In what I considered a must-win game(You can read why here) today, the Bears were indeed able to win by the score of 34-29 over the Carolina Panthers. It was far from a convincing win, but a win nonetheless. And in the NFL, you'll take a win any which way you can get it.
The main reason they won this game? Mike Martz actually committed to the run! No, seriously.
Matt Forte ran for a career-high 205 yards and a touchdown over 25 carries, and Marion Barber added a touchdown run in his first game as a Bear(He also added a backflip celebration fail).
Forte had several large gains on the ground, with his longest run being 46 yards. He made some great cutbacks to gain extra yardage throughout the game, but the run-blocking was very good throughout the game as well, which was nice to see after the offensive line gave Forte nowhere to run last week against the Packers.
On the Bears' first drive of the game, they ran nine plays which led to a field goal to tie the game at 3-3. All nine plays were running plays. In fact, in the second quarter, when the Bears got to 24 points, they had only thrown one pass in the game. Of course, they weren't just getting those points by running the ball.
With the score 3-3 in the first quarter, defensive back D.J. Moore picked off a tipped Cam Newton pass and returned it for a touchdown to give the Bears a 10-3 lead.
And with the Bears leading 17-10 later in the quarter, the Panthers made the same mistake every team seems to: They punted to Devin Hester. This was soon after he had a 73-yard kick return that would've been a touchdown if he could've gotten a block on the kicker from Chris Conte. Well, got all the blocking he needed on the punt return, and took it to the house for a 69-yard touchdown(You can see video of it here). With the punt return touchdown, Hester set an NFL record for career punt return touchdowns with 11.
So, all of that was fun. But, the Bears struggled in many areas in this game.
Aside from the Moore pick-six, the defense really wasn't that good today. Cam Newton threw for 374 yards(although some of those were in "garbage time"), and he, along with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, combined to run for 169 yards and two touchdowns over 25 carries.
The Bears did do a good job at forcing the Panthers to settle for five field goal tries instead of scoring touchdowns, but still, the constant space the Panthers found in the Bears' secondary and defensive line was troubling. Brandon Meriweather missed an assignment badly that left wide receiver Steve Smith(who had eight catches for a whopping 181 yards) wide open for a 53-yard reception. Chris Harris could not return soon enough.
And offensively, while the run game was sensational, the Bears weren't able to do much at all in the air. Jay Cutler completed nine of 17 passes for just 107 yards, and threw a bad interception to Panthers safety Charles Godfrey on a pass intended for Johnny Knox.
So, it's great to get a win, but the Bears are going to need a much better performance defensively if they want to have a chance to beat the Lions next Monday night.
But, for right now, enjoy the win.
With only 17 pass attempts, it's hard to take too much away about Cutler's performance in this game, but the interception was a bad one in the fourth quarter in Bears territory. Additionally, he threw off of his back foot and was jumpy in the pocket a few times, which is probably because he's still expecting to get hit, even if he has time to throw. I'd be jumpy back there too with the offensive line he's had to throw behind the last couple of years.
Running Backs/Fullbacks: A
Forte was sensational, and Barber found the end zone. 224 rushing yards was the most rushing yards the Bears have had in a game since 1988.
Tyler Clutts made some great blocks at fullback to create room for Forte.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Knox was the only wide receiver with over a single catch. He had three catches for 48 yards, and made a nice jumping catch with a defensive back about to hit him. Something we didn't see much of last year.
Dane Sanzenbacher had a 16-yard catch for a first down, but dropped another third down pass he shouldv'e caught(but it was also a pass Cutler should've set his feet on and tossed in a place where Sanzenbacher would easily catch it).
Kellen Davis and Kyle Adams didn't have a catch. Davis had a drop, but it was on a low throw that would've been a nice catch.
Offensive Line: B+
Maybe it wasn't as good as I graded it, but it sure seems that way after what we're used to seeing. And especially after how unbelievably terrible the run-blocking was last week. Today, it was terrific.
As for pass protection, it was decent. Frank Omiyale got blown up a few times at right tackle, and Lance Louis apparently replaced him at the position for a bit(I'm not totally positive as I was so caught up in everything else going on in the game, but Brian Billick mentioned on the broadcast that Louis was in for at least some plays). But, Cutler had time to throw for the most part.
Defensive Line: D
Cam Newton did an incredible job to get away from pressure on a few occasions when it seemed the Bears were going to get a sack, but still, not getting a single sack against a rookie quarterback in your house is pretty disappointing. And the Panthers ran right through the line with ease all day. This group needs to play much better and is certainly capable of it. The front four are what makes this defense go, and if the quarterback isn't rushed much by them, there will be holes found in the cover-two scheme.
The good news is you know Rod Marinelli will make sure they're busting their asses to improve. And I can't see Julius Peppers letting this continue either.
Lance Briggs or Brian Urlacher tipped the pass that Moore intercepted. Both players made some nice tackles(especially Briggs on a big third down play), but they're better than letting an opposing run game go right through the defense like the Panthers did today. Still, it's hard to stop DeAngelo Williams when he gets through the defensive line at full burst so I'll give Briggs, Urlacher, and Nick Roach a pass here. They're the least of my worries.
Defensive Backs: D
Nobody played well. Steve Smith was routinely wide open, and the safeties had blown assignments multiple times. This was one of the worst games I've seen Peanut play in a few years. If they play like this against the Lions and their Matt Stafford/Calvin Johnson combo? That won't go well. Much improvement is needed here, although I fear that won't happen until Chris Harris returns.
Special Teams: A
Obviously, Devin Hester was amazing. Robbie Gould was two of two on field goals, and Adam Podlesh had a 51-yard punt, as well as two punts inside of the Panthers' 20-yard line.
Offense: Matt Forte
Easiest call ever.
Defense: D.J. Moore
That was not an easy interception. It took quick recognition of the deflection and good hands to catch it. Then a very nice return for the touchdown. He has a nose for the ball and is a very valuable player in this defense.
Special Teams: Devin Hester
Second easiest call ever.
Michael C. Wright is hearing that guard(and backup center) Chris Spencer broke his right hand today, and Spencer played in the second half with the injury. I'll keep you updated on that story as more is revealed.
Devin Hester walked off the field in the second half hanging his left arm as though he had a shoulder injury. It sounds like it's nothing serious though and he should be good to go next week.
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