The Chicago Bears caught it all this season - injuries, a quarterback controversy, a tougher schedule and the dreaded Super Bowl jinx.
When the defending NFC champions slipped to 1-3 yesterday with a bizarre 37-27 loss to the Detroit Lions, they were merely following a script that has afflicted several previous Super Bowl losers.
Six of the past eight teams that lost the Super Bowl didn't reach the playoffs the next season. Roll call includes the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. Only the Seattle Seahawks last year and the Tennessee Titans in 2000 have avoided the dubious distinction since the 1998 season.
The jinx is worth revisiting today because the Bears are seemingly on the verge of collapse. Their defense, already devastated by injuries, had four more starters sit out in Detroit. In their past two games, they have been shelled for a total of 71 points and 741 yards by the Dallas Cowboys and Lions.
More frustrating than that, coach Lovie Smith reluctantly benched turnover-prone quarterback Rex Grossman in Week 4 and his replacement, Brian Griese, had a Grossman-like game with three interceptions.
Griese, a 10-year NFL journeyman, didn't see the intercepting defensive back on his first interception, threw behind the receiver on the second and made a poor read on the third, which was returned for a touchdown.
That gives the Bears a league-high 14 giveaways in four games. If not for standout return man Devin Hester, who brought back a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and consistently gave the Bears good field position, this game would have been a blowout.
As it is, the Bears are on the ropes going into a big rivalry game in Green Bay next week. If they are going to beat the Super Bowl jinx, they can't afford to fall four games behind the unbeaten Packers in the NFC North. It's must-win time.
Division rivalries accounted for three stunning upsets in the AFC in Week 4, including the Ravens' stupefying loss in Cleveland. Who would have thought the Buffalo Bills would beat the New York Jets in rookie quarterback Trent Edwards' first start? Or that the punchless Kansas City Chiefs would put up 30 points on the San Diego Chargers' defense? The Chiefs won on the road, but the home team won the other two games.
A week ago, we opined it was too early for San Diego to panic. Well, the Chargers can panic now. And it's not so much the 1-3 start as it is how the Chargers are losing. They finally got LaDainian Tomlinson (132 rushing yards) untracked, but quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions and was hurt by dropped passes. He looks shaky. Norv Turner hasn't reached a rhythm with his offense yet.
Worse, though, was the fact that Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard - who was close to getting benched - passed for 284 yards and two touchdowns. An immobile pocket passer, Huard was sacked just twice. The Chargers clearly miss defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (head coach in Dallas) and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (head coach in Miami), if not Marty Schottenheimer.
How sweet was the Arizona Cardinals' 21-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers? Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm were coaching in Pittsburgh last season. Whisenhunt left to become the Cardinals' head coach, and when the Steelers gave Bill Cowher's job to Mike Tomlin, Grimm bolted for the desert, too. Mix in a little resentment for Whisenhunt from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and you have a pretty significant win for Arizona, maybe even a cornerstone win.
The Cardinals wouldn't have won without Kurt Warner's contribution (132 passing yards, one touchdown), but they're trying to keep Matt Leinart involved. The two-quarterback rotation worked yesterday, but it won't if Warner is only in when things are tight. It's too unsettling for the offense.
With the Bears in trouble, the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North. Brett Favre passed Dan Marino to become the league's all-time leader in touchdown passes, but his ball security is the reason the Packers are 4-0. He threw 45 passes without an interception in a 23-16 win in Minnesota. It should be noted Favre is only two interceptions away from tying George Blanda for the league record.
While Griese threw 52 passes - few of them for any distance - Lions quarterback Jon Kitna threw only 24. Lions coordinator Mike Martz, who hates to run, realized he needed to run on the Bears' defense to keep Kitna in the game. The Lions had 25 runs and 30 dropbacks, as Kitna was sacked six times.
The Lions got two cheap scores with touchdown returns on an interception and an onside kick, but their 34 points in the fourth quarter set a league record.