There’s undoubtedly a huge sigh of relief across Chicago as the Bears hung on to a much-needed divisional victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
It was a game that surely resembled an Arena Football contest as you got the feeling early in the game whoever had the ball last would win.
Neither team’s defense really wanted to show up today as they relied on their offensive brethren to carry them toward the finish line. Ultimately, the Bears’ defense did show up when needed, but just in the nick of time.
Let me start off with the young secondary, whom I’m extremely proud of. I think all three defensive backs drafted by the Bears in 2007 — Kevin Payne, Corey Graham, and Trumaine McBride — played well today. All three had interceptions and Graham and McBride’s performances filling in for the injured Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher were encouraging.
That moves us to this year’s rookie defensive back, Zackary Bowman, who recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a touchdown and also picked up the game-clinching interception. The coaching staff originally said Bowman would be out for the game after suffering some sort of injury to his right shoulder or arm, but Bowman got it taped up and went back into the game. That’s great toughness on his part and he ultimately made the difference at the end.
With the secondary out of the way, let’s focus on the front seven.
This is the group of guys in whom Jerry Angelo invested all the Bears’ money, and it was the young defensive backs and the entire offense that had to pick up the slack for these guys.
Tommie Harris had one decent play all game and it was the sack on the last drive. He’s playing about as bad as a $40 million defensive tackle can play. Adewale Ogunleye, Mark Anderson… you guys are supposed to be pass rushing defensive ends and neither one of you did much of anything today — and in Anderson’s case, he hasn’t done anything all season. But it wasn’t all bad. Alex Brown had a sound game, coming through on a few big plays.
As for the linebackers, Urlacher and Briggs did not live up to their billing, and Hunter Hillenmeyer seemed sluggish and out of place. Known for his football intelligence and being in the right place at the right time, he seemed caught in the wrong place almost all game.
Granted, Tillman and Vasher were missing and those guys have a huge impact on the way the defense plays. It’s not just their playmaking talent that the Bears missed, either. It’s their knowledge of and experience with the defensive scheme. When you have veteran guys in the lineup, the playcalling can change immensely.
To sum up the defensive performance today, I actually felt better about the direction this team was headed after last week’s loss to the Falcons than I do following this week’s victory over Minnesota.
Just a brief word about the special teams before moving on to the offense: the special teams were the x-factor in this game. Both defenses were bad and made few plays, and both offenses moved the ball at will and could not be stopped. But it was the Bears’ special teams — who recorded two touchdowns — that played solidly while the Vikings’ choked. A blocked punt, a muffed punt return, minimal kick returns, and poorly executed squib and pooch kicks were just some of the reasons why the Vikings’ special teams failed today. As we saw, the Vikings may have been better suited kicking the ball deep to Hester than to try to kick around him. The Bears ended up with much better field position when Minnesota kept it out of Hester’s hands.
I can’t say enough about how well the offense played today — and all season, really. In all fairness, the defense played better in the second half, but this offense had to pick up the slack throughout the first half. This game really could have been ugly if Kyle Orton’s gang hadn’t moved the ball efficiently. Orton’s playing about as well as most quarterbacks in the league right now. He’s taking care of the ball, showing tremendous leadership and poise in the no-huddle offense, and completing all the throws Ron Turner asks of him.
Greg Olsen has continued to play a big role in this offense and fellow tight end, Desmond Clark, had a nice catch and run that he fumbled at the goal line, but Rashied Davis was fortunately there to pounce on the ball.
Needless to say, Marty Booker made up for his two dropped passes — both of which would have been touchdowns early in the game — with a spectacular, 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from Orton late in the third quarter. Zach Zaidman reported from the sideline on AM780 that Urlacher approached Booker following the touchdown, basically asking where the old guy got that speed burst he displayed on the score.
As expected, Matt Forte struggled against the Vikings’ 4th-ranked run defense. He hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 1’s victory over Indianapolis. But I’ll take victories over Forte’s individual success, and I’m sure he feels the same way. He’s more than helping the team by catching passes from Orton and creating other opportunities for Orton when defenses stack the box.
I had a bad feeling about the defense before the game, and as we all witnessed, there’s much work to be done. But, ultimately, a win is a win and now the Bears head into the bye week feeling good and have two weeks to rest and heal before facing the NFL’s worst team, the Detroit Lions. With two weeks to prepare, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be 5-3 after that game.