The Chicago Bears sit alone atop the NFC. Who would have thought we’d be hearing that after three weeks? I certainly didn’t expect to be writing that after three weeks, and my glass is mostly full the majority of the time. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise and the Bears, throughout a lot of doubt, including a winless preseason, have yet to prove the most eternal optimists wrong.
Sure, it’s only three weeks and a lot can happen in the final 13 games of the season, but the Bears could not be in a better situation at this point. They’re in first place in not only the NFC North, but the entire NFC. They already have collected three conference wins and two division victories, which could come in handy if they finish in a tie for the playoffs.
I rarely toot my own horn, but when I feel strongly about something that I’m confident I’m right about, I think I can make an exception. A lot of the talk this week had centered around how Devin Hester has lost his spark as a punt returner. Several Chicago sportswriters and fans suggested it might be a good idea to remove him from his punt return duties so that he could concentrate solely on being a wide receiver. I called such an idea “ridiculous.” Hester proved why such a move would not only be unnecessary but incorrect by returning a punt 62 yards for his first touchdown in more than two years.
The offense was shaky all night long as the offensive line continues to struggle. But this week, the performance was a little more understandable given the quality opponent they faced in the Packers’ defense. Jay Cutler got roughed up, getting sacked three times, knocked down many more, and enduring a couple roughing the passer penalties. But he’s a tough guy and hung in there. He does need to take better care of the ball as, I believe, he threw three passes that were picked off but nullified due to Packers penalties.
The defense gave up 379 yards of offense and looked like they couldn’t stop the Packers as Aaron Rodgers did just about anything he and his teammates wanted to do. But the most important stat was 17 points, which is a good total to yield to one of the NFL’s top offenses.
The Packers shot themselves in the foot with a ridiculous 18 penalties for 152 yards. Undisciplined teams struggle to win games. They also had an untimely turnover as receiver James Jones was stripped of the ball down the sideline by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs that was recovered by Tim Jennings. The Packers never saw the ball again as the Bears ran out the clock, driving down the field and sealing the game with a Robbie Gould field goal with 4 seconds to go.
Speaking of Jennings, the guy played a terrific game. He was inserted into the lineup in place of Zack Bowman and was third on the team in tackles behind — who else? Briggs and Urlacher. Briggs also had an interception at the end of the half on a Hail Mary pass by Rodgers. Urlacher jumped and batted the ball away from the end zone on the play.
Jermichael Finley had a huge game for the Packers and the Bears did not have an answer for him. Finley had 9 catches for 115 yards. It was to be expected, though. The Bears have always struggled against good tight ends in this defense but haven’t always been beaten by them.
Ball security is another thing I’d like to see shored up. Matt Forte and Greg Olsen both put the ball on the ground but they did not result in turnovers. The running game was M.I.A. for the third straight week and when you’re winning it doesn’t matter. When the colder weather comes and the passing game isn’t clicking, though, it’ll become a problem.
Forte had just 43 combined yards on 14 touches and Chester Taylor had 9 yards on 3 carries. Cutler led the Bears in rushing with 37 yards on 3 scrambles.
Olsen did come through big for the Bears. He had 64 yards and a touchdown on 5 receptions, including a 21-yard first down catch on the final drive. Johnny Knox led the Bears with 94 yards on 4 receptions.
The Bears now have a tough test ahead. They have a short week to prepare for yet another prime time game in Week 4. They’ll face the Giants in their new stadium on Sunday night. The Giants are 1-2 and have allowed 30 more points than they’ve scored, but no game is easy and the Bears will need to bring their best effort.
A 3-0 record looks awfully nice right now, and a 7-6 record the rest of the way should — but it’s not guaranteed to — get the Bears into the postseason, but why settle for 10-6? The Bears need to keep improving and there’s no telling how many games they can win.