Even with all the crazy stuff that’s happened so far this season, there’s still one thing the Vikings haven’t done: played the Bears.
I guess you have to call it a scheduling quirk. Normally, when teams are in the same division and therefore play each other twice, they’ve gotten in at least one game before week 12.
In fact, in the whole long history of Vikings-Bears, this is the farthest they’ve gone into a season without facing each other. The previous high came in 1984 aka the Les Steckel year, when the two teams didn’t square off until week 9. In case you were curious, the Vikings lost that game 16-7.
The Bears would go on to finish 10-6 in 1984, and wind up losing to Joe Montana and the 49ers in the NFC title game. The Vikings, of course, finished 3-13 in that black hole of a season, arguably the worst in franchise history.
In 2009, the shoe is on the other foot. The Bears are the ones looking in vain for answers, while the Vikings seem primed for a deep postseason run.
Each team’s season narrative so far has revolved around its quarterback. The Bears traded for Jay Cutler, hoping he would at last give them the franchise QB they’ve been seeking since Sid Luckman left the stage. The Vikings, meanwhile, signed future Hall of Famer Brett Favre in hopes he would have one more decent year left in his surgically repaired right arm.
Favre has, it’s safe to say, exceeded expectations. Cutler, on the other hand, has fallen far short of what the Bears and their fans hoped he would be.
One need only look at the statistics to realize what a disappointing season it’s been so far for Cutler. He’s thrown a league-high 18 interceptions against 15 touchdowns, and posted a horrific 74.5 passer rating (his completion percentage remains halfway decent at around 61%). The bad performance only seems worse when compared against that of the man he was traded for, Kyle Orton, who has led Denver to a surprising 7-4 record while besting the allegedly more-gifted Cutler in nearly every statistical category.
But the stats aren’t even the biggest gripe when it comes to Cutler. For many, it’s his apparent bad attitude, more than the interceptions, that has made the whole experience turn sour.
It would be easy to get smug here, and point out that everyone knew about Cutler’s character issues before the trade. But I doubt even the sternest Cutler naysayers saw things becoming as dire as they have.
Of course, when a team tanks as bad as the Bears have in 2009, it is never just one guy’s fault. Disaster of this magnitude is the result of multiple failures, a sort of domino effect of suck.
The truth is that, in many ways, Cutler is a victim more than a perpetrator. A victim of a vanishing running game, for starters. And a lack of quality receiving targets. And a defense that has disintegrated in rather spectacular fashion.
The meltdown, in other words, has been a total team effort.
Now, at 4-6, the Bears’ playoff hopes are looking about as healthy as Tiger Woods‘ marriage. If they want to turn this miserable season around and make a late push, they will have to start with a win this afternoon at the Metrodome.
Such a win, given everything that has transpired this season for both teams, would be a bit of a shocker. Or would it?
There are, actually, numerous points one could cite in making the argument that a Bears win over the Vikings would not constitute a stunning upset. You can start with the quarterback. Yes Cutler has been bad, but the Vikings, as we know, have given up some pretty big passing numbers, to guys like Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco, who are arguably not as talented as Cutler, and, in Flacco’s case, are scarcely more blessed in the receivers category.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Cutler could get his stuff together this afternoon and have some kind of insane game. The Vikings’ secondary is suspect enough for us to at least be a little concerned in this regard, even with Antoine Winfield coming back off injury.
And then, of course, there’s the old division rivalry argument. “These kind of games are always closer than you think they’re going to be, and when a game is close, it only takes one break.”
Third and perhaps most important in our rundown of reasons we maybe shouldn’t be shocked if the Bears knock off the Vikings is simply this: The Bears are a desperate team, while the Vikings, at 9-1, are perhaps edging into an area where complacency and over-confidence become an issue.
This game is, to put it simply, a gut-check for the Bears. If they have any character at all as a team, they need to show it today and at least be in it till the end. If Jay Cutler possesses even a glimmer of leadership ability, he needs to muster it, and rally the offense to a better showing than it has made all year.
Of course there’s always the possibility that the Bears will give it a great effort and still fall woefully short. The Vikings may simply be too overwhelmingly good for any but an elite team to have a chance against them.
On paper, it stacks up as a great match-up for the Vikes. Their offense is humming like a machine, while the Bears defense looks like it’s crumbling before our eyes. The Bears offense, meanwhile, appears to have lost its identity, which bodes well for a Vikings defense that, despite not living up to the hype, has risen to the challenge enough for the team to win 9 out of its first 10.
It all boils down to consistency. We know what we’re going to get from the Vikings, because they’ve done it all year, with only a few hiccups along the way. With the Bears, however, we have no such certainty. They could pull themselves together and make a game of it, or they could lay down and let the Vikings walk all over them.
I’ll be rooting for the latter, while remaining wary of the former.