The wheels are falling off the Bears’ bandwagon, but St. Louis looked like the perfect stop to make repairs. It was two years ago.
The wheels are falling off the Bears’ bandwagon, but St. Louis looked like the perfect stop to make repairs.
It was two years ago.
One week after Rex Grossman had a 1.3 passer rating, Devin Hester returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a 42-27 win that got Chicago back on track for the Super Bowl.
Now, Hester is struggling, ranking 32nd in the NFL in kickoff returns and 21st in punt returns. Coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday that revisiting the Edward Jones Dome today could jump-start Hester.
"He only has good memories about playing in that dome," Smith said. "Hopefully, he can get it back. We’re looking for any little thing that will give us a boost."
Friday, though, the Chicago Tribune reported Smith might bench Hester on kick returns, a sign of how desperate the Bears (5-5) feel after averaging 8.5 points the last two games.
Hester certainly sounds nothing like the man who returned 11 kickoffs and punts for touchdowns the previous two years.
"The return game was basically my success at football," Hester said. "Now that it’s not there, it’s tough. I’m not the football player that everybody knows about."
Hester’s solution is for the entire kick return team to "find that swagger and bring it back."
A long return would help, whether it’s by Hester or Danieal Manning, who returned the final kickoff last week. The Bears have started 10 drives the last two weeks inside their own 17. They’ve scored on none of those drives. That’s a huge setback for a team that led the NFL in field position the last two years.
A fast start on offense would also help for a team that’s converted 5 of 26 third downs (19 percent) the last two weeks after converting 46 percent their first six games.
"It would definitely help to start fast," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "If we do, great, we can build on that. But if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world."
Well, not if the defense improves. The NFL’s No. 30-rated pass defense can afford to give up yards to two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger if the Bears can make the Rams cough the ball up. Bulger has eight turnovers, including three fumbles, the last three weeks. The Bears gave up 354 yards passing to Drew Brees in the 2006 NFC title game, but won 39-14 with only 144 yards passing themselves by forcing four turnovers.
"They are built on getting turnovers," Rams coach Jim Haslett said in a teleconference. "That’s a big-play defense. They thrive on interceptions. They thrive on stripping the ball out."
The Bears have two turnovers during their two-game losing streak, after forcing eight the previous two games.
"We have an attack-mode defense," said Manning, who plays nickel back on defense. "We can make things happen. We just have to believe."
St. Louis makes it easy to believe. The Rams are 5-21 the last two years and have been outscored by 173 points this year, even more than 0-10 Detroit (135).
"This is the perfect opportunity to get back on track," receiver Marty Booker said.
If so, all the Bears — even Hester — could begin to regain their swagger.
"Experience tells you," Lovie Smith said, "you go through spells like this where things just don’t work for whatever reason, but you keep fighting and eventually you get back on track. And not just Devin. We’re talking about our entire football team. You go through some tough times, but tough times normally don’t last."
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.