerís debut up to nerves. He also had a pretty lousy preseason debut and then got steadily better. And on Sunday, Cutler did have a few nice long passes to Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. Bears fans arenít used to passes that go more than 30 yards in the air, being as Kyle Orton completed just once throw of that type all of last year.
No, the big issue for Chicago came when linebacker Brian Urlacher dislocated his wrist Ė which turned out to be a season-ending injury. He was injured making a tackle in the first quarter on Ryan Grant but did stay in the game. However, the six-time Pro Bowler didnít play in the second half, and the official word of the wrist finishing his year came down on Monday.
While some may think Urlacher is overrated, this injury is potentially as devastating to the Bearsí defense as Tom Bradyís was to the Patsí offense last year. Urlacher is the quarterback of that defense. He makes all the calls and directs traffic Ė other teams have to game plan for No. 54. And Urlacher said he had been in the best shape of his career after two average seasons Ė following his 2006 Defensive Player of the Year award -- due to back and neck issues.
Can the Bearsí defense, which was not very good last year, survive this? Lance Briggs will have to play at a Pro Bowl level, thatís for sure. Hunter Hillenmeyer moves into a starting role, and heís solid but nothing spectacular. There has been talk of the Bears looking into signing former Buccaneer Derrick Brooks, whom coach Lovie Smith knows well from his time in Tampa Bay. But apparently Chicago isnít interested in him right now. The Bears really would have been in trouble if an injury to another starting linebacker, Pisa Tinoisamoa, had been as serious as early thought. Early reports were that he might be lost for a month with a knee injury, but now the Chicago Tribune is saying Tinoisamoa is day-to-day and might even play this week against Pittsburgh.
So hereís why Sundayís game is a must-win: the division race could get away from Chicago quickly if the Bears donít upset Pittsburgh (which, of course, wonít have Troy Polamalu, so thatís a break for the home team). After facing the Steelers, the Bears have a tough test in Seattle, which seems back to playoff-caliber after last yearís struggles. Itís not that unlikely a 0-3 start is in the future at Chicago. By comparison, Minnesota and Green Bay, both 1-0, have two very winnable games coming up: the Vikings at Detroit and home to San Francisco, and the Packers home to Cincinnati and at St. Louis. Obviously being three games out of the division lead to two quality teams would be a difficult obstacle to overcome for the Bears. In addition, only three teams that started 0-3 have made the playoffs since 1990.
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Maybe Iím overreacting to all this, but it sure feels like those Bearsí futures odds got a lot longer even if they actually didnít.