What a difference a week makes. Last week the Bears looked disinterested and ready to call it a season against the Baltimore Ravens. This week, they looked like the Bears we thought they would be. The defense was aggressive, the offense was scoring points and special teams was the difference. In a game that meant everything to the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears rose to the occasion. You would think jobs were on the line or something?
Coming into this year, many thought the Bears would challenge for the NFC North title, maybe even make a run in the playoffs. After 14 games this season, the Bears looked anything but a January playing team. The game on Monday night was the Bears best effort and execution all season. Why did it take 15 games to finally get it right? Where were these Bears earlier in the year? Monday’s victory over the heavily favored Vikings was a big win for Chicago and its fans. But it might have been disastrous for the Bears coaching staff.
Not only did Bears head coach/defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and his coaching staff out coach their Vikings counterparts, they also out coached themselves.
Smith had his defense prepared for this game. Down to third string players at safety, the Bears needed a pass rush to offset the secondary’s vulnerabilities. Enter defensive tackle Tommie Harris. Playing better as of late, the former All Pro may have been the Bears MVP Monday night. Even when not making a tackle for a lose or recovering a fumble, Harris was causing Vikings players to pay attention to him; which opened up opportunities for the man next to him, Israel Idonije. Causing the fumble that Harris recovered and playing in the Vikings backfield all night was Izzy. It wasn’t enough for him to play lights out defense, he also blocked an extra point that may have won the game.
Middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer played like the man he is stepping in for, Brian Urlacher. Having a game high 15 tackles and causing Vikings running back ‘The Other’ Adrian Peterson to fumble in overtime had Bears fans forgetting about Urlacher for at least one game. Defensive ends Alex Brown & Mark Anderson, cornerback Zachary Bowmen and all purpose Danieal Manning all gave gut check performances for a beat up, beleaguered Bears defense.
On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Ron Turner must have found an old Denver Broncos playbook because quarterback Jay Cutler has never looked this good in a Bears uniform. Running play action passes and bootlegs, Turner finally capitalized on his star QB’s talents. Without leading receiver Devin Hester, Cutler had a career night in prime time; which is a far cry from his previous night time games this year. He has been so poor in prime time games this season that some have even been questioning his eye sight. He had 20/20 vision on Monday.
Moved over from right tackle to left, Chris Williams played a great game against one of the premier pass rushers in football. Holding the Vikings Jared Allen to zero sacks and only one QB hit, Williams has Bears fans hoping that he will be the Orlando Pace from years past. Overall, the Bears offensive line was very good on Monday. Cutler finally had time to look for receivers down field and the running game was just good enough to allow play action plays to fool the Vikings defenders.
Losing one Devin opened the door for another. Young receiver Devin Aromashodu had the second most Bears receiving yards in a game, 150, since 2002. He also made a couple of game changing catches and scored the winning touchdown in over time. Like many of the Bears players this year, injury has shortened Aromashodu’s season.
All of the Bears receivers and tight ends played very well. Tight ends Desmond Clarke and Greg Olsen both hauled in touchdowns, as did promising second year player Earl Bennett.
All of this sounds as if the Bears coaching staff should take down the For Sale sign in front of their homes and settle in for another beautiful Chicago spring.
Not so fast.
If the Bears have the potential they displayed on Monday, why do they carry with them a losing record?
In defense of Lovie and his defense, the unit has been decimated by injury. On Monday night, five players who were not listed as starters to begin the season took the field with the first team. Adding to that, cornerback and one of the Bears best defenders, Charles Tillman left the game on a stretcher in the second half due to a bruised lung and cracked ribs. Get well soon, Peanut.
Even with all of the injuries, the Bears defense came out sharp. They may have given up 30 points in the second half, but remember, this is a Vikings team that is 11-4 and had a chance to lock up home field throughout the playoffs. I hate to say it but, they’re not that bad.
Give credit to Smith for motivating his guys to come out and play hard against a bitter rival. Nevertheless, why did it take a billboard bearing Smith's name for his players to play? This spirited performance,and eleven million other reasons, may have saved his job.
On the other side of the ball however, Turner has some explaining to do.
We all know how bad the Bears offensive line has been this year; this may cost line coach Harry Hiestand his job.
The Vikings boast one of the best defensive lines in football; the Bears one of the worst offensive lines in the league. It did not look that way two nights ago. Was moving Williams to left tackle that much of a difference maker?
It was definitely a great decision to move Williams and take nothing away from the offensive line, but the play calling was the best protection Cutler could ask for. Roll out and play action plays kept the Vikings defense guessing all game. Cutler finally had a chance to show off his mobility and big arm in front of a nationally televised audience. The type of plays that helped him amass 4,500 yards and a trip to the Pro Bowl last season while playing for Denver.
Even on the game winning connection between Cutler and Aromashodu, Turner’s initial play call was a run. Good thing Cutler had the smarts to read the defense and win the game.
So why the sudden change of game philosophy for Turner? Did he finally have nothing else to lose so he called what wins? We always give Smith grief for being stubborn; maybe Turner is the mule of the bunch?
The Bears played inspired football at Soldier Field in the last game of this decade. This speaks volumes for Lovie and the way his team had his back. But, it does not excuse his overall lack of identifying player positioning and player talent.
Turner has had bad o-line play for much or all of the season and now he decides to play to Cutler’s strengths? This makes no sense in my opinion. In Turner’s second stint with the Bears, he may have finally worn out his welcome.
I don’t overstand why it took the Bears all season to finally show what they’re capable of, but I’m so glad they did. Coming in, some said this game meant nothing to the Bears, they proved otherwise.