All together now, let’s go ahead and take our keyboards, keypads, pencils, pens, and crayons and put an asterisk next to the Bears’ 27-20 victory over the Packers Monday night.*
All the pessimists, naysayers, and self-proclaimed “realists” will put up a fuss until they’re burnt orange and navy blue in the face if we don’t acknowledge that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers left the game with an injury — and would not return — after being sacked by Shea McClellin on the first drive of the game.
There now. Does everybody feel better?
Now, let’s get to the facts of the game. Rodgers may be one of, if not the best quarterback in the NFL, but he doesn’t play defense. And what you saw from the Bears offense Monday night was a complete demonstration of a team imposing its will. Led by backup quarterback Josh McCown, the Bears worked their way up and down the field while racking up 442 yards of offense. McCown completed 22 of 41 passes for 272 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. McCown finished with a 90.7 passer rating. He looked poised in the pocket and did a good job of getting rid of the ball on time. McCown was sacked just once on the night and he did what was most important: he protected the football.
The Bears used a balanced attack to take down the Packers, and Matt Forte had a terrific night. Forte rushed 24 times for 125 yards and a touchdown while also catching five passes for 54 yards.
McCown did a good job spreading the ball around to the Bears’ top four receiving options. Aside from Forte’s five grabs, Brandon Marshall caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, Alshon Jeffery hauled in five balls for 60 yards and a score, and tight end Martellus Bennett snagged four passes for 36 yards.
But wait, isn’t this a Packers defense that was playing without top linebacker Clay Matthews?*
Another asterisk, right?
This was still a Packers defense ranked in the top half of the league, and in the top five in run defense. And the Bears stuffed it down their throats behind an ever-improving offensive line and a pair of big receivers who do their job and block downfield.
Now, things were a little bit different on the other side of the ball. The Bears defense continued to struggle trying to stop the run. Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy rushed 22 times for 150 yards and a score. He broke off several big runs due to poor gap control and lousy tackling. Give him credit; he’s a good back who runs with power and speed, but the Bears didn’t help themselves out.
The biggest factor in the game was that the Bears had a good backup quarterback and the Packers did not, as Seneca Wallace failed in his attempt to replace Rodgers. Wallace completed a high percentage of his safe passes, but finished with just 11 completions on 19 attempts for 114 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy seemed hesitant to open up the playbook any further than he did, as if he couldn’t trust Wallace.
Give credit also to the Bears’ defensive line, which applied some of its best pressure of the season. Shea McClellin stepped up big time with three sacks — one of which was the blow that knocked Rodgers out of the game. Corey Wootton and Julius Peppers each added a sack and Peppers also showed his athleticism by tipping a pass and then snagging it out of the air for an interception. Peppers had one of his better games of the season.
Let’s go back to the hypothetical here. It’s difficult to say what would have happened if Rodgers had played the whole game. I, along with many, predicted a Packers victory, which may have happened had one devastating injury not changed the course of the game. But things happen in the NFL and you have to make the most of your opportunities, which is exactly what the Bears did.
So, go ahead and put an asterisk next to this one if it makes you feel better to prove a point. But remember this: while the Packers were missing their starting quarterback and their best linebacker/defender — so were the Bears. And the Bears won.
Next up for the Bears is another critical divisional game — coming on a short week. The Bears will host the Lions at Soldier Field as they attempt to gain a measure of revenge for an earlier loss this season. Plus, the Lions had the bye week, so they will have had two weeks to prepare for the Bears. There was a report on ESPN before the Packers game that Jay Cutler declared his intentions of starting against the Lions next week. While it seems kind of strange for Cutler to beat the odds and return sooner than the original “at least four weeks” prognosis, it is encouraging that Cutler is on the mend.
I’m not going to suggest a quarterback controversy is brewing. Cutler is the better quarterback — people seem to forget the success he’s had under Trestman this season, too, with five out of six games with an above-90 passer rating — but I don’t think Cutler needs to rush back, now that we know what McCown can do. Plus, with the way the Lions play dirty, I wouldn’t want defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to kick Cutler in the groin or something along those lines. I have faith McCown can get the job done at home this week, but let’s see what the Bears’ powers-that-be have to say about that as the week unfolds.