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The game was a classic set-up and the pivotal play 50 minutes in the making.
In fact, the Bears had been laying the groundwork for Jay Cutler's clinching fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Kellen Davis for months.
All season when the Bears have faced third or fourth-and-one, they have lined up in power formations and quarterback Jay Cutler has handed the ball off first to Matt Forte and then, in the last few contests, to Chester Taylor. In other words, when teams have studied the digital record of the Mike Martz Bears, they have seen nothing but short-yardage dive plays.
And all through the first three-plus quarters Sunday, the Bears ran frequently when they had a chance, i.e. when it wasn't second or third and a ton. Martz may finally be seeking true play-calling balance but he still doesn't call the give-up draw plays in those situations that were a Ron Turner specialty.
This time when the home team faced third-and-one from just inside the Viking 20 near the end of a key 27-13 victory (bye-bye 3-6 Vikings, hello 6-3 Bears), they finally pulled the trigger on play action.
And thank goodness, because if it had been another running play, the Vikings were in position to blow it up for a loss of several yards.
As for the nuts and bolts, the fake handoff was okay but as analyst Moose Johnston pointed out, the primary receiver, reserve tight end Kellen Davis, didn't pause at the line to try to better convince defenders it was a typical short yardage play. Fortunately, Johnny Knox had also gone out as an eligible receiver and forced the safety to linger in the middle of the field for a critical moment or two before breaking to try to cover Davis. It was way too little, way too late.
Moments later, the Bears' reserve tight end was capping off the clinching touchdown with a sweet dunk over the crossbar.
Back Where He Belongs
Overall for the second straight week, the Bears were determined to keep calling running plays even if they weren't really working (until a few decent runs well into the second half, their running backs weren't even averaging two yards/carry). Martz may have been the last guy to arrive at the "establish the run game to set up the pass" party but he's in there now dancing up a storm.
Of course, calling low-percentage (chances of success) running plays is a great deal easier to do when the team has consistently great field position, i.e., the Bears' return game delivered again.
After the game, Lovie declined to go into detail as to how the decision was made to switch Devin Hester back to returning kickoffs. He ended up saying something about the team just trying to make some more plays. I prefer to think that the head coach and special teams man-with-a-plan Dave Toub looked at how teams had begun to kick virtually every punt out of bounds and decided the Bears needed to give Hester more chances to make plays.
And that was the overriding priority even if Danieal Manning had been doing a fine job bringing back kickoffs.
Come on down Rashied Davis!
He made the Vikings pay for a short kickoff by grabbing it just before it started skidding along the turf and churned through an inspired 30-yard-plus return back past midfield to give the Bears what became their usual awesome field position. Also from his up-man position, he made solid blocks to help spring Hester on his big kickoff returns.
Then the reserve receiver was ready to go in the second half when Hester and Knox were sidelined briefly by what appeared to be minor dings. Davis ran a perfect out route from the slot position and then made the catch-and-run for a big third-down conversion on the way to Davis' touchdown.
Offensively, other than the one brutal interception in the red zone, Cutler did the job. He appeared to chew out teammates and himself on several occasions, but that's just who he is. People love to give the quarterback a hard time about his less-than-ideal body language but they forget that plenty of other quarterbacks aren't exactly sweetness and light when games are in the balance. Just check out Peyton Manning the next time his team struggles for a few possessions in a row.
As for the defense, it was another great no sack day for Julius Peppers. His drawing of extra blockers setting up other linemen to make plays was highlighted when Israel Idonije got enough of a power rush against a lonely single blocker on the other side of the line to be in position to tip the pass that D.J. Moore intercepted. Peppers also had a big tackle-for-loss against the Viking rushing game and made several other plays where he either contributed to a tackle or forced Adrian Peterson into the teeth of whatever defense the Bears were running at a given point.
On the slightly less bright side, Percy Harvin had quite a day for the Vikings. In between exposing first one Bear safety (Chris Harris) and then another (Manning) to score a long touchdown and then set up a field goal by drawing a long pass interference penalty, Harvin also used his excellent hands to prevent a touchdown. When Moore grabbed his interception it appeared for the all the world he would waltz into the end zone. But despite the fact he was lying on the ground, Harvin managed to reach over and trip up Moore at the 10. The Bears ended up having to settle for a field goal.
Of course, the primary national story line was the fate of Brett Favre. And so a viewer could understand it when play-by-play man Kenny Albert and Johnston, who was otherwise strong all day, continued to play up the fact that the Vikings were still in striking distance down the stretch, especially considering the two-touchdown rally their aged quarterback orchestrated the week before.
But it would have been nice if just once Johnston or Albert or even glorified sideline reporter Tony Siragusa would have pointed out that a comeback like the one the week before was more than a little less likely against the Bear defense than it had been against the Cardinals.
The View From Minnesota
A three-phase failure against a lesser team.
Jim Coffman brings you SportsMonday every week. He welcomes your comments.More from Beachwood Sports »
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Posted on Jan 12, 2018