The Chicago Bears (8-3) righted the ship after two consecutive losses by handily defeating their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings (6-5), by a score of 28-10. The offensive line was banged up and Jay Cutler had to run for his life on multiple occasions, but better it be Cutler than anyone else. I’m looking at you Jason Campbell. Cutler was able to lead the Bears up and down the field with short pass after short pass, converting 11-of-19 third downs and keeping the ball for over 37 minutes.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice committed to the run and scaled back his play-calling, finally, and it worked like a charm. However, special teams stole the show with a nice fake extra point by punter Adam Podlesh, who barreled his 5’11” 200 pound frame into the end zone for a two-point conversion. It wasn’t something you see every week, but with the plethora of injuries the Bears have sustained recently, they will need to continue to be creative as the playoffs approach.
In the meantime, let’s see how the Bears graded out en route to a one-game lead over the Green Bay Packers (7-4) in the NFC North.
Quarterback – B
Bears fans can all breathe a big sigh of relief. The Cutler that we know and love (or hate) is back to his winning ways. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Nothing crazy, but he did make a lot of smart throws to eight different receivers. He wasn’t on target with everything, but he moved the chains when he had to.
Wide Receivers – B+
Devin Hester left the game with an injury in the first half, but Earl Bennett stepped up with four catches for 45 yards, two of which were for first downs. Brandon Marshall dropped a touchdown pass, yet again, but looked unstoppable on short slant and post routes. He finished with a season high 12 catches for 92 yards, topping 1,000 yards for the season. All in all, the receivers helped Cutler escape a lot of pressure.
Running Backs – C+
You have to hand it to the Bears for sticking to the run game (39 rushes for 113 yards), but you wish someone could have broken some longer runs (longest run of the game was eight yards by Michael Bush). Matt Forte didn’t do much of anything (14 rushes for 42 yards and a fumble) before he was hurt, and Bush only averaged 2.9 yards on 21 carries. However, Bush did gain his most productive yards around the goal line (two touchdowns). If Forte can’t go moving forward, Bush is going to have to find a way to get the most out of his touches behind the Bears weak offensive line.
Tight Ends/Fullback – B-
Matt Spaeth may have made the catch of the year when it mattered most, scoring a touchdown late in the third quarter. Kellen Davis proved once again that he can only catch the easy passes…some of the time. He’s garbage. There’s nothing else to say.
Fullback Evan Rodriguez made his first catch of the year, converting a big third down en route to the Bears second touchdown of the game. He continues to improve each week, while Davis is rapidly heading in the other direction.
Offensive Line – C
It wasn’t pretty, but everyone knows that it never is. After G Lance Louis and G Chris Spencer went down with injuries, it was a free-for-all in front of Cutler, who successfully ran for his life most of the game. Gabe Carimi and Edwin Williams held their own and new RT Jonathan Scott looked competent against the always tough Vikings DE Jared Allen. It’s too bad Allen ended Louis’ season with that cheap hit. However, this new rag-tag group of donut eaters might be just what the Bears were looking for to begin with.
Defensive Line – B+
Henry Melton had another really solid game recording one sack and two QB hits. Shea McClellin, back from a concussion, also showed that he is quickly maturing into his role at the end of the line. His quickness and strength is proving to be a deadly combo. The man, the myth, the legend, Julius Peppers, blocked the 13th kick of his career. He’s more deserving of the title “Mr. Ridiculous.”
The only negative of the game was that the Bears allowed an 100-yard rusher. But, hey, it was Adrian Peterson. He’s only done that 33 other times in his career.
Linebackers – B+
Nick Roach finally shined as the Bears top LB on Sunday. He tied Lance Briggs for the team lead with seven tackles, while playing only limited duty. Briggs injured his foot during the game and Roach filled in without missing a beat, even forcing Peterson to fumble. Brian Urlacher might not have figured in greatly on the stat sheet (four tackles), but you know that he is the leader whenever he is on the field.
Secondary – A
The productive turnovers just keep on piling up for this group, who’s playing like big time superstars. Chris Conte ran back an interception to the 13-yard line (led to Spaeth’s TD), Charles Tillman recovered a fumble at the 33-yard line (led to one of Bush’s touchdowns), and Major Wright recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter, squashing the Vikings attempt to rally late.
This Pro Bowl secondary also saw guest appearances by Kelvin Hayden (four tackles, two pass deflections) and Zack Bowman (one tackle, one pass deflection). It was a nice bounce back performance after the 49ers blew them off the field last week.
Special Teams – B
Dave Toub was firing on all cylinders last Sunday. Peppers blocked a kick and Podlesh turned a fake extra point into a two-point conversion as well as kicking the bacon out of the ball on punts (43.3 net yards per punt, two inside the 20).
Devin Hester (one punt return for six yards) struggled returning the ball again and Eric Weems looked bad on kick returns (21.7 yards per return average). Throw in a Robbie Gould blocked field goal and another extra point try that was almost blocked and it wasn’t their best game of the year. But hey, they did enough to win, and you have to love any type of successful fake in the NFL.
Coaching – A
Whether Mike Tice was responsible for it or not, it was a breath of fresh air to see lots of short slants run by Marshall and a commitment to the running game. This is the type of football they should have been playing once they realized how bad the offensive line is. Maybe Lovie Smith asked for a change or uarterback coach Jeremy Bates begged and pleaded so as not to get Cutler killed. Either way, this play-calling should be a model for the future.
Since I rarely mention them, kudos to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for leading one of the best defenses in the league and to special teams coach Dave Toub for putting the extra point fake in the play book.
Overall – B+