The first thing I want to do before hitting some game bullets was over my experience in Atlanta. As you know, I was there this weekend for the game (and if I were a radio caller, this is where you turn off the radio and call me a Bob). I've been to Atlanta before, back in 2008 (not for a Bears game - it was a weekend of Bulls/Hawks, then caught a Thrashers game, then went to Falcons/Rams), but this time I'd be seeing it from a visiting Bears fan perspective.
Right away, the first thing we noticed was the division of people both in town and in the stadium. Bears fans travel well, and keeping in mind the caveat of local fans not needing to actually stay in a hotel, I went to get coffee one morning and saw one Falcons "Rise Up" shirt compared to at least 25-30 Bears jerseys and sweaters. When the game started, it certainly seemed more Bears-tilted in the stands than you'd think - on some pro-Bears calls the cheers were louder than for the Falcons. I put up a couple pictures on the Twitter that I won't re-print here, but I'm reasonably sure most of our section was Bears fans.
The game outcome aside, Atlanta was a great experience with a lot to do, and delivers a pretty solid gameday experience inside the stadium. Now if only the beer were cheaper. My poor wallet.
Also, this might have happened after the game yesterday (it properly orients itself after a minute or so, shot on a cell phone):
- Now, to the game, the Bears needed to come out with a solid game against a struggling team, and they got a really good one. They got a nearly complete game out of a team that needed to prove to itself they could actually put one together and find a way to put a game away. Especially to close out the half, when Robbie Gould sent his second field goal through the uprights, my first thoughts were "This is going to be huge later." But while the Falcons did come right back out of the half and add a touchdown and field goal to draw the game at 13-13, the Bears answered back in a huge way - instead of doing a dink-and-dunk game, Jay Cutler found Alshon Jeffery wide open and deep for 74 yards, Matt Forte was in the end zone on the very next play and the Bears finished putting the boot to the throat with their very next drive - 15 plays, 87 yards, and another touchdown to Forte.
- In fact, an interesting facet of the Bears' touchdown drives are how they're pulling this off with their terrible return game (which is still terrible). Marc Trestman's brought up before how teams starting from their own 20 don't score all that frequently (and given how frequently the Bears start behind that...). The Bears' three touchdown drives went 79, 80, and 87 yards; the field goal to close the first half was a drive of 83 yards. The deep ball was in effect for the Bears most of the game, as Brandon Marshall himself had an 18.8 yards-per-catch and Martellus Bennett hauled in a key third down completion for 25 yards.
- Cutler had himself an amazing statline in this game for only having one touchdown, and he was able to take advantage of a poor secondary with a great set of weapons, as Jeffery and Marshall both came away with 100-yard games. Forte himself had another ten receptions and 157 total yards, and Ka'Deem Carey looks the part of a second running back (although only on four carries). I would like to see how Carey looks in the passing game, but running the ball is a good start. Cutler was making a couple better throws, but Marshall and Jeffery were also coming down with those and making plays.
- We have to talk about the offensive line for a second, because they nearly allowed the Falcons to double their sack output on the season in one game alone. Every time I looked up it looked like Jordan Mills was struggling to contain his guy, and some of the post-game discussion today seems to be hitting on the possibility of Michael Ola switching to right tackle when Jermon Bushrod comes back - I can't say that for right now it wouldn't be an unwelcome sight. Although Ola hasn't been great at left tackle, he's been acceptable, which right now might be a step up on Mills.
- One of my biggest worries heading into the game was Kyle Fuller against Julio Jones, and not only did Fuller pass, well... He was outstanding. Jones was targeted 12 times, and while the Falcons did rotate Fuller off Jones once in a while, Jones was still limited to four receptions for 68 yards. So many incompletions and passes dropped, including some aided by some big hits - namely, one on Roddy White by Ryan Mundy where a flag was picked up.
- Going quickly to that picked up flag and the roughing the passer penalty called on the false start/roughing combination, in slow motion, Mundy's hit looked fine, but in real speed, I can see why that flag would have been thrown - and the same on the roughing penalty, when Cutler was shoved down on the false start. If the penalty was to not be thrown, the false start would have had to be enforced immediately.
- If there was to be a game to have a linebacking corps held together by baling wire, duct tape and a street free agent, this turned out to be the game for it. Steven Jackson looked slow and lost on the other five carries he did have (aside from the 14-yarder) and nobody else really does much running. That being said, Antone Smith looks pretty good any time he gets the ball - his five touchdowns on the year have all been big plays, and yes, that's five touchdowns on 23 touches. That's 9.7 yards per carry, 22.0 yards per reception, and a team that knows how to pick spots with their players.
- But that's not to say the Bears' linebackers, for being pressed into duty as they were, didn't play well - rather, for being the leading tacklers on the team, they played quite well. Daryl Sharpton looked like he had been playing MLB for the Bears for four years, as well as being the team's spot-caller, after just being signed last week.
- It was a really good thing the Bears were able to hold Devin Hester down to nothing - ten yards on two punt returns and 44 yards on two kickoff returns. Pat O'Donnell had a 46-yarder, but a couple punts from forward in his own territory including one in Atlanta territory that suppressed that average a bit.
- It's been said before - but I think Chris Conte is done. He has the ability to play, but he's hardly made it through two full games this season. Shoulder injuries are one thing, but he's also had concussions mixed in there, which is a recipe for disaster. I'm not ready to anoint Brock Vereen the Conte successor yet, although in limited action Vereen has looked like he can play, but he has a little work to do.
- Jared Allen finally picked up a sack. Only six more to go until he matches Willie Young who, speaking of rotational players getting in in good spots, is having a fantastic season with another pair of sacks on Sunday. And three more to go until he matches Stephen Paea, who notched sack number four from his nose tackle spot. Paea's been having himself a good year as well.
So, what we have here is a team that had to come out and execute against a struggling opponent, and did so in all phases that may generally have concerned Bears fans. That being said, it's still just one game, and one that went well in the Bears' favor.
What are your thoughts on the Bears' victory over the Falcons?