Linebacker Jonathan Bostic was waiting after practice on Wednesday for fellow rookie Khaseem Greene to finish with an interview. Few Bears had struggled more than Bostic in the loss at St. Louis, but Martellus Bennett reminded him of something else.
“I told you you’d have a pick against Baltimore,” Bennett yelled to Bostic, who laughed. “I think I should get a piece of your check!”
Bostic laughed again (but didn’t reach for his checkbook — this isn’t Miami, after all).
The by-play was nothing special and yet was in its way, telling, as were assorted members of the defense walking off the Walter Payton Center practice field with members of the offense.
Teams where one side of the ball is performing at a very high level — the Bears rank fourth in the NFL in scoring — and the other is near qualifying for federal disaster relief — the Bears rank 28th in points allowed and among the NFL’s worst in nearly every significant statistical category — can start to splinter. Do the math: players on one side of the ball string together failures; team loses; players lose playoff money or more; wives, girlfriends, hangers-on, players themselves, whomever see bonus money evaporating. Everybody gets testy.
It still could. But it is decidedly not happening with the 2013 Bears, for some interesting reasons.
“We’re a close team,” Bennett told CSNChicago.com. “Everybody is busting their (tails) every day, putting in the work, and sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
But some very good teams have splintered into deadly factions. In Chicago.
Matters in 1963 between a dominant defense and a bumbling offense were so bad that, after the defense had registered yet another stop, a defensive lineman bellowed at the offense coming onto the field, “OK, just hold ‘em!” The dominant defensive team of the decade had just two winning seasons the rest of the decade.
Relations between the offense and defense on the 1985-86 teams were nothing short of open hostility at times, not necessarily because of incompetence but just simply because of personalities. The team that should have won multiple Super Bowls never reached another one.
This season still has five games to run and anything, good or bad, is still possible. The Bears still have a winning record and are tied for first in the NFC North at 6-5, and if catastrophes like St. Louis recur, mood swings have happened over less.
“When you're part of a team everybody is pulling their weight and doing what they can to get their job done,” quarterback Josh McCown said. “And when one side maybe doesn't perform as well as they'd like to, it's not the mark of a good team or great team to look at that side and say, 'well, that's why.'”
No one is harder on the defense than the defense. Linebacker Lance Briggs issued a direct challenge on his Comcast SportsNet show Tuesday: “It just really comes down to heart, right here, what you’ve got in here.” Briggs said, tapping his chest. “You’ve got to make a play. Period.
“It’s too bad that collectively so many guys didn’t get the job done play after play.”
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And if the offense were to begin grumbling about the run defense costing them games, consider that a case of short-term memory loss.
The Bears do not win the Minnesota, New York Giants or Baltimore games without defensive scores:
— Tim Jennings TD interception return — Bears 31, Vikings 30 (four Bears offensive giveaways)
— Tim Jennings TD interception return — Bears 27, Giants 21
— David Bass TD interception return — Bears 23, Ravens 20
“We all pull together,” McCown said, “because they've certainly, especially over the years and even this year certainly, done their fair share of taking over games, too, and causing turnovers and doing the things that they do. So we're a team and we're together, and that's really all it is.”
And it wasn’t the defense that couldn’t score on four snaps from the St. Louis 4-yard line or needed eight trips to the line of scrimmage and two Rams penalties to score from the St. Louis 1-yard line last Sunday.
“We (on offense) just have to do our part because there are going to be games where we’re not scoring and they’re stopping everybody, and games where the other team’s offense is doing well,” Bennett said.
Coach Marc Trestman brought in a practice program that includes the No. 1 offense and defense matched against each other on occasion during the week. Rather than simply practice-squad and backup players running scout-team plays for the other unit, starters are going against starters in designated situations.
Coaches think they know players. Sometimes they actually do. Players definitely do know players. Meaning: What members of the Bears’ offense are seeing in practice against their counterparts has left an impression.
“We do go against each other, sometimes one-on-one, so you see what guys are doing and how hard they’re working,” Bennett said. “I run scout team, and I know how hard I have to work to get open just in practice.
“You never know what’s going to happen on any day. Don’t worry about somebody else doing their job. Do yours. Me, I just pull for those (defensive) guys to make plays.”