The White Sox beating Boston on Friday didn’t just mean that Chicago would have some time to rest before playing the Angels or Yankees on Tuesday night, it also meant the Sun Times’ Jay Mariotti (above, right) would have no bigger target in mind for Monday’s column than the offensively challenged Bears, following their 20-10 loss to Cleveland.
The Bears were briefly control of this game thanks largely to Thomas Jones, who is performing like one of the NFL’s better backs and dominated a 12-play, 93-yard drive that propped his team to a 10-6 lead late in the third quarter. It doesn’t take an apprenticeship under Bill Walsh to know you keep feeding Jones, every series, after he accounted for 76 of those yards — including bursts of 25, 23 and 15 yards — and rushed for 137 on the day. But oddly, with momentum high after Cleveland punted on its next possession, Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Ron Turner replaced Jones.
He wasn’t tired at the time, you should know. “I didn’t need a blow. I’m in great condition,” Jones said. “I can carry the ball 20 times a game every game.” No, the coaches rested him because they wanted to stay true to a rotation that called for Cedric Benson (above) to see action at some point. Look, successful football is about developing a rhythm and not disrupting it. In a close game in an enemy stadium, you don’t yank your meal ticket and best offensive player so his backup can get some experience, which might not be an issue if Benson hadn’t been a contract holdout for five weeks. Pick your spots for the first-round pick gone awry. This was not one of them.
So naturally, he took the handoff on first down and fumbled the ball away. And while the Browns didn’t capitalize immediately, the Bears weren’t the same after that. “We need to put together six, seven, eight good plays in a row,” said QB Kyle Orton, who may or may not have been referring to Benson and the broken momentum. When Jones left with a sprained knee — he says he’s fine, but I wonder — it was curious to see Smith opt for third-stringer Peterson instead of Benson. As the Bears stumbled offensively, they left Trent Dilfer just enough time to remember he won a Super Bowl five years ago and connect with Bryant for the game’s biggest plays. Smith had the Browns in a vice grip. He was ram-rodding the league’s 30th-ranked run defense with Jones. And he puts Cedric the Entertainer in the game.
As for Benson, he stood by his locker and chose his words carefully. With Jones clearly established as the featured back, the fumble and benching was the latest letdown in what is becoming a bummer first season. Benson already has been called a bust in some national quarters because he was drafted by Angelo one spot before Cadillac Williams, an early-season revelation in Tampa Bay before he was injured. I don’t care that Halas Hall gave Benson about $18 million in bonuses. Don’t force-feed him because he makes a lot of money and Jerry Angelo’s future depends on him.