Smith insists Bears in good spot

Even their coach has to do a double-take.

The Chicago Bears are 5-3 and only a half-game behind Green Bay

for the NFC North lead midway through the season despite an ugly

stretch. It’s not hard to see why coach Lovie Smith said it ”seems

like we’re 2-6 or something like that.”

Even when they win, they can’t exactly breathe easily. Still, he

insists they’re in a good spot.

The Bears came out of a bye and held off winless Buffalo 22-19

on Sunday behind an efficient Jay Cutler, a more balanced offense

and enough timely plays by their defense. It wasn’t the breeze some

were seeking, but considering they had dropped three of four, the

Bears will take it.

”We’re a good football team, and I think at times we’ll prove

that more and more. I like our position,” Smith said. ”In

November, that’s when that playoff run begins and we’re in pretty

good shape. We’re not sitting in first place right now, but to me

(that’s) because we’ve played one less game than the team that’s up

top right now. They don’t play this week. That’s why this game is

so big for us. We want to matter, and right now, I think you can

say the Bears really matter.”

The next game is against Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings,

a team with more than it’s share of drama. Smith says he’s not

paying attention to that.

There’s plenty in Chicago to keep him occupied, between the

beating Cutler had been taking, the struggles on the offensive line

and the perceived stubbornness of offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

The Bears put all that aside but barely put away the Bills.

Had Tim Jennings not come up with that juggling interception in

the fourth quarter, the outcome might have been different. Instead,

he was fortunate and so were the Bears.

They were trailing by five when Jennings secured an underthrown

pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick after getting beaten by Steve Johnson.

Six plays later, Cutler connected with Earl Bennett from the 2 for

the go-ahead touchdown and Chicago hung on.

As if what had happened to that point wasn’t enough, the Bears

got a scare near the end when Julius Peppers got the wind knocked

out of him trying to make a diving tackle on Fitzpatrick and left

the game. He stayed down awhile, but Smith said he’s fine.

”Especially when you go back and watch the video, it looked a

lot worse than it ended up being,” Smith said. ”It’s going to

take an awful to keep him out, to knock him down, but he’s fine,

good to go.”

The same goes for Bennett after he was in a car accident in

Chicago early Monday morning.

All those issues aside, there were some positive signs for the

Bears.

Finally, they came through on third downs, converting 7 of 12

after going 15 of 84 in their first seven games.

Cutler looked sharper, completing 17 of 30 passes for 188 yards

and two touchdowns. He lost a fumble but did not throw an

interception after getting picked off four times two weeks earlier

against Washington.

He was sacked just once after going down 19 times in his

previous three games. There was better protection from the line,

and Cutler did a better job picking up the blitz.

He got rid of the ball quicker at times, used his mobility and

kept the defense off balance whether he ran with it or bought time

to find receivers.

”Jay did a good job utilizing his feet and converting some big

plays for us on the ground,” tight end Greg Olsen said. ”That

element to the offense is another big advantage we have.”

It wasn’t just that Cutler was moving around. The Bears weren’t

treating the handoff as a foreign concept, either.

They ran 31 times for 105 yards, and although the average wasn’t

good, the Bills at least had to be ready for it. Cutler did the

most damage on the ground, going for 39 yards on five attempts, but

Matt Forte (14 attempts, 49 yards) and Chester Taylor (10 for 13

yards) were at least involved.

”What were we 50-50 in run-pass? When I say balance on the

offensive side, just having a commitment to both, giving what the

defense gives you,” Smith said. ”You have to be productive in

both areas.”