Well the Bears have improved to 4-3 on the season after an unnecessarily close 24-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, England. I say “unnecessarily close” because the Bears led 21-5 going into the 4th quarter of the game and let the Buccs bring it within 3 points with less than 8:00 to go in the game.
The Bears drew first blood when RB Matt Forte scored on a beautiful 32 yard sweep around right end. The play was wonderfully executed with everyone making key blocks to spring Forte free and Forte making several people miss to get into the end zone. The Buccs struck back with a safety after Bears’ punt returner Devin Hester let a punt bounce at the 10 yard line allowing the Buccs to down the ball at the Bears’ 2 yard line. On the next offensive play, Buccs S Ronde Barber tackled Matt Forte in the end zone for the safety.
The Bears extended their lead to 14-2 in the second quarter on a 25 yard TD pass from Jay Cutler to Roy Williams. For Williams, that was his first TD reception of the season. Williams went on to lead the Bears in receiving for the day with 4 catches for 59 yards. The Buccs managed to kick a FG as the half ran out to go into the locker room down 14-5.
The third quarter continued the Bears’ dominance over the Buccaneers as RB Marion Barber scored his 3rd rushing TD of the season on a 12 yard scamper off right tackle. Barber ended up the day with 39 yards on 6 carries. The score put the Bears up 21-5, and that’s how the quarter ended. The Bears could just put the car in cruise control and coast to victory, right?
Wrong! The Buccs finally came to life and engineered two scoring drives in the 4th quarter. The first score came on a 2 yard pass TD from Josh Freeman to Kellen Winslow just over three minutes into the 4th. The Buccs tried, and failed, the two-point conversion. That left the score at 21-11 with over 12 minutes to play; more than enough time to get 10 points. The second score came with just under 8 minutes to go when Freeman connected with Dezmon Briscoe from 24 yards out. After the extra point, the score was 21-18. The Bears got a little insurance when K Robbie Gould put a 25 yard FG through the uprights with 1:55 left to make the score 24-18; meaning Tampa Bay would need a TD to win. The Buccs began their march down the field getting past mid-field when nickleback D.J. Moore intercepted Freeman for the 4th time of the game to seal the deal.
Now onto the rewards…
THE GOOD: The Bears’ running game turned in another fine performance this game. They gained 177 yards on 33 total carries for 5.4 yards per carry and 2 TD’s. The helped keep the defense fresh and the Buccs offense off the field. I truly believe this is key to the Bears’ success this year. As much as Mike Martz likes to spread things out and throw 40-50 passes a game, the Bears just don’t have the personnel to do that. Plus, being more of an old-school football fan, I like a potent running game. It makes for time of possession and it makes for short 2nd and 3rd down opportunities. I know the modern NFL is pass happy, but I still think it’s hard to beat a good ground game.
THE BETTER: The Bears’ defense also turned in its second solid performance in a row. They didn’t generate a massive pass rush, but they did manage to hold Tampa Bay to 280 total yards of offense and 30 yards rushing on 11 carries (2.7 average). As legendary Bears’ LB Doug Buffone likes to say, the key to winning is running the ball and stopping the run. The Bears did both in this game. Oh, let’s not forget the fact that the Bears intercepted Josh Freeman four times! The last interception being the back breaker. The other interceptions were by Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Chris Conte.
THE BEST: MVP of the game has to go to RB Matt Forte. He rushed for 145 yards on 25 carries (5.8 average) and chipped in 38 yards receiving on 2 catches. His season totals so far are 672 yards on 124 carries (5.4 average) and 2 TD’s. That puts him on pace for 1,536 yards rushing for the season. That would give him the 5th highest single season rushing total in franchise history. Add to that Forte’s 419 yards receiving and he has 1,091 yards from scrimmage so far this year, which leads the league. The Bears’ recent success can be directly attributed to them featuring Forte and the run game.
Next: Bye week and then at Philadelphia against the Eagles.