All of sports are somewhat unpredictable. The sports gambling industry was founded on just that premise. But, football may be alone in it’s utter arbitrariness. Witness last week. Washington came off of a true beatdown by Buffalo to then play an inspired game against Philadelphia. Young Sam Howell a week before, looked ever the deer-in-the-headlights as he was sacked an astonishing nine times and picked-off four more. Against Philly, on the road, he looked like the sage veteran. Two-seconds left, one play remaining at the ten-yard line; he threw a dart to tie the game. It was a beautiful thing. That drive and that play alone provide all the justification needed for the front office to put such faith in Howell. If he can do that, he can play QB1.
The Offense has now scored more than 30 points twice this season. The rub is the Defense. The Defensive line played better, but not good enough, and they were supposed to have been a strength of the team. The Eagles still scored over 30 points on a supposed elite unit. The money and draft picks are on that side of the ball…and they are under-performing. The Offensive line is the equivalent of a thrift store purchase. They played like it against Buffalo. It was better last week. But, there were still five sacks. When old nemesis Fletcher Cox decided he wanted to get the QB he had little trouble getting home. There are no such things in the NFL as “Moral Victories.” Win or Lose or Tie. That’s the whole list of options. Still, there were positive indications last week that things are moving in the right direction. But, probably the most valuable element was that there was a shortened workweek at hand. It provided scarce little time to stew over a tough loss.
The origins of professional football are hardscrabble, to say the least. College Football was the king of the sport. Professional teams were strictly a hand-to-mouth affair. The Bears began life in Decatur, Illinois not the big city. Their initial owner was the A.E. Staley Food Starch company. Hence the original name, “Staleys.” Being named for the benefactor company was not unusual. Not too far away the Green Bay team was being founded by Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun. Lambeau was a shipping clerk for the Indian Meat Packing Company. The packing company gave Lambeau $500 for uniforms and to buy players. Small wonder the team was called the Packers.
All teams need a coach so the food starch folks hired one of their sales representatives, George Halas. After coaching it for a year Halas purchased the team for, hold on, $100 in 1921. ($1500 equivalent today) After moving to Chicago Halas changed the name. The other franchise naming practice in vogue was to use the local baseball team’s name. There were the Yankees and Dodgers at one point. Halas played off of the local Cubs. There is some universal appeal to bear cubs as they are visually loveable. Halas chose to grow the little ones into full blown bears with all the attendant implied danger they provide.
Halas would go on to coach the team for 40 of the next 48 years. In all likelihood he was the only professional sports team owner to serve in the military during World War II achieving the rank of Captain in the US Navy. But, on the field he developed a new offense that would wreak havoc on the league for years; the “T” formation. It combined with Quarterback Sid Luckman produced five championship game appearances in eleven years. One of those was a loss to Washington. Another was a win over WFT by the other-worldly score of 73-0. His Bears would become “The Monsters of the Midway” for a time. Players like Luckman, Gale Sayers, and the always imposing Dick Butkus played for him. Overall George Halas would win 318 games.
This version of the Bears team is considerably less formidable than the 1940’s editions. For over twenty years the Washington franchise was the go-to for writers seeking controversy. With the change of ownership the search for drama has shifted elsewhere. Enter the Bears. Their QB1 is Justin Fields. If you think about how poorly Sam Howell played against Buffalo then imagine a string of games like that spread over a couple of seasons. That would be Fields and the Bears. Their offensive line was not firing off the ball in unison. The Defense was porous against the run. The leading rusher was Fields. Most of those yards came from scramble plays. Their Defensive Coordinator quit for personal reasons. Then Fields complained to reporters (rarely a good idea) that he was being “over-coached.” He wasn’t a pocket passer. That’s not what management wants to hear from their first-round draft pick. Two weeks ago their winless season looked to be spiraling downward to a darker level of chaos.
Although thoroughly unintentional Sean Payton‘s Denver team has provided much-needed salve to every team they have faced this year, including Washington. Last week’s final score with the Broncos winning hides the larger truth: The Bears appeared to be a professional football team. Justin Fields went from overwhelmed to impressive in a single week. Go ahead and compare it to Sam Howell. But, Howell had a couple of decent weeks before the Buffalo debacle. Fields had none of that in his history. He went 16 of 17 in the first half. The lone incompletion was a “Hail Mary” heave at the end of that half. Denver came back to win. More importantly for tonight the Denver game had to be a big shot of confidence to “The Beloved” overall, and Fields in particular. If expecting Chicago to roll over and lie down prepare to be disappointed.
Thursday Night Football is a diminished quality product in general. Players are still recovering from the week before. In Washington’s case the overtime period exacerbates the situation. This week’s “Practice” consisted of merely two “Walk-throughs.” This may be a low-scoring, poorly executed game. Washington has much more to lose here. Sharpened pencils are more than ready to start the Ron Rivera dismissal campaign. Gone for a few weeks was the cut-and-paste line that he has yet to have a winning season here in Washington. Lose this week and it will return in nearly every media piece. Rivera’s team would be well served to find a way to put a win in the larder for the boss.