Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Cowboys (12.09.13)

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On Mike Ditka Night at Soldier Field, the Bears played inspired football and toughed out the subzero wind chill to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 45-28.

Imagine if Ditka would have traveled with the team the past two weeks in losses to the lowly Rams and Vikings.

All kidding aside, the Bears played nearly flawless football on offense, scoring on their first eight possessions. Only a kneel down on their final possession of the game ended without points. In other words, punter Adam Podlesh only saw the field while holding the ball for Robbie Gould on field goals and extra points.

Josh McCown had his third straight game with over 300 passing yards, and finished just two yards shy of having 350 passing yards in each of those games. McCown finished with 27 completions on 36 attempts (75%) for 348 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also showed toughness by scrambling for a touchdown run and getting upended as he leaped into the end zone.

McCown did have two potential interceptions dropped and a third one that was picked off but nullified by a Dallas defensive penalty. Nevertheless, his performance was something magnificent for a backup quarterback, and in adverse weather conditions no less.

While McCown’s story is ongoing, second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is exploding onto the national scene with another great performance including his second straight week with a ridiculous touchdown grab demonstrating his massive hands, body control, and concentration. Jeffery hauled in five passes for 84 yards and a score while Brandon Marshall caught six passes for 100 yards. The league’s leading wide receiver tandem finished the night with both having over 1,000 yards receiving on the season.

The Bears got contributions from other playmakers as well. Tight end Martellus Bennett hauled in five receptions for 43 yards, Earl Bennett snagged two passes for 18 yards and a touchdown, and even Michael Bush and reserve tight end Dante Rosario each caught a pass, with Bush’s going for a score.

Perhaps the most unheralded player of the night was running back Matt Forte, who kind of took a back seat to the success of McCown. Forte rushed 20 times for 102 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and led the team with seven receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. As always, his blocking was integral in helping keep the pass rush off McCown.

Speaking of pass protection, not enough can be said about the offensive line. They paved running lanes for Forte and kept McCown clean. Dallas’ great pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, was held in check all night as the Bears allowed him to record just one sack, which was the lone sack of McCown all game.

Defensively, the Bears played better, but still have work to do. It’d be hard to expect the offense to score in excess of 40 points in each of the remaining three weeks of the season, so the Bears defense has to tighten things up even more. They allowed Dallas running back DeMarco Murray to rush for 146 yards on 18 carries, the sixth straight game the Bears have allowed a 100-yard rusher.

They didn’t generate as much pressure as ideal, either. They notched two sacks, one of which was a coverage sack awarded to former Cowboys defensive tackle, Jeremiah Ratliff. Their best pressure came on disguised blitzes. That’s got to improve along with the run defense if they’re going to beat teams with better quarterbacks like the Eagles’ Nick Foles and — if he returns — the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

The Bears now find themselves in a tie with the Lions in the NFC North with the Packers a win behind. The Lions hold the tiebreaker, as we all know, so the Bears have to win more games in the final three weeks than Detroit does. Detroit appears to have the easier schedule with games against the Ravens, Giants, and Vikings, but this is a Lions team that has a history of giving up games and also lost to a bad Buccaneers team at home a couple weeks ago.

The Bears have the Browns, Eagles and Packers remaining on their schedule, but have to focus on one game at a time. One wouldn’t think they’d lose to a bad Browns team, but that was the same mindset against the Rams and Vikings.

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