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SportsMonday: Are The Bears Good?

Let's hear it for the optimists!

There must be a few of you out there, feeling vindicated. Actually it turns out I do know one legitimate fan who genuinely believed the Bears would be good this year. My friend Jon Davis refused to allow the local squad's record of failure the previous three years and all sorts of mysterious personnel moves in the off- and preseason diminish the optimism that had set in primarily when the Bears announced the hiring of Mike Martz.

So Jon and his fellow positive thinkers (at least the ones who honestly held out hope all the way until the very start of the season - and even after last week's game - as evidence this team would be terrible seemed to pile up sky-high) should take a big ol' bow. A few weeks ago, I wrote I was sure the Bears wouldn't post more than six victories this season, let alone the wins necessary to make the playoffs.

And of course they still have a ways to go before they make it to the still-unacceptable to most seventh total W (after all, it will probably take at least 10 to make the playoffs).

But I said before and I will say again that I will happily chow down on a heaping helping of crow if the Bears can pull it off. That eventuality became a great deal more likely when Chicago's finest footballers found a way to pull out Sunday's victory. After virtually losing last week's easiest game on the schedule (home against a Lions team that has won two games in two seasons-plus), the Bears notched a 27-20 victory in a game at Dallas that, barring a Cowboy collapse, will go into the books as one of the toughest games on the schedule.

The main thing that happened on Sunday was that Jay Cutler started to justify the hype that surrounded him when Jerry Angelo pulled the trigger on the greatest personnel move in Bear history the off-season before last. That, of course, was trading for a young franchise quarterback - and the draft pick that was used on one of the team's best receivers - for draft picks and Kyle Orton. After the Bears' third possession, Cutler's rising bile was plain to see (and lip-read: "Can we block somebody?!" he yelled on the sideline). And hell, he was running for his life out there.

But the quarterback was able to right the ship and lead his team to a big win with an awesome array of throws (short touch passes, intermediate lasers, a perfect bomb). After only one major screw-up the week before - a throw into triple coverage that resulted in his only interception - Cutler not only didn't have any picks on Sunday, he didn't have any dropped (by Dallas defensive backs) picks.

The quarterback only threw one pass that was sort of up-for-grabs. And Bear receiver Earl Bennett had as good a shot as catching that ball as the nearest Cowboy cornerback. That pass ended up incomplete. Later on, Cutler capped it all off with his third and final scoring strike, a simple little four-yard out to Matt Forte at the end of a beautifully aggressive late drive that grabbed the game by the throat. On that play, the Dallas defensive back assigned to cover Forte was totally overwhelmed. If Cutler keeps this up, that will become a familiar site.

So many notes, unlimited space . . .

The Ridiculous 1
Don't tell general manager Jerry, but Mike Martz is making a change he knew should have been made the second he took the job, a change Angelo hasn't wanted him to make. It appeared as though it was one final brain-dead move by Devin Hester while he was lined up out wide in the first half that finally sealed the deal.

You may recall that early in their second touchdown drive, the Bears were called for an illegal formation. That penalty was the sort of Hester mistake that always seems to crop up in even the talented but scatterbrained Hester's best games. Practically the first thing kids learn in wide receiver school is that they can't "cover" other receivers, i.e., if a tight end is on your side of the formation, a receiver must line up a step behind the line of scrimmage. But on a potentially huge gain to Greg Olsen, Hester lined up on the line - covering Olsen and drawing a flag.

Angelo still wants Hester to streak to stardom at wide receiver but it was clear to Martz from Day 1 that Hester would be so much better in the slot (the spot usually reserved for a team's third receiver and located between the wideout and the end of the offensive line). And guess where the Ridiculous 1 was Sunday before making all of his big plays?

Hester actually grabbed his first big gain out of his best spot on the Bears' first touchdown drive. He just zipped down the seam, caught a quick pass from Cutler, broke a tackle or two and gained 20 big yards. Cutler then threw a very similar pass to a not-to-be-denied Olsen and the Bears were right back in the game.

Hester committed his penalty early in the second touchdown drive but after Cutler bailed him out with his awesome bomb to Johnny Knox, Hester again lined up in the slot on first-and-goal from the nine. He then made the one-handed play that made all the highlight shows.

On the Bears' final march to glory, Hester lined up in the slot, ran a quick little out into the flat, took Cutler's perfect pass and broke a few more tackles on his way to the 35-plus yard gain that set up Forte's score.

Martz Magic
Speaking of Martz, what a virtuoso play-calling performance this was overall. On the absolute fly, having lost the most important player on his offensive line, Martz overhauled everything in the first half, going to an empty backfield on many plays and calling quick passes that would frustrate the Cowboy blitz. After the Bears had completed enough of those, the Cowboys began to back off a little more frequently. And when they did, the Bears were ready with seven-step drops and throws.

The Specials
Special teams tooketh away on Sunday but in total, they gaveth more. Dez Bryant's punt return touchdown was a potential disaster, but the Bears bounced back in a big way. It started with reserve defensive back Tim Jennings' heads-up fair catch of a pooch on the ensuing kickoff that could have been big trouble and instead giving the Bears great field position. It continued with typical rock-solid Robbie Gould field goals and strong Brad Maynard punts down the stretch. And it was capped off by perfect execution on the Cowboys' last gasp. Earl Bennett was in perfect position behind a wall of blockers when the Cowboys booted their last-two-minutes' onside kick. He rose up, secured the football and then returned to Earth with the game comfortably in hand.

A little more about one of those punts in particular: Brian Iwuh, good to meet you. Iwuh was the guy who charged down the field on Brad Maynard's strong punt from deep in Bear territory early in the fourth quarter and not only pushed blocker Mike Hamlin into return man Dez Bryant - knocking him down before he had made it even a yard up the field - but also drew a "block in the back" penalty. It had appeared the Cowboys had a great chance to take over possession near midfield but instead they were pushed back to their 30. Earlier, Iwuh had another big hit on a return.

Tag Team
Loving that Charles Tillman and D.J. Moore tag team. Early in the game, Tillman slammed into Miles Austin, popping a pass out and giving Moore a chance to corral his first of two interceptions between his legs just before it fell to the turf. Late in the fourth quarter, Moore got a hold of Dallas receiver Roy Williams and would not let go, pushing him back and holding up just long enough for Tillman to come over and punch the ball out for a critical fumble.

Bring on the Packers! And the pessimists!

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Comments welcome.

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