Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Ravens (11.17.13)

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Well, so much for the Ravens being an unstoppable force of nature following long delays in games.

Immediately after the Bears and Ravens hit the locker rooms due to hazardous weather conditions late in the first quarter on Sunday, random tweets started to come across Twitter saying things like: “remember what happened last time the Ravens had a long game delay?” and “the Ravens are well prepared for a situation like this.” The tweets were obviously in reference to the long break in action due to a power outage in the Super Bowl this past February, when the 49ers had all the momentum and the Ravens came back after the break and seized control of the game.

First of all, the last time the Ravens had a long delay in action was the opening game of the season. Bad weather delayed the start of that game and when play finally began, the Broncos smacked them around for three hours.

This time, the Bears came out with more focus and gutted out a 23-20 overtime victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.

The game was sloppy when play resumed after the nearly two-hour layoff, with players slipping and falling coming out of breaks and the middle of the field looking more like a muddy race track than a football field.

The Bears were ultimately the team that made the most plays when they counted the most, including a timely goal line stand at the end of the fourth quarter, which prevented the Ravens from scoring a touchdown for the win, and instead forced them to kick a field goal and settle for overtime. Then, in the extra period, Josh McCown connected with tight end Martellus Bennett on a well-thrown ball just over the defender’s helmet for a 43-yard gain. That set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal that slipped just inside the right upright.

Aside from the long break in action due to inclement weather, the big story of the day is McCown’s continued control of the offense in Marc Trestman’s system. Since stepping into action for Cutler in the second half of the Redskins game, McCown has shown poise and the ability to make plays every chance he’s gotten to play. Against the Redskins, the Packers, the Lions for one series, and the Ravens, McCown has looked like a capable NFL quarterback, and he’s the primary reason the Bears split those four games and are still in contention for a playoff spot.

Against the Ravens, McCown completed 19 of 31 passes for 216 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, and finished with a 92.9 passer rating. He completed seven passes to Alshon Jeffery, five to Matt Forte, four to Brandon Marshall, two to Martellus Bennett and one to Earl Bennett. His ability to spread the ball around in this offense was crucial, as it kept the defense guessing and forced them to cover the whole field.

McCown’s precision in the passing game also opened up things for Forte and the run game. The Bears running back rushed 18 times for 83 yards. Each week, Jeffery seems to get his hands on an end around and this week the second-year wide receiver rushed three times for 17 yards. I think what is most impressive about this season is that despite the problems on defense, and despite the loss of the starting quarterback and captain, the Bears offense is still pulling its weight and putting the team in position to win games.

Defensively, the Bears still looked like a team with lots of holes and problems. Ravens running back Ray Rice entered the game with a woeful 2.5 yards per carry. Against the Bears, he carved out 131 rushing yards on 25 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per attempt. Granted, 47 yards came on one run. But even without that run, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry on his other 24 attempts, which is not great, but still a big boost over how he previously was playing.

My confidence in this defense is almost nil at this point. It’s hard to expect them to make defensive stops. Instead, I just hope they have enough in them to hold offenses to field goals so that the Bears offense can go out and score touchdowns. With Charles Tillman, the master of the ball punch, out of action, it’s hard to count on takeaways anymore. The Bears did, however, get a timely takeaway in the form of a pick-six by rookie defensive end David Bass, who snagged a Joe Flacco pass and returned in 24 yards for the touchdown. It was a great play by a young player still learning the craft, and that’s ultimately what we have to hope for as the season winds down. With so many rookies and young veterans on the defensive side of the ball, we have to hope their learning curve isn’t a steep one, and that they can learn quickly on the job.

With the Bears’ victory, and losses from the Packers and Lions, the Bears moved into a first-place tie with Detroit — according to record; but the tiebreaker goes to the Lions — with the Packers a game behind in the NFC North. The Bears now face a critical stretch in their schedule where four of their next five games are on the road, before concluding the season with a home game against Green Bay. First up is the Rams, a team that was an afterthought no more than a few weeks ago, until they upset the Indianapolis Colts on the road in convincing and commanding fashion. While I still feel the Bears will win this game, it won’t be a gimme. They’ll need to continue to make strides on defense and execute as well as they have been all season on offense.

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