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Sports fans admire toughness, but more importantly, sports peers revere it.
If a leading athlete can find a way to demonstrate his grit in the right way - if he can show his teammates that he can fight through significant pain and continue to play hard - the sky is the limit.
That enduring truth was on display Sunday night as the Bears pulled out a 28-20 victory and, more importantly, exorcised the demons that had haunted them for almost 30 years. It had been that long, since the Super Bowl championship regular season for goodness sake, since the Monsters had won in the San Francisco area.
And they did so primarily because the highest paid guy on the team, the guy who plays the most high-profile position in any major American sport, took a brutal shot, took a few moments to gather himself, and then got back up and did the job. Before Jay Cutler was speared by 49er Quinton Dial, the Bears trailed 17-0 and were trying to somehow, some way get something on the board before halftime. Afterward, they outscored their foes 28-3.
At this time let's say thank you to the creator of the flak jacket. Quarterbacks used to wear just shoulder pads on their torsos like their teammates, but at some point in the past decade or so, the flak jacket rib protector became part of the standard protective gear. If Cutler isn't wearing a flak jacket Sunday night, there's a good chance Dial's hit breaks his sternum. Even with it on, he struggled mightily to regain his breath after the assault.
But all through his Bear career, Jay Cutler has redeemed himself with displays of grit. He'll drive you crazy by taking ridiculous risks in one game and with his unwillingness to accept accountability after the next. But then he takes a huge punch and somehow finds a way to soldier on.
And soldier on he did. After that hit, everything changed.
In the span of what, an hour-and-a-half (?), we went from hoping the Bears wouldn't completely embarrass themselves to thinking, it is a miracle they have pulled within a score, to questioning how can we possibly be winning this game to . . . Bear down, Chicago Bears! Da da da da, da da da, da da da da!
Every once in a while, sports rewards fans in this fashion - with absolutely unlikely wins featuring absolutely glorious stuff. In this case, an inventory of that stuff starts with Bear toughness.
In addition to Cutler's efforts, credit must be given to wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. They refused to accept what would have been a very reasonable response to significant injuries suffered last week, i.e., that they take at least a week off to further recover.
They were clearly limited but as the game went on, Jeffery and Marshall and Cutler and most importantly coach Marc Trestman figured out a set of routes that would still work. Trestman had an awesome second half of play-calling after he essentially went into the game blind in terms of what his two biggest offensive playmakers would be able to do.
And talk about toughness again - this catch for the ages would be sick (to use the most popular description on social media) - even if Marshall were healthy.
It also helped that the final two touchdown drives were about as short as could be thanks to the awesome play of rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller, he of the two huge picks. Of course, one of the reasons Fuller had the opportunities to make those plays was an improved Bear pass rush in the second half that was highlighted by Willie Young's two gigantic sacks and the huge fish he caught after one of them.
Next Sunday the Bears go trolling in New York against the Jets. The season is back on.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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Posted on Feb 20, 2018