The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

The Pride & Joy of Illinois?

Wednesday, October 28th

Ouch! Thats going to leave a mark! I cant remember a game featuring a Chicago team that drew the level of disgust among fans that I witnessed, and have heard about many times since, than the Bears game on Sunday. (Obviously bartenders have short memories: we need to!) Not that Im surprised, its the nature of the football fan. Having a week off (usually) between games allows fans to work themselves into a lather, creating higher highs and lower lows among the faithful. The weekly hype machine starts early, and slowly leads up to The Big Game. In the NFL, for us fans, theyre ALL big! You only get 17. We wait all year for the 4 (plus 1 hopefully) month roller coaster that is pro football. Its a roller coaster because none of the other 3 major sports teams can mess with your emotions like your football team. Since the other 3 play so often, after a bad loss, they can say, Well get em tomorrow.

And most times, thats the case. But in football you have to sit on the emotions of a game for a whole week. Thus for me, as one who works with the public everyday, I dont need a scoreboard to know how the Bears are doing. I just have to go to work. From the constant chatter on my sports radio (You know what show Im listening to!), to the conversations when I pick up my papers, to the mood on the street when Im walking to the restaurant from my car, the feeling in the city is palpable. Let alone when I get behind the bar, the emotions of the fans in this city are plain for me to see. The change Im witnessing right now in Bears fans is dramatic and I think increasingly bitter. (And NO, this is not good for SALES!) As we all remember, last season ended with a very bad taste and numerous questions about where the Bears were headed. Then came, J.C.: Jay Cutler: And the enthusiasm and visions of a better tomorrow where everywhere. In spite of repeated media nay-saying in some parts, the vast majority of the city was on Cloud 6. (Im sorry.) Excited to finally have a franchise QB to call their own, Cutler was the toast of the town. Now real fans understood that this was not an over-night fix, but the toughest part of the puzzle to find was here, or so we thought.

There have been many discussions that Ive had at the bar about the identity of the Bears. For years, this was known as a defensive team, a smash-mouth team. Tommie Harris dominating the line of scrimmage (when healthy!), an excellent corps of linebackers and a ball-hawking defensive backfield, the defense made things happen. Add a QB and whats next? The skys the limit! Is it? Really? For a while now, this defense has been living on its rep, or at least the ghosts of 2006. It seems to me, that for at least the last 2 years, theyve become fundamentally lax. They like to strip the ball first, eschewing proper tackling technique, as theyre getting run over for chunks of yardage. Or, they get no consistent pressure against opposing QBs, exposing a defensive backfield that has a definitive lack of playmakers. There comes a time when you need to face the facts. The identity of this team is there for all to see. It is what it is. (to quote that famous philosopher, Brian MacNamee.) When you repeatedly do not show up on the road (2-7 record, outscored 233-149, in the last 9 road games) you have issues. Is it talent or coaching? You tell me. This is not a reaction to one bad game (are you new here??) its acknowledging a trend. This team doesnt always show up on the road.
Where does that leave them? Only they know the answer to that. I do know, that for the first time, that I take seriously anyway, that Im hearing the Lovie must go! venom being spewed. I dont know if I believe that, yet, but the defense has been on a constant downward spiral for 3 years and did not show up in a game that you know that everyone in the organization above the level of player wanted to win. What does that mean? What more do we need to see, to understand that maybe the expectations were a little out of whack here.

Because Im such a positive guy, I will remind of this though: Last year, a certain team from the east coast played these same Bengals in what might have been the most god-awful NFL game I ever watched, and left the Natti with a tie! When they were still the Bungles! (I recall a Chicago-born QB mis-rembering the o.t. rules.)(Two Clemens references in a football blog?!?!) From there, that team looked in the mirror, and then played inspired football all the way to the NFC Title game. Much of the inspiration coming from the firestorm of negativity they had created for themselves, Im sure. Maybe it can happen again. Maybe the team from the Queen City can make another team look in the mirror and cause them to get their act together. For my sake, I hope they do, because I show up for my job everyday, and its a lot easier when people arent looking at the TVs and rolling their eyes in disgust.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Rangers tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the New York Rangers tonight on CSN and streaming live on Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Best in the West vs. best in the East?

The Blackhawks and Rangers square off tonight as two of the best teams in the league, with each at or near the top of their respective conferences in the standings. The Rangers are two points away from first place in the East, but own the best goal differential of any team at plus-29. The Blackhawks sit atop the West with 37 points and have the second-best goal differential in the West at plus-10. Still a long, long way to go, but perhaps an early Stanley Cup Final preview?

2. Four stars sidelined.

The Blackhawks are already without Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews due to injuries, and now Brent Seabrook has been added to the list. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they have a surplus of defensemen and won't have a problem finding a guy prepared to step in. But Seabrook is irreplaceable on and off the ice, and he's been really good on it this season. For the Rangers, Rick Nash is out with a groin injury while Jimmy Vesey was scratched last night due to an upper-body injury, making his status unknown for tonight. Lots of firepower will be watching the game from the press box.

3. Jimmy Vesey.

Speaking of Vesey, the Blackhawks went all-out for the reigning Hobey Baker Award as college's top player in the offseason by including Patrick Kane in their recruiting pitch. Vesey's decision reportedly came down to the Blackhawks and Rangers — and it sounded like Chicago was the frontrunner — but he ended up choosing to stay closer to home by picking New York. He's made an immediate impact, scoring nine goals and adding seven assists in 27 games. Three of those goals have been game-winners. If he plays (he's battling an upper-body injury, as mentioned above), it will be interesting to see the reception he gets from the United Center crowd when he steps onto the ice — although it's possible he doesn't get one at all. 

4. Scott Darling vs. Henrik Lundqvist.

Former Blackhawks netminder Antti Raanta, who lost his backup job to Darling in 2015, got the start for the Rangers last night against Winnipeg, which means Henrik Lundqivst is expected to anchor the crease tonight. The last time — and only time — Darling faced the Rangers, he earned his first career NHL shutout when he stopped all 25 shots en route to a 1-0 victory in March 2015. Lundqvist wasn't in goal for that meeting, so it will surely be a fun matchup for Darling as he goes head-to-head against a former Vezina Trophy winner.

5. Limit quality chances.

The Rangers have been a dangerous team offensively this season, scoring the most goals of any team with 99. That's good for 3.54 goals per game. They've been successful in that area because of the contributions they're getting from up and down the lineup, highlighted by Michael Grabner's team-leading 13 goals. The Rangers average only 28.4 shots per game, which ranks fifth-worst, but their shooting percentage at even strength is far and away the best in the league at an astonishing 11.39. Watch out for those quality shots.

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Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Bulls erase recent struggles, hand Spurs first road loss of season

Jimmy Butler kicked his legs out and the ball swirled around, and around and stopped…before rolling in after the official’s whistle blew for a foul.

The pushback from the rim on an imperfect night for Butler seemed to capture his feelings perfectly

The San Antonio Spurs stalked the Bulls after sleepwalking for 24 minutes, and Kawhi Leonard will probably be in Butler’s nightmares as he shadowed the two-time all-star all night — as the league’s best out-of-nowhere two-way players battled all night.

Butler went scoreless in the first half and his streak of 20-point games ended at 15 but he came away with the most important statistic as the Bulls ended their three-game losing streak and the Spurs’ 13-0 road streak to start the season with a perfectly predictable 94-88 win at the United Center Thursday night.

Dwyane Wade led the Bulls with 20 points, including a couple buckets when the Bulls were reeling late and needing some stability in the worst way, hitting Taj Gibson for an inside dunk with two minutes remaining.

This is what the Bulls do, author improbable storybook endings on national TV against quality opponents when the odds are stacked against them and public conversation begins to sway in the other direction after some puzzling losses.

But with Doug McDermott back after missing 11 games and the stage of a national audience at home — the night was tailor-made for the Bulls to pull out a win like this, even without Butler being his usual self.

Butler scored 13 with nine rebounds, including two on the offensive end while the Bulls were trying to seal the win, with four assists and two steals in 38 minutes.

Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP for his work against LeBron James, was the only starter aside from Pau Gasol to get a rhythm in a rhythmless game, scoring 24 with eight rebounds and five assists while doggedly defending Butler.

Leonard had two straight ridiculous 3-point plays that seemed awkward and prayer-like but pulled the Spurs to within six midway through the fourth quarter, pulling the Spurs back from an 18-point deficit.

It seemed like the Spurs were sleeping and just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Bulls, and of course, the expectation was for a Bulls collapse considering how putrid their fourth quarters have been recently.

Patty Mills kept shaking free of the Bulls defense to hit four triples while the Bulls couldn’t fully pull away, despite all five starters scoring in double figures and Rajon Rondo coming an assist shy of getting a triple-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

They won’t have many games where Butler and Wade aren’t the headliners, but then again, they won’t have many games where the defense actually picks up the slack against one of the more disciplined offensive teams in the league

Butler didn’t score until midway through the third quarter, finally shaking free of Leonard in semi-transition for a short jumper to put the Bulls up 60-47.

But the Spurs began to wake up and nearly did more than make the Bulls sweat. But in these early tilts, the more desperate team usually wins.

And although the Bulls don’t want to admit it, they needed to play like a desperate team.