The Chicago Bears (6-1) didn’t make it easy on the fans when they beat the Carolina Panthers (1-6) by a score of 23-22 on Sunday. The game was ugly from the start. Bears QB Jay Cutler was sacked on the first offensive play and ended the drive with an interception. He couldn’t get anything going until the fourth quarter, but it was just enough to pull off the victory.
The Panthers and WR Steve Smith racked up over 400 yards of offensive but only found the end zone once, settling for five field goals. The Bears defense scored, yet again, courtesy of a CB Tim Jennings pick-six late in the game. There was even a Kellen Davis sighting in the end zone in the fourth quarter. But it all came down to kicker Robbie Gould’s leg on a windy day on the lakefront. He was as good as his name, stealing the victory from the Panthers.
It would be easy to give everyone failing grades, but playing a near perfect fourth quarter gives a little extra positive weight. Let’s check out how everyone did.
Quarterback – C+
Through the first 43 minutes and 30 seconds of the game, Cutler looked miserable. He was sacked six times, threw one interception, fumbled twice, had a QB rating of 17.7 and was even booed off the field. Then, fan-friendly Jay took over. He finished the game 14 of 16 for 141 yards and threw one touchdown pass. It seems like drama just finds him no matter where he goes. If anyone lives up to the old adage “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Cutler does. His 132.0 QB rating in the fourth quarter leads the league. No Tebowing needed.
Wide Receivers – C-
Some people might think that Brandon Marshall deserves a lot of the credit for the fourth quarter comeback, but all he really did was make sure to hold onto the ball. The Panthers defense refused to change coverage, and the Bears took advantage. Marshall’s nine catches for 98 yards were impressive, but he and Cutler need to find their chemistry earlier in games.
Earl Bennett had three nice catches late in the game, but it seemed like offensive coordinator Mike Tice was reluctant to give him opportunities. According to ESPN’s Michael Wright, he was on the field for less than two-thirds of the offensive snaps (35 of 56). Devin Hester, who played 44 snaps, had only one catch for five yards and dropped a ball that would have given the Bears a first down. That drop may cost him some playing time moving forward. Tice has been known to make adjustments when something isn’t working.
Running Backs – B+
Forte’s first four rushes went for a total of 44 yards. Then Bush came in to start the second quarter. I don’t see why you would go away from the hot hand. Forte looked primed for another 200+ yard game. He finished the first half with eight rushes for 61 yards, but then only ran seven times for nine yards in the second half. Bush finished the game with three rushes for five yards. In a game this close, you would like to see more run plays called. Forte and Bush can’t make plays if they don’t have the ball in their hands.
Tight Ends/Fullback – D
Matt Spaeth proved once again that he can’t catch the ball, but also missed a block that led to a sack on the first play of the game. Kellen Davis caught a big touchdown pass late in the game (his only catch), but a guy of his size needs to get involved in the game early and often. Rookie FB Evan Rodriguez was active again but did not see the field. Hopefully he is fully healthy soon, so that Spaeth and Davis can stick to what they are best at…cheerleading from the sidelines.
Offensive Line – D+
They proved once again that their strength is run blocking. Forte was on pace for a monster day, but the Panthers controlled the ball, and Cutler couldn’t hit the broad side of William “The Refridgerator” Perry. Everyone on the line except Louis gave up a sack, Roberto Garza had a false start, Chilo Rachal had a holding penalty, and Cutler had no pocket to even try to escape from. The line did tighten up late in the game and allowed the Bears to come back and win. That being said, they have yet to play solid for 60 consecutive minutes. They play just well enough to win.
Defensive Line – B+
Someone always steps up and has a big game for this line. Julius Peppers had two sacks and a forced fumble, while the rest of the line did a nice job putting pressure on Cam Newton. Despite giving up 119 yards rushing, the Panthers only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. The line didn’t allow a rushing touchdown for the sixth consecutive game. Yes, Newton made it to the one yard line, but when his fumble was recovered in the end zone, it wasn’t officially a rushing score. Nonetheless, the line has consistently been the strength of the defense.
Linebackers – B
We are starting to see a pattern in what the Bears linebackers are going to give us each week. It’s not going to be pretty, but they are going to get the job done. Lance Briggs had a ho-hum seven tackles and Brian Urlacher had the same to go along with a tackle for a loss and a pass deflection. Even though the Panthers put up big yardage numbers (433 total yards), they were stopped short of the end zone often and had to settle for five field goals and three punts.
Secondary – B-
After Charles Tillman shut down Lions WR Calvin Johnson last week, the Panthers wanted no part of him for most of the day. Instead, they chose to pick on Jennings and his matchup with Steve Smith. Smith was targeted 16 times and caught seven passes for 118 yards and no touchdowns. After the game, he had some overconfident words for Jennings, who had two interceptions and brought one back for a touchdown (when Smith fell down). In my book, points are what matter. Tim Jennings 6, Steve Smith 0.
Safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright didn’t have their best games (gave up the two longest passing plays of the season, 47 yards and 62 yards), but kept Newton from throwing a touchdown. Wright also had a tackle for a loss and forced a fumble that, unfortunately, was recovered by the Panthers in the end zone. Overall, an above average game against a rejuvenated Panthers offense.
Special Teams – C
The Panthers did everything they could to keep the ball as far away from Hester as humanly possible by squibbing every kickoff. Hester did get two punt returns but only managed 11 total yards. The fact that Hester was on the field for kickoffs gave the Bears an average starting position of the 32 yard line. It’s too bad the offense couldn’t take advantage.
The Bears coverage team allowed zero return yards on three downed punts and four touchbacks on kickoffs. The windy conditions played a factor in Robbie Gould missing his first field goal attempt. I think he out-thought himself when compensating for the wind. He redeemed himself by nailing a game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired. It was his 10th game winner in the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. He has only missed two field goals in a game once in his career.
Coaching – C-
Tice is still learning. That’s the only explanation there is. He went away from the run when it was working, and the plays he was calling weren’t being executed. On ESPN’s “The Cutler Show”, Cutler said that he didn’t call many audible, so something about the play calling just wasn’t right. The last drive of the game was pure genius though, calling the same play over and over to get into field goal position. The Panthers didn’t adjust, so the Bears kept doing the same thing. Obviously, Tice and Cutler remembered what Tim Tebow did to them last year.
Lovie Smith deserves credit too. Another game without dumb challenges. And whatever the score may be, he keeps this team motivated. All that matters is how you finish the game and what the scoreboard says.
Overall – C-
Note: I apologize for mentioning Tebow twice in this article (damn…three times). I promise it will never happen again.