Yes, those were your Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. Essentially the same guys in the same uniforms you saw taking a knee at the two-minute warnings and running their tailbacks off left guard on third-and-11.
The same franchise that has drummed into its fans a sense of complacency as well as hopelessness for the better part of this decade may indeed be coming out of hibernation, if Sunday is any indication.
The idea in their season opener against Kansas City was to confuse, befuddle and perplex, and if one of their own became a little disoriented in the process, well, that was simply an unavoidable byproduct.
"I'm just glad to be sitting at 0-1," said veteran tackle Jim Flanigan. "I'm sorry, 1-0. You get used to saying that. This feels good. It feels real good."
Flanigan was talking about the Bears' 20-17 victory, which was sealed by two straight four-and-out defensive stands and broke a nine-game September losing streak dating to the 1996 season opener. But the unveiling of the team's first-year coaching staff led by Dick Jauron and highlighted by a new offensive system under the direction of Gary Crowton confirmed at least one significant fact: The Bears won't be boring.
Based on their offensive formations alone Sunday, they were worth watching. Three tight ends lining up on one side followed by a pass play. A five-receiver set preceding a run. A three-man backfield precipitating a 1-yard touchdown pass. A no-huddle on a third-and-5 with 1 minute 40 seconds left in the first half leading to a 29-yard pass play to Curtis Conway.
Welcome to a 1999 Bears season even George Orwell could not have envisioned.
"We didn't even use very much; we just had a lot of different formations," said Conway, one of nine Bears to catch at least one pass. "I probably only ran about three or four different routes, but it was out of different formations and it kept them off-balance."
Said winning quarterback Shane Matthews: "We haven't even broken the ice on our playbook."
Scoring all their points on their first four possessions--a 10-yard reception by Curtis Enis, 21- and 24-yard field goals by Brian Gowins and a 1-yard pass from Matthews to John Allred--the Bears led 20-3 at the half and put Kansas City on the defensive in more ways than one.
Afterward, the chippy Chiefs were not altogether happy about the suggestion that they were flustered by a team that finished 4-12 in each of its last two seasons.
"They play razzle-dazzle football," said Kansas City coach Gunther Cunningham, passed over last winter after interviewing for the Bears' head coaching job. "After you get used to it once, after you see it on film once a game is played like this, now you know what they're all about. It's not confusing."
Well, maybe, but they sure looked confused by the deliberate style and deceptively quick release of Matthews.
Matthews, at the eye of the Bears' tornado in his first NFL start, proceeded to do precisely what he promised in taking what the defense gave him.
"I felt comfortable," Matthews said after completing 25 of 38 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. "It was just another day at the office. I think our whole team was relaxed. We knew we could move the ball offensively. Gary Crowton called an excellent game and we had fun doing it.
"They can call it razzle-dazzle, but, hey, we're 1-0. It's as simple as that."
Only once did Matthews noticeably goof. That came with the Bears leading 20-10 early in the fourth quarter when he lost his grip on a pass attempt on first-and-goal at the Chiefs 6-yard line. Scooping up the oblong gift, Kansas City linebacker Donnie Edwards galloped 79 yards for the touchdown, putting the game in serious question with 12 1/2 minutes remaining.
"Other than that," said Jauron, "I don't know what else we could've asked him to do. I'm sure when we review the film, there might be a ball that was slightly behind somebody, but all in all, in his first start in the regular season, I thought he played a tremendous game."
Jauron followed through on his promise to insert rookie Cade McNown into the game regardless of how Matthews was performing, and that point came after the first two Bears scoring drives. McNown did not break the team's stride, going 6 of 9 for 77 yards in a 14-play, 74-yard drive that spanned 6:01 in the second quarter and culminated with Gowins' 24-yarder.
"I'm so impressed with our offense," said Bears tackle Mike Wells. "Going into the game, we as a defense kind of secretly said, `Hey, we're going to have to carry this young offense,' but they took it over today."
Curtis Enis was one of the youngsters in question, but his somersault into the end zone after a 10-yard catch put the Bears ahead for good at 7-3, and began a day in which the second-year tailback accounted for 133 yards in total offense.
After that it was largely up to the defense to hold up its end of the bargain. Other than an 86-yard pass from Elvis Grbac to Derrick Alexander over the outstretched arms of Walt Harris to draw the Chiefs within 20-10, it did.
Like the Bears offense, the defense angled toward the vanilla early in the second half to preserve the lead. But it was stalwart when it had to be, negating a fumble by Glyn Milburn on a third-quarter kickoff return after Alexander's touchdown that gave the Chiefs the ball at the Bears 23-yard line.
Forcing a field-goal try, the Bears watched in glee as Pete Stoyanovich's 38-yard attempt sailed wide right, marking the first time he had missed a field goal of less than 40 yards since '96.
"We held them to a few points and stopped them when we had to," said Wells. "That's the name of the game. A defense can bend and not break."
And a team can believe. That's the beauty of the season-opening victory, the advantage to being a team most believe can't possibly manage more than five victories.
"We had confidence going into this game," said Matthews. "I don't think a lot of people on the outside did, but I think we proved some people wrong today. It's still a long season and we have a long ways to go, but we have the weapons, and if I can get the ball in their hands, we'll move the ball on anybody."
They shall see soon enough with Seattle coming to town next week. But for seven days, anyway, Matthews can be right.
"They're a young team, but they have confidence," Jauron said of his Bears. "They do believe in themselves, and as long as they believe, we'll have a chance in every game."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun