Monday Morning Quarterback: Week 9

November 3rd, 2008 - 11:27 am

The best way to sum up what happened Sunday against the Lions is that the Bears lost two of their captains to injuries and still won the game. If you would have told someone who didn’t watch the game that the Bears played the entire second half without Kyle Orton and Mike Brown, they might have guessed the Bears had built a huge lead and were giving their two captains a break.

Needless to say, the Bears did not build a big lead and had to fight back just to eke out a 27-23 victory. It shouldn’t have been that difficult to beat the Lions. It really shouldn’t have.

I had predicted a 27-17 Bears win, and I explicitly stated the game would be a lot closer than it was four weeks ago when the Bears beat the Lions, 34-7, at Ford Field. And I scratched my head when two of my favorite Bears analysts — Laurence Holmes of 670 The Score and Tom Waddle of Fox and the NFL Network — said the Bears would handle the Lions in this one. But even though I came close to predicting the correct score — one Lions touchdown off — I never thought the game would play out like this.

I figured the Bears would be leading the whole game, and their bend-but-don’t-break defense would have Detroit trailing closely throughout the afternoon. I wasn’t expecting a 23-point second quarter from the winless Lions team.

I never like to point to one play early in the game as a costly one because there’s too much that can happen between that play and the end of the game to matter much. There is no direct correlation between Jason Hanson’s botched extra point in the second quarter and the Bears’ 4-point lead late in the game. There’s just not. So much could have happened differently, so it’s not Hanson’s fault at all.

Nevertheless, it was good that the Bears had a 4-point lead because the Lions were well within Hanson’s field goal range and could have sent the game into overtime as time expired.

As long as we’re on the subject of the Lions’ 23-point second-quarter explosion, the fact that the Bears shut out the Lions in the other three quarters largely flies under the radar. The Lions’ longest drive of the second half was the 10-play drive to end the game when the Bears were in prevent mode. Their seven other drives were 3, 6, 9, 3, 3, 3, and 2 plays, respectively.

So, while there’s no excuse for giving up 23 points in one quarter, and even though they still have many issues defending the pass, respect ought to be given for their performance the rest of the game.

On the offensive front, the Bears’ first two possessions resulted in 10 points. They took two minutes and six plays to put up a field goal, followed by four minutes and 10 plays for the touchdown. After that, things got bad. Coinciding with the defense’s collapse, the offense fumbled and punted twice in the second quarter and only scored a field goal.

After Kyle Orton got hurt, I could have sworn I heard people jumping off the metaphorical bandwagon. Not so much because Orton was doing so well through seven and one half games, but because of who was coming into the game to replace him.

But I thought Rex Grossman did a fantastic job in relief of Orton. The primary duty of a backup quarterback is to wait patiently until called upon and be ready at a moments notice. He’s like the Vice President of the football team; excuse the political metaphor (we are only one day away from Election Day, after all).

Grossman didn’t have to come in and be spectacular. He wasn’t — or shouldn’t have been, anyway — expected to come in and put up the same gaudy numbers that Orton had been. His job as a backup was to come in and hold down the fort. And you know what? He did one better. He came in and actually won the game for them. And he did so with bitter fans in the crowd still booing him over incomplete passes. And replays clearly showed the ball touching the ground on the tipped interception he threw. I don’t know what the blind referee was looking at in the replay booth — probably a peep show.

Nonetheless, I can safely say without hesitation that if it weren’t for Grossman, the Bears would not have come back to beat the winless Lions. And I hope the most venomous Rex-haters out there realize that, and also that they might have to put up with Grossman longer if Orton’s injury is more serious than we fear.

Moving on to the backfield, it was good to see the ground game get back on track. I had suspected that this was the game the Bears could do it seeing as how bad the Lions’ run defense is, even though Detroit shut down Matt Forte a month ago. Forte and the run game had a slow first half, too, but picked it up in the third and fourth quarters and he finished with 126 yards on 22 carries.

I just want to talk briefly about the special teams. First, Brad Maynard picked one of the worst times to shank a 12-yard punt out of bounds at the Lions’ 42-yard line. Thankfully, two plays later, Lance Briggs forced — and recovered — a fumble. The Bears offense couldn’t put the game away on the ensuing possession and gave the Lions one more chance after that.

The second special teams item to address is Devin Hester. Listen, I don’t mind if Hester never returns another kick for a touchdown in his career. I would like to see it, of course, and I want him to break the all-time record this season. But if he puts one more ball on the ground — and loses it to the other team — so help me God, I’m going to have a meltdown.

Lost in all the “Hester Hoopla” over the last two years is that a kick returner’s first two duties are to catch the football and to protect the ball on the return. Picking up as many yards as you can is a distant third. I’d rather take the ball every time at the 20-yard line than for Hester to dance around while trying to be elusive and give the opponent the ball in the red zone.

In the end, we must remember that as bad as this game looked, the one — and only — important thing that came from this game was a victory. Even though we like to say it a lot — and I sometimes have to correct myself — there is no such thing as momentum from one week to the next. The only thing that carries from one week to the next is talent, and whether or not you have it. Each and every week is like a brand new day. And it’s up to the 53 guys on the team — and the coaches — to bring the effort every game.

With that being said, we’re heading into the toughest game of the season against the lone remaining unbeaten team in the league, the Tennessee Titans. With or without Kyle Orton — and we don’t know the extent of his injury yet — the Bears can beat this team. No team in the league is unbeatable as the NFL is operating on the most level playing field in recent memory. But it’ll take a complete team effort plus solid execution with minimal mistakes, and Lovie Smith’s favorite word — finishing.

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