Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Packers (09.27.10)September 28th, 2010 - 11:06 am
Throughout much of the Bears’ 20-17 victory over the Packers on Monday night it seemed as though the Green Bay offense did just about anything it wanted to do. But they also did some things that they didn’t want to do while amassing 18 penalties for 152 yards. That, and an untimely fumble, ultimately led to the Packers’ demise and the Bears’ triumph.
But make no mistake about it, the Bears earned this victory. They were resilient and persevered in the face of constant pressure from an attacking Packers defense and a quick-strike passing attack from the Packers offense.
The Packers did strike quickly on their first possession of the game. After the Bears began the game with an 11-play drive that ended with a missed 49-yard field goal by Robbie Gould, Green Bay marched down the field in six plays — never getting a third down — and scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings. That drive only confirmed my fears that Rodgers would be able to pick apart the Bears’ pass defense and it would be a long night.
On the next possession, Cutler was intercepted down by the goal line when his pass for Greg Olsen sailed over his head. It appeared there was miscommunication on the play, but it was tight coverage nonetheless and Cutler probably forced it.
The Packers tacked on a field goal to extend their lead to 10-0 midway through the second quarter, but that was the biggest lead of the game they’d see. Devin Hester returned a punt late in the second quarter for 28 yards, setting up a go-ahead touchdown drive. Cutler hooked up with Johnny Knox for 31 yards down the sideline and then squeezed a pass to Olsen for a 9-yard score.
I wasn’t pleased when the Bears’ kickoff coverage allowed Jordy Nelson to return the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to the 42-yard line, setting up the Packers with good field position and enough time to try to get into field goal range before halftime. It worked out okay as Rodgers’ Hail Mary pass was batted by Brian Urlacher and intercepted by Lance Briggs, but that big return could have meant points.
The Packers began the second half the same way they had begun the first half, with a time-consuming drive methodically down the field. Fortunately, Julius Peppers came to the rescue by getting his hand on the ball and blocking Mason Crosby’s 37-yard field goal attempt.
The Bears then used that momentum and drove 71 yards to the Packers’ 1-yard line, setting up a coaching decision that Lovie Smith said he’d make every time. On fourth-and-goal from the one and the Bears trailing by three points, Smith elected not to kick the field goal for the tie and decided to go for the touchdown. Cutler fired a pass to a wide open Desmond Clark that ricocheted off the H-back’s hands incomplete. If you want to nitpick, one can argue that the throw was behind Clark. But I’ve always believed in the motto that if the ball touches your hands, you can and should catch it, and Clark should have held on to that pass.
With their backs to the end zone, the Packers went three-and-out (with a few penalties sprinkled in), setting up the dramatic return of the Windy City Flyer. In the face of week-long questioning from media, fans, Bears broadcaster Tom Thayer, and even general manager Jerry Angelo, Hester scored the 12th return touchdown of his career, and the first after a 34-game drought, when he returned Tim Masthay’s punt 62 yards for the go-ahead score.
The lead was short-lived as Rodgers drove the Packers right down the field on the next possession and scrambled for the go-ahead touchdown. The war of the quarterbacks between Rodgers and Cutler heated up because Cutler then led the Bears into field goal range and the game was tied up at 17 following a Gould 25-yard field goal.
With four minutes to play and the game appearing as though it would be decided by whoever had the ball last, Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones, and the receiver sprinted up the sideline where Urlacher and Briggs caught up to him and popped the ball loose. The ball managed to stay in bounds — by a matter of feet — and it was scooped up by cornerback Tim Jennings. The Packers offense never saw the field again.
The Bears drove the ball to the Packers’ 1-yard line, chewing up all but 8 seconds of the clock and Gould put the Bears ahead with a 19-yard field goal. Gould squibbed the ball with four seconds on the clock and the Packers threw the ball around hoping for a miracle and were flagged for an illegal forward pass to end the game.
No one said winning had to look pretty, but it’s not as though it was an ugly win, either. Cutler was under duress all night, but that’s nothing new. It’s a good thing Cutler is a tough guy because he’s getting awfully familiar with the ground this season. That, and opposing defenders. Cutler tossed one pick, but a few other of his throws were intercepted and then nullified due to Packers penalties. He had been taking such good care of the ball so far this season and this game was a step backward, but it was also against one of the league’s best defenses.
The rushing attack struggled for the third straight game and remains a concern, but it won’t be time to panic as long as the Bears are winning. The hope is that the passing game can continue clicking early in the season so that opponents will back off the line of scrimmage later and allow some lanes to open up for Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.
Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina didn’t make the stat sheet, but I thought he did a good job of plugging the middle in the place of No. 91, who was inactive for the game due to a coach’s decision. Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu was also inactive.
Urlacher and Briggs led the team in tackles and both had a hand in the Packers’ two turnovers. On the Rodgers interception, as I mentioned previously, Urlacher batted down Rodgers’ Hail Mary attempt and Briggs picked it off. On the Jones fumble, Urlacher was credited with the forced fumble although both players were making the tackle. These two are both playing like Pro Bowlers through three games and the success of the defense clearly rests with the continuation of their performances.
The Bears couldn’t get a sack on Rodgers, but that’s largely due to the quarterback’s mobility and the fact that he got rid of the ball quickly before the pressure could get to him. The defense held the Packers to 63 rushing yards, continuing their dominance against the run.
Not only did Smith make some interesting personnel decisions before the game, he also made nice adjustments on the fly. Not liking what cornerback Zack Bowman was doing on the field, he gave him the hook and sent in Jennings in his place. Jennings played admirably with the fumble recovery and was third behind Urlacher and Briggs with 7 tackles.
Olsen and Knox came up big in the passing game. Olsen had 5 catches for 64 yards and a score and Knox led the team with 94 yards on 4 receptions. Earl Bennett had a quiet 3 catches for 21 yards. Hester only had 1 reception for 16 yards but his contribution certainly came from his punt returns.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how the Bears got to this point but they’re 3-0. They have three conference wins and two division wins, important tie-breakers should they need them later in the season. The Bears have a soft middle-of-the-season schedule so they have a chance to distance themselves from other conference foes over the next month or two. It starts with a Sunday night matchup against the Giants on a short week of preparation.