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SportsMonday: A Petulant Quarterback In Full

Give it up for the Bears.

I said, "Give it up for the Bears!"

Seriously . . . right now . . . give it up.

Tough to know where to start breaking down this awesome 31-26 victory over the Eagles and previously undefeated (this season in games he has started and finished) and unintercepted (since 2006) Michael Vick. I suppose it has to be four touchdown passes and no interceptions. Really, it was four touchdown passes and only one even almost interception. And that was on a pass to a tight end (Greg Olsen) who we knew would do what needed doing when a touchdown was up for grabs. It was four scoring strikes and at least a dozen more laser beams that hit Bear receivers in their hands and exactly in stride . . . four touchdown tosses and about 20 passes that were thrown where they would either be completed or would fall harmlessly to the turf or out of bounds.

And it was four touchdown passes despite four sacks, despite breakdowns in protection that would have thrown lesser quarterbacks completely off their game.

There were so many great completions but the most promising pass may have been one that didn't find its intended target. That was the incompletion that Jay Cutler threw on third-and-goal with the Bears leading 28-13 in the third quarter. That was the pass Cutler would have tried to force in games past. Heck, that was the pass Cutler did force for his one and only interception against the Vikings a couple weeks ago, a pick that for a time made that game much closer than it should have been.

This time Cutler put the ball out there in the back corner of the end zone where either Johnny Knox would make a circus catch or the Bears would go for the field goal that put them up by three scores. Robbie Gould hit the field goal.

It was a quarterback in full orchestrating a performance that more than justified the massive hype that followed the Bears trading a king's ransom for him before last season.

And Cutler did it his way, which is a way I suppose we're all just going to have to accept.

He pumped his fist when the going was good and flailed about petulantly when the play calls came in a little slow or his supporting cast didn't execute perfectly.

And he capped it off by complaining bitterly not once, not twice (when he ran down the field to confront the umpire) but three times (when he stopped and spewed a bit more invective as he left the field) to finally draw an unsportsmanlike conduct flag after a clear illegal contact penalty was not called in the fourth quarter.

I have often said of Cub great turned broadcaster Ron Santo that he's a fifth-grader (virtually no preparation for broadcasts, childish, emotional reactions to on-field happenings), but he's our fifth-grader. I suppose Cutler is more of a seventh-grader, convinced authority is out to get him unfairly and prone to acting out. But he's definitely our seventh-grader.

There was also the fact that the Eagles played the game without either starting cornerback. One of those absences, resulting from Asante Samuels' injury, was just bad luck. The other was less so: Ellis Hobbs was sidelined for the season by a neck injury suffered a few games ago while returning a kickoff. If you send a valuable cornerback out to carry the ball on the most dangerous play of the average game, what do you expect?

Speaking of kickoff returns, it was another remarkable return game for the Bears' special teams. Both Hester and Danieal Manning just missed breaking kickoff returns for touchdowns while still taking those kicks all the way back to near midfield. And another big return was negated by Nick Roach's questionable holding infraction late in the game. One reason the Bears execute these plays so well is that they put their best blockers out there for returns no matter who they are.

There was Earl Bennett, recipient of two of Cutler's touchdown passes and an ever more critical component of the Bears' ever-improving passing game, leading the way with key blocks on big returns.

As for the third part of the Bears' winning formula, well, this had to be about as well as a defense can play while still giving up 26 points despite no offensive turnovers.

On a day of redemption for general manager Jerry Angelo - his no-name receiving corps caught everything thrown its way including several critical improvisations (like Matt Forte's late catch and run of the little flip for a key fourth-quarter third-down conversion and Devin Hester's beautiful tightrope of the sideline while hauling in a perfect little lob pass earlier) - his defensive line stood out. While Angelo has neglected the offensive line in the past five drafts (other than taking Chris Williams in the first round a few years ago), he has annually used a pick or two to shore up the D line.

And that paid off as lineman after lineman made big plays Sunday.

If it wasn't Israel Idonije starting the game with a couple quarterback pressures and Harry Melton recording a key sack, it was Tommie Harris making the play of the game - creating pressure up the middle and then getting his hand up to deflect the pass that Chris Harris intercepted in the end zone, turning a sure Eagle lead into a Bear touchdown drive the other way and an eight-point halftime advantage.

If it wasn't Matt Toeaina grabbing a big sack of his own it was Julius Peppers making plays all over the field and capping it off with an absolute all-out effort to run down Vick near the sidelines late, diving flat-out to get a hand on his heel and trip him near the Bear 20-yard line. That last sequence was typical of Peppers' season because it was a play no other lineman in the league would have made but it won't show up on the stat sheet; because Vick managed to fall forward for a gain of a half-yard, Peppers didn't earn a sack.

The Bears made it exciting in the end - of course they did. How in the universe did that last Vick touchdown pass make it through three Bear defenders (Brian Urlacher was in great position but couldn't quite tip it away and in the process ended up sealing off D.J. Moore, who otherwise probably could have cut in and made the pick). And the scrappy Eagles did not go down without a fight, on every play, even the freaking kneel downs. But the Bears earned their best win since the NFC championship game of 2006 and all a skeptic could do in the end was give it up and admit this team is in the running for not just a spot in the playoffs but playoff success.


Jim Coffman brings you SportsMonday in this space every week. He welcomes your comments.

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