Bears pass important test of making plays when it counts

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One of the primary differences between last year’s Chicago Bears team and the one that closed out the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-17, in overtime on Sunday was found within the score itself.

Whereas the beleaguered Bears from yesteryear found ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — often in the fourth quarter — this year’s squad found a way to win a game against a good opponent in crunch time.

You can count how many “great” teams are in the NFL on one hand, and you can tally the truly awful teams on the other — although critics would beg to differ on the quantity. But the list of the 20-some other teams jostling for recognition is so fluid that you could rank them differently from week-to-week.

One important distinction to make is that the difference between the best of the muddled middle and the worst of them often isn’t that great at all. The talent discrepancies could be minimal at best and be roughly limited to a few positions. But the teams that finish with above-.500 records and find ways to make the playoffs are the ones that find ways to win games in the manner in which the Bears succeeded on Sunday.

Don’t mistake that claim as an endorsement for the 2017 Bears to sneak into the playoffs. They are still 1-2 after three weeks and are sitting at the bottom of the NFC North with a tough road game in Green Bay this Thursday awaiting them.

But what I am saying is that the Bears can win more games than many experts predicted them to win, much like they did in their upset victory over the Steelers this week.

All it takes is a total team effort like they exhibited on Sunday, limiting turnovers and mental mistakes — I’m looking at you, Marcus Cooper — keeping the game close and competitive into the fourth quarter, and then executing and making a few key plays to close out the victory.

They don’t have to be great, they just need to be fundamentally sound.

After a rocky, turnover-filled performance last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bears quarterback Mike Glennon was on a short leash against the Steelers. Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains called a very conservative game plan, limiting the amount of times Glennon took to the air to just 22 attempts. Glennon completed 15 of those for a very effective 68% completion percentage and threw just one interception. He also hooked up with rookie tight end Adam Shaheen on a two-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to give the team a touchdown lead before halftime.

Arguably, the biggest reason the Bears won — besides their effective defense against the Steelers’ explosive offense — was because they controlled the clock and the tempo with their efficient run game. Jordan Howard ran the ball 23 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns while also leading the team in receptions with 5 for 26 yards. Rookie Tarik Cohen was used as the complementary back that he is, rushing 12 times for 78 yards and catching four balls for 24 yards.

Between the two backs, the Bears managed to put the Steelers defense on its heels and limit Pittsburgh’s time of possession.

What mattered most was that the Bears made plays when they needed to. On the final drive of the game, the lone possession of overtime, the Bears received two huge plays from their running backs. First, Cohen broke off a 73-yard touchdown run that appeared to end the game with him crossing the goal line, but replays — apparently — showed Cohen stepping out of bounds at the Steelers’ 37-yard-line. The call was questionable indeed, but no worries. Two Howard rushes later put the Bears in the end zone again, securing the victory.

We all know the Bears have their flaws. And while that “anything is possible” mantra certainly exists, we also know the likely outcome is that the Bears are at least a year away from competing for a playoff spot.

Still, unlike Week 2’s debacle in Tampa Bay, the Bears are mostly going to be a competitive team that keeps us glued to the TV into the fourth quarter. This assumes, of course, the injuries do not keep piling up and hinders the product they put on the field.

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