The Bears Have Nothing to Apologize For............
Bears have nothing to apologize for
Martz strays from game plan, but Forte, defense re-establish team's identity in crucial win
David Haugh's In the Wake of the News 9:54 p.m. CDT, October 23, 2011
LONDON — From his seat in the open-air Wembley Stadium press box Sunday, seconds after D.J. Moore's interception clinched a 24-18 victory over the Buccaneers, general managerJerry Angelo exhaled like so many Bears fans back home.
After a draining week in many ways, Angelo finally felt relaxed knowing, in the shadow of Big Ben, the Bears got their season back in sync.
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"We needed that one,'' Angelo said, shaking his head. "Nothing comes easy.''
"Nothing Comes Easy." Sounds like a title of a James Bond film, fitting for a team that just pulled off a narrow escape on English soil that would make 007 proud.
As hard as the Bears tried to give the Bucs chances to rally, it was easy for them to head home without apology. This trip across the Atlantic always was about the destination, so there's no need to nitpick problems along the journey. Like a British pound is worth more than a dollar, the NFL exchange rate on this win gives it added value for the Bears.
"Our arrow's pointing up now,'' coach Lovie Smith said.
Just as true: Things at Halas Hall would have gone in the opposite direction with a loss. Hanging on in their most critical game yet allowed the middling Bears to enter the open date with the same 4-3 record they had at this point in 2010, when they won the NFC North. The defense creating four takeaways and Matt Forte rushing for 145 yards also re-established an identity as the opportunistic, physical team Smith seeks.
Finally, beating a team that entered with a winning record for the first time validated Smith's decision, which many of us questioned, to wait until Friday to arrive — four days after the Bucs.
"If we came over here 10 times, we would do the same thing,'' said Smith, who sounded uninterested in a second trip.
It turned out arriving early did nothing for the slogging Bucs but perhaps fill them up on steak pie and lager. The Bears looked like a team here on business, the Bucs like a team that interrupted its European vacation to play a football game.
Though Bears players adjusted well to crossing six time zones 48 hours before kickoff, Mike Martz could have used a strong spot of tea to revive him before he nearly sabotaged his team's success.
Suffice it to say Jay Cutler probably wasn't the only one who felt like cursing at Martz.
With a 21-5 lead early in the fourth quarter, it defies logic to call two straight passes, which Martz did — the second resulting in a Cutler interception. Two series later, with the Bears clinging to a 21-18 lead and facing first-and-goal from the 4, Martz called three consecutive pass plays rather than putting the ball in the belly of a runner the Bucs couldn't stop.
All told, Martz called 16 passes and 11 runs after the Bears took a 16-point lead. That's not how a team that got off the double-decker bus running milks the clock. That's how an offensive coordinator gets fired. (I can just see Martz sitting in the booth sweating profusely, biting his nails and repeating over and over, "I gotta pass now, gotta pass now, they stopped the run once, oh brother I gotta pass now)
"We were trying to put points on the board,'' Smith said. (You're a defensive coach, how about protecting the 16 point lead you had. For the Bucs it was a three score game.)
Funny because what the Bears tried at the outset worked just fine. Forte gained 108 of his 145 yards in the first half, but that apparently didn't impress Martz.
I don't care how much Angelo undervalues Forte in their tiresome contract negotiations, it becomes a problem when the offensive coordinator forgets Forte's worth in the game plan. (So what else is new. He does it every game doesn't he?)
"They kind of stopped a few of our runs,'' Forte said diplomatically. (Not many, and not nearly as well as they stopped our goaline passes!)
That's giving an injury-depleted Bucs defense more credit than it deserved. For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Bears' first game in England since 1986, the scrapbook will show this came down to basic blocking and tackling. The Bears offensive line run-blocked, and the Bucs couldn't tackle Forte. Then they couldn't tackle Marion Barber, whose 29-yard gain on third-and-1 and 12-yard touchdown run nicely complemented Forte.
As they say here, offensively the Bears kicked bum.
Whether it was Forte setting the tone with a 32-yard touchdown on the Bears' second series or the shirtless fool high-fiving Corey Graham before security finally caught him, this was a day when the most memorable highlights were long runs.
Most significantly, this longest of trips renewed the Bears' hope they can extend their season into the playoffs. They won't apologize for thinking that either.
"No matter how you do it, a win in this league is big,'' wide receiver Roy Williams said. "They're in the locker room sad, and our flight home is going to feel shorter.'' (So are third down catches, Roy. So learn that and live it!)
The Bears were to land on familiar ground Monday, finally reunited with respectability that has been gone too long.