The Chicago Bears won their 5th game in a row and improved to 7-3 on the season with their impressive victory over the San Diego Chargers, but the win came at a price. QB Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand attempting to tackle Antoine Cason after Cason intercepted Cutler in the 4th quarter. The prognosis on Cutler is that he’ll miss 4-6 weeks due to the injury. Until then, backup QB Caleb Hanie will be the man under center. Hanie substituted for Cutler after Cutler injured his knee during last season’s NFC championship game against Green Bay. Hanie completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards. He engineered two 4th quarter scoring drives, but a costly interception, which was returned for a TD, sealed the victory for the Packers. Other than that, Hanie has only seen mop up duty during the regular season. His career stats for three seasons is 8 of 14 passing for 66 yards and 1 INT.
What makes matters worse is that Cutler performed well for the game. He was 18 of 31 for 286 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT. He also scored a rushing TD on a 1 yard plunge at the goal line. Cutler led the Bears on four successive scoring drives all ending in a TD. He was nimble in the pocket and evaded the Chargers’ pass rush all day, making great throws down field while scrambling out of the pocket. Hanie is also a mobile QB who can throw on the run. It will be interesting to see how much the game plan changes with Hanie under center.
As for the game, both teams traded 1st quarter FG’s to go into the second quarter tied at 3. The Bears got into the end zone first on a Marion Barber 1 yard TD run that capped a 5 play, 41 yard drive. The Chargers struck back on an 8 yard TD pass from Phillip Rivers to Antonio Gates. The Bears roared right back to take a 17-10 lead going into the half on a Cutler to Kellen Davis pass.
San Diego opened the 2nd half with the ball and marched 76 yards on 6 plays to tie the game at 17 with Rivers 2nd TD pass of the game, this time to WR Vincent Jackson. Jackson had a monster game and ended up with 7 catches for 165 yards. The Bears answered back once again with their third TD drive in a row when Cutler scored on a 1 yard QB sneak that was set up by a beautiful 42 yard reception by WR Johnnie Knox to get to the 1 yard line. With the PAT, the Bears regained the lead 24-17.
It was at this point that the wheels started falling off the Chargers’ wagon. After going the entire game without turning the ball over, the Chargers committed the first of three turnovers. Ryan Matthews, on the first play after the ensuing kick off, came around right end and appeared to have a nice gain until CB Charles Tillman poked the ball loose. The amazing thing is that Tillman was engaged with a blocker as Matthews was coming around the end. He managed to disengage at just the right moment to punch the ball out. The Bears scored two plays later to extend their lead to 31-17 on a 24 yard pass to Knox. San Diego added another FG at the opening of the 4th quarter to complete the scoring for the day. The 4th quarter was abysmal for the Chargers. Including the FG, the Chargers only ran five plays during the entire quarter. Both times the Chargers had the ball on offense, they ended the drive with a Phillip Rivers’ INT. The Bears possessed the ball for a whopping 14:23 in the 4th quarter. It was one of the best ball control exhibitions I’ve seen the Bears execute in quite some time. Even though they didn’t score, they kept the Chargers out the end zone for the rest of the game.
This week’s rewards…
THE GOOD: Devin Hester and the Bears’ Special Teams. Hester had three big punt returns (one of them called back on a penalty). He averaged 29.5 yards per punt return. Johnnie Knox had a 53 yard KR and Robbie Gould made his only FG attempted. What made matters trickier was that LS Patrick Mannelly left the game with a knee injury (tore his ACL and is out for the season). FB Tyler Clutts stepped into the LS role and performed admirably. The LS position is an oft-overlooked role on the team. This is the guy who snaps the ball on kicks and punts. Most teams have a designated LS specialist. Mannelly has been with the team since 1998. Considering this is all he does for the team, he is a vital cog in the special teams plans for the Bears. It will be interesting to see how Clutts performs in a pressure FG situation with the game on the line.
THE BETTER: The Bears’ Defense. It wasn’t their best performance of the season, or even during this winning streak. They allowed San Diego to gain 332 yards on 48 plays (6.9 avg). They did contain the Chargers’ rushing attack, but Vincent Jackson was open down field all day long. Something kicked in though about halfway through the 3rd quarter. That’s when they started ball hawking and shutting down the San Diego offense. 332 total net yards isn’t bad and three turnovers is great!
THE BEST: Jay Cutler and the Bears’ Offense. Cutler had one of his better games of the season with a 97.0 QB rating for the game. As mentioned earlier, he was elusive in the pocket and even while scrambling he was looking down field to make the big play. The running attack wasn’t that potent, but they did run the ball 32 times for 93 yards (2.9 avg) and two TD’s. The run-pass balance is the key. You may not have huge games running the ball all the time, but a commitment to run is what keeps defenses honest. Bears’ receivers stepped up. Leading the way was Roy Williams with 5 catches for 62 yards. Knox and Earl Bennett each added 3 catches for 97 and 75 yards respectively. Cutler wasn’t sacked at all during the game, and that’s impressive as LG Chris Williams is out for the season with a broken wrist. In his place was Eddie Williams and he play well.
The Bears still need to keep winning to keep pace with Detroit and Green Bay, who both won yesterday. The good news is that one of those teams will lose this week as they’re playing each other on Thanksgiving Day. The Bears’ will have their work cut out for them next Sunday against the Raiders in Oakland.
Until then…GO BEARS!!!