It’s always a good thing when the Bears beat the Vikings. Growing up in the 70’s, it was the Vikings more than the Packers who pounded the Bears, so I take a special satisfaction when the Bears return the favor. Last night’s victory was about as complete a Bears’ victory as I’ve seen this year. The pounding began when the Bears jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter. The Bears opened the scoring when Cutler lobbed a beautiful 48 yard TD pass to WR Devin Hester early in the quarter. Five minutes later, rookie DT Stephen Paea sacked Donovan McNabb for a safety after the Bears pinned them down deep in their own territory. Shortly after that, RB Marion Barber scored his second rushing TD of the season when he scampered 3 yards through a hole big enough to drive a truck through.
The Vikings got on the board early in the second quarter on a Ryan Longwell 37 yard FG, but about 2/3 through the quarter the Bears scored again after Jay Cutler threaded the needle on a pass to rookie WR Dane Sanzenbacher from 13 yards out to increase the lead to 23-3. The Vikings then did something near the end of the half that I can only describe as “Bear-like” in its ineptitude. Down 23-3 on a 4th and 3, the Vikings line up for a FG, but call a time out (this was after the two minute warning). They then bring the offense out to go for it only to have that fall apart after a false start penalty. After the 5 yard penalty, the normally dependable Longwell missed the ensuing 38 yard FG. Even the announcers were stunned at the decision making of the Viking coaches. The only theory that made any sense was that the Vikings were getting ready to pull a fake FG play and the Bears were ready for it, so the Vikings called the time out and decided to actually go for it.
The Vikings looked like they might be making a comeback in the second half after a Jared Allen sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery gave the Vikings good field position, which they promptly turned into points after an Adrian Peterson 4 yard TD run made the score 26-10 Bears. However, the Bears’ Devin Hester had other plans. He returned the ensuing kick off 98 yards for his 16th career return TD. That all but sealed the game as the Bears added two more FG’s later in the game to close out the scoring.
All three phases of the Bears’ play was dominant in this game. The offense ran and passed the ball at will against a strong Minnesota defense. The OL only allowed one sack and kept Allen in check pretty much all night. The defense rebounded after two abysmal games in a row. They limited Peterson to 39 yards on 12 carries and the lone TD. The Vikings passing game never really got going as receivers dropped critical 3rd down passes to keep drives alive. Both Cutler and Forte kept showing why they’re the keys to this offense. With the extra time Cutler was given to pass, his passes were more crisp and accurate. The special teams were amazing. Gould was 3-for-3 on FG attempts and Hester’s return TD were the highlights (he also almost broke a punt return for a TD). The only flaws in the game were three false start penalties by the Bears’ OL and the inability to convert some of those FG’s into TD’s.
Now for the awards. Since the Bears played such a complete game, instead of a Good, Bad and Ugly, I’m going to award a Good, Better and Best…
THE GOOD: The Bears’ OL. Much maligned for the course of the season, they tried some new wrinkles last night. There were more max protect schemes with 6 or even 7 guys back to block. The RB’s even added some chip blocks before going out into their routes. It was a much needed adjustment because the status quo just wasn’t working. I don’t know how other teams will adjust, but the Bears would be well served to continue this success the rest of the season.
THE BETTER: The Bears’ defense. Two new safeties started: Major Wright and Chris Conte replaced Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather. The difference was noticeable. Granted the Vikings passing game isn’t all that tough, but it was nice not to see receivers galloping downfield behind the coverage. The DL registered five sacks with Julius Peppers getting two of them, and the LB’s were tracking Peterson all night long. The Bears limited Minnesota to 286 net yards on offense (4.5 yards per play); a much needed improvement.
THE BEST: Three names. Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Devin Hester. Cutler completed 21 of 31 passes for 267 yards and 2 TD’s (a 115.9 rating for the game). Forte rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries (5.1 yards a carry) and 6 catches for 36 additional yards (124 total yards from scrimmage). Devin Hester had 134 total return yards and 5 catches for 91 yards and two TD’s (one receiving and one on a kick return).
Next: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, England