Is it too much to ask for two easy wins in a row? The ulcer is back in full effect after the Bears 38-31 victory over the Browns. I thought the Bears had lost this one about five different times, but they found a way to win and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Get this, the Bears are now the highest scoring team in the NFC (29 pts/game) and 2nd in the NFL behind only the Broncos (38 pts/game). That’s a stat I never thought I would be typing about the Bears.
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Jay Cutler: I wanted Cutler benched for McCown at least three different times yesterday. Despite the early INT, Cutler looked great on his first two drives but it was downhill from there. When Trestman called for a safe (cowardly) screen pass on 3rd & goal during Cutler’s second drive, I took it as a sign that the Bears coaching staff didn’t trust Cutler not to make a mistake. If that’s the case, why was he out there? The wheels came off for Cutler after that drive as he was 2-7 for 10 yards and a pick-6 over the next three drives. That set up Cutler with one more possession before the half and despite what Trestman says, I think he was in real danger of being benched for the 2nd half. Thanks to a couple of clutch catches by Brandon Marshall, one of them a 5-yard TD, the Bears tied the score at the half and Cutler was given a chance to finish the game. In the second half Cutler played much better; He was 9-12 for 113 yards and 2 TDs with no turnovers. He led the Bears to three 4th quarter touchdowns and reminded me of the “Mr. 4th Quarter” we saw earlier this season. There was some rust yesterday and definitely some mistakes, but Cutler got better as the game went on and was 11-12 on 3rd downs for 152 yards and 2 TDs. As a team the Bears were 9-14 on third downs compared to 3-9 for the Browns. The difference? A good QB.
Brandon Marshall: When his good buddy Jay Cutler was in danger of being benched for the second half and possibly the rest of his Bears career, Marshall made 2 very tough catches to get the Bears in the end zone, tie the score at the half, and give Cutler another chance to prove he’s the Bears best hope at QB. Marshall didn’t play a perfect game; He dropped a TD in the second half and couldn’t reel in a couple difficult but catch-able balls. Overall he finished with 6-95-1, his usual excellent run blocking (1.9) , and just enough plays to help the Bears win this one.
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Alshon Jeffery: For some reason Cutler ignored Jeffery for most of the game but with the Bears on the ropes late in the fourth quarter on a 3rd & long, Cutler threw up a prayer towards Jeffery who was double covered. Jeffery somehow got separation from the defenders and made an acrobatic catch in the end zone to tie the game. It was the third week in a row that Jeffery had a highlight reel TD catch. It’s not a fluke, Jeffery is one of the best WRs in the NFL.
Offensive line: For the second week in a row, the Bears o-line did a great job protecting the QB in the passing game. Cutler was sacked twice (both on blitzes), only hit 4 times, and hurried 8 times. The line wasn’t bad in run blocking either as Forte had another solid game with 127 yards on the ground and the team as a whole averaged 5.8 YPC. If the line can keep playing like this the Bears have a legitimate chance to win out and maybe even win a playoff game or two.
Michael Bush: I’ve been tough on Bush all year and still don’t think he should be taking snaps from a healthy Forte, but he played well today. His 40-yard TD run was the highlight, but he had a nice blitz pick up on a key 3rd down conversion and also picked up a first down in a 3rd and short situation that he’s struggled in most of the year.
Jeremiah Ratliff: The Ratliff / Paea DT combo has been markedly better than any other combo the Bears have put out there since Melton’s injury. Ratliff was on the field for 46 of the Bears 61 defensive snaps which is the most he’s played this year and a sign that he is rounding into game shape. This was his best game as a Bear so far. Ratliff had 3 hits on Jason Campbell and two stops in the backfield against the run. He was a big part of the Bears holding a team under 100 yards rushing (93) for the first time since week 5 vs the Saints anemic running game.
Run Defense: After giving up an average of 252 rushing yards in weeks 12-13, the Bears have given up an average of 145 the last two weeks. Part of that is terrible play-calling from the opposition which I’ll touch on later, but a big part is improved play on the D-line and better tackling from the linebackers and secondary. The Bears have had 6 games this season that they missed ten or more tackles, but only missed 2 on Sunday. Getting Lance Briggs back next week will make the run defense even better and couldn’t come at a better time since they have a big test against the Eagles and LeShon McCoy.
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Zach Bowman: The Bears might have another piece of the DB puzzle next year if Bowman can keep playing as well as he has the last two weeks. He had an interception last week and two this week, one of which was a pick-6. Both picks were on very bad throws by Campbell, but he still made the plays which is harder than it looks as we’ve seen time and time again from Conte and Major Wright. This is Bowman’s 6th year in the league and he hasn’t been good consistently in that time, but some players are late bloomers. If Bowman can prove to be a solid #2 CB, the Bears can resign Jennings as their #1, and move Tillman to safety to take over for one of the bums the Bears have playing there now and extend Tillman’s career with the Bears a couple of years.
Tim Jennings: Last week he held Dez Bryant to 2 catches for 12 yards; This week Jennings held the NFL’s leading WR Josh Gordon to 2 catches for 24 yards. Gordon’s late TD came with Chris Conte in coverage (shocker). It’s not going to be cheap to re-sign Jennings after the way he’s played the last two seasons, but I’m convinced he’s worth it.
Devin Hester: Is it 2009 again? It sure liked the Devin Hester of old today. He had 126 total return yards and consistently gave the Bears good field position. There were no touchdowns, but it was fun to see Hester be dangerous again.
Jason Campbell: I’m so glad the Bears don’t have this guy anymore! The Bears tried to to give this game away multiple times but Campbell just wasn’t good enough to take advantage of it. He consistently missed wide open receivers, had two throws right to Bears CB Zach Bowman, and another one right to Chris Conte that he dropped of course.
Browns play-calling: If you had a 3rd & 1 against the worst run defense in the NFL, you would probably run the ball right? I don’t know if the Browns were trying to be clever or they are just dumb, but they threw the ball 39 times and only ran 17 times on a windy day against the worst run defense in the NFL. Thanks.
Chris Conte: I wish I didn’t love the Bears so much so I could laugh at Conte’s incompetence without being sad. His drop of a Campbell pass thrown right at him was classic Conte. Then his blown coverage on Josh Gordon’s late TD kept the Browns in the game and put them a successful onside kick away from having a chance to tie it up. His only job there is to keep anyone from getting behind him. He didn’t. How bad does he have to be to lose his job? Do the Bears really have no one else?
Marc Trestman: Of course Trestman is going to say that he never considered benching Cutler for McCown, but I hope that’s not the truth. Trestman’s first priority should be winning games, not protecting Jay Cutler’s emotional state. If the Bears would have finished the first half with only 3 points despite dominating the time of possession and total yardage categories, I think the right move would have been to pull Cutler. Luckily, Cutler threw a TD pass at the end of the first half and Trestman’s hand wasn’t forced. Overall I thought Trestman coached a solid game with only a few exceptions. There was one series were the Bears had a 4th & 1 from the Cleveland 24 yard line and ended up punting from the 39 that was comically bad play-calling / decision-making / execution. There was also a 3rd & goal play from the 9 yard line that Trestman called a safe (scared) screen to Jeffery that had no chance of reaching the end zone on Cutler’s 2nd drive that showed absolutely no faith in Cutler. The Bears also wasted a few timeouts, but I’m putting those on Cutler since they didn’t happen the last four weeks with McCown at the helm.
It was far from a perfect game and not as hope-inspiring as the whipping they put on the Cowboys last week, but the Bears found a way to win. The Bears playoff hopes are still alive and if the Ravens can beat the Lions tonight on MNF then the Bears will have sole possession of first place in the North. Go Ravens!