Bears give us a first half that even a cynic could love
November 14, 2010
The Bears were sloppy offensively again, but then, they probably always will be. Jay Cutler threw two interceptions, they struggled in the red zone, they committed some bad penalties. Yeah, they were sloppy again against Minnesota.
But hereís the thing: Every team will be sloppy. Itís just a matter of how sloppy, how crucial the mistakes, and how a team responds, and before you think Iím going to trash an important divisional win, just stop right there. Iím impressed. Specifically, Iím impressed with the first half. The Bears werenít dominant, but they were good and smart on the field and on the sidelines, and the offense, defense and special teams responded like a first-place team.
The defense forced Brett Favre into an intentional grounding that helped the Vikings miss a field goal, an opportunity the Bears eventually stuck in the end zone for a go-ahead score. But that touchdown came with some wonderful credentials.
Cutler hit Greg Olsen for a touchdown on a throwback screen on third-and-7 at the Vikingsí 10, but no. Olin Kruetz was flagged for holding. But look at that: On third-and-14 from the Vikingsí 17, Cutler got great protection and whipped a perfect pass to Olsen again at the goal line. No flags. This one counted. This one gave the Bears a 7-3 lead in the face of a potentially killer mistake.
Whatís more, in going 71 yards after Ryan Longwell missed a field goal, Cutler completed all three third-down passes. Thatís a 10-point swing and a lot of credit to Mike Martzís creative play-calling and better offensive line play.
Next, after Favre burned Tim Jennings and Chris Harris for a 53-yard bomb to Percy Harvin, Rashied Davis returned a low kickoff 31 yards to the Vikingsí 49. The offense then turned a third-and-long into a Devin Hester touchdown and a 14-10 lead.
Then, when Favre made it seem like he would orchestrate something in the final minute of the first half, Henry Melton popped the ball out of Favreís hand and Tommie Harris recovered to preserve the lead at halftime.
Maybe this seasonís Bears have forced me to lower my standards, but I was still impressed. They were opportunistic, they were clutch, and they were better than the Vikings. It took coaching, execution and character in a gotta-have-it game at home. I know problems remain, and I know the Bears were playing a team with a worse record, but still, that first half was impressive enough to make me rethink where this thing might go.
And then came the third quarter. Thatís where Stevie Sunshine gulps. The offense threatened to cost the Bears in a big way. Three times the defense and special teams gave the offense a short field. Three times the offense reached the red zone. Three times the offense failed to get into the end zone -- two field goals and a Cutler pick in the end zone. How big would those lost points become?
Not very, it turned out. Not with the Bearsí defense and special teams continuing their excellence.
And not with the offense executing a brilliant call by Martz.
On third-and-inches at the Vikingsí 19 midway through the fourth quarter of a 20-13 game, Cutler worked a brilliant play-action fake to hit a wide-open Kellen Davis for a touchdown. That would close the scoring for the game. That would close the Vikings for this season. That would close Brad Childress in Minnesota.
It wasnít so much that Martz called another balanced game, it was his calling play-action and screens to buy Cutler some time. And thank goodness Cutler is athletic enough to buy himself a lot of brilliance with his elusiveness as the Bears converted a shocking 11 of 19 third downs. The offensive line tried to man up the way line coach Mike Tice demanded earlier in the week, but this is still trouble.
The Bears defense allowed only one of nine third-down conversions, picked off Favre three times, forced him to fumble, and held lifelong nemesis Adrian Peterson to just 51 rushing yards. The special teams averaged 44 yards on three kickoff returns and 23.5 on two punt returns, with Devin Hester accounting for 147 of the Bearsí 179 return yards. Plus, the Vikings couldnít return any of Brad Maynardís four punts, one of which was downed at the 1-yard line again. Defense and special teams -- welcome to Lovie Smithís Utopia.
A little love for Rashied Davis: He gave the Bears a big kickoff return that set up a touchdown pass to Hester, he threw a big block to spring Hester on another return, and when Johnny Knox went out with an injury, Davis caught a third-and-6 pass that kept alive a drive that culminated in Kellen Davisí clinching touchdown.
Now, Thursday night in Miami, which is down to its third quarterback and has lost three of four at home. It just keeps getting better.
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