On a day when Fox NFL Sunday’s Terry Bradshaw unveiled his list of Top 10 quarterbacks under the age of 30 and did not include Jay Cutler — and yet the list featured the woefully bad Mark Sanchez and the still developing Sam Bradford — it was Cutler who had the last laugh completing 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-26 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Of course, that was just a side story. The more important plot of the day was that the Bears defeated one of the top teams in the NFC just hours after the Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons and fell a game behind the Bears in the NFC North.
For those skeptics who wanted to see the Bears beat a legitimate team, ask and you shall receive. Philadelphia had the second-highest scoring offense in the league and the top-ranked defense in takeaways. They have a quarterback in Michael Vick who not only is making a run at the Comeback Player of the Year award, but perhaps the Most Valuable Player, too.
Vick passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 44 yards on nine attempts, but the Bears made key plays when it counted, sacking him four times and intercepting him in the end zone.
As well as the defense played, though, the story of the day was how Cutler and the offense kept up with them and led the charge. Mike Martz once again called a balanced game plan with 21 run plays compared to 25 pass plays (four of which were sacks). Matt Forte carried the ball 14 times for 117 yards with runs of 61 and 28 yards.
Cutler completed passes to six different receivers. Devin Hester caught three passes for 86 yards, two of which were short passes after which Hester picked up a lot of yards. Johnny Knox caught three balls for 68 yards and a touchdown. Matt Forte had two receptions for 22 yards and Greg Olsen made a great nine-yard touchdown reception over a defender in the back of the end zone. Brandon Manumaleuna also contributed with one catch.
Earl Bennett once again had a solid day as Cutler’s dependable safety valve and finished with four receptions for 56 yards. Bennett also caught two touchdown passes, the first multi-score game of his career.
Brian Urlacher led the charge for the Bears defensively with 10 tackles. Lance Briggs and D.J. Moore each added six. The Bears got great pressure up front from their defensive line, particularly from ends Israel Idonije, who had five tackles and a half-sack, and Julius Peppers, who finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. The key defensive play of the game came late in the first half when Tommie Harris tipped a Vick pass at the line and Chris Harris intercepted the ball in the end zone to halt the Eagles’ drive and prevent them from getting points. The interception was the first of the season for Vick.
Special teams were once again solid for the Bears and helped with great field position. Hester had a kickoff return of 46 yards and Danieal Manning returned one 44 yards. The Bears had a little trouble with their own kickoff coverage, but prevented anything too big.
With any game that holds the level of importance as this one did, there surely will be scuffles and high emotions. At the end of the game as the Bears offense was running out the clock with kneeldowns, there was some feistiness from both teams and some pushing and shoving ensued. After the game, Eagles left tackle Jason Peters decided to be a sore loser.
“As bad as we played, we lost by five,” Peters said. “They know that we’re the better team and we let the game get away. We stopped ourselves most of the time. Our offense is explosive with Mike [Vick] and all the other players around him. Nobody should stop us. When we get stopped we stop ourselves.”
Sure. And the fact that Peppers abused him all game was probably because he slipped on the bad Soldier Field turf, right?
Peters can complain and make excuses all he wants, but his team got beat, and beat good. The score was closer than the game actually was. The Bears played with the lead for most of the game and were never in imminent danger of losing the game, even as the Eagles lined up for an onside kick late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles got on the scoreboard first with a David Akers field goal and the Bears scored a touchdown on the next drive with seven minutes left in the first quarter and never looked back.
Looking ahead, the Bears have a potential trap game this week at Detroit. The Lions may have just two wins, but they’ve been in almost every game they’ve played this year. Not to mention, there probably are still some bad feelings remaining from the first game of the year when Calvin Johnson’s apparent touchdown was ruled incomplete because he began celebrating too soon and didn’t complete the “process” of the catch. They’re going to have extra motivation because of that and because it’s a division game and they’ll want to play spoiler.
On top of it all, the Lions will have had extra time to prepare for this game because they played on Thanksgiving, much like the Bears had extra time to prepare for the Eagles because they played on the previous Thursday.
The Bears have to treat the Lions game like it’s the most important of the season and like it’s a playoff game. Win, or go home. I know it’s tempting to look at the following week when the Patriots come to Soldier Field, but in this ultra-tight division race and with how well the Packers are playing, the Bears can’t afford to drop one to Detroit.