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In less than 10 days, the Bears have gone from "was 8-8 too optimistic?" to "beat the Packers and establish yourselves as a leading team in the conference."
How did that happen?
Well, one big answer is that the coach, and the quarterback, remained steadfast.
Despite his postgame sulk after the season-opening loss to Buffalo, it appears that Jay Cutler did (mostly) learn the lessons he needed to learn from that game. Actually there was one lesson in particular he needed to get through his thick skull (and thank goodness it's thick considering the hits he's taken during his career).
That lesson was: one stupid turnover can be the difference between a passable win and an embarrassing loss. The Buffalo game was right there for the winning before Cutler threw the brutal pick that gave the Bills the critical second-half boost that turned the game in their favor.
So against the 49ers and again versus the Jets, Cutler, with significant assistance from Mr. Trestman, he has avoided the huge mistakes that could have doomed his team's chances. And sometimes that's the most important thing a quarterback can do.
Now, he did catch a huge break in that regard at the end of the first half. It seemed clear he was actually trying to do something with the football (rather than just tucking it away) when he fumbled it on the Bears' last possession of the second half. And only an incompetent bit of refereeing (whistling the play dead) prevented the Jets from turning that turnover into a momentum-shifting defensive touchdown.
Early on against the Niners, Cutler needed to stay the course and accept that he couldn't turn the game around all by himself. During that time, a few three-and-outs were okay because the Bears just needed to weather the storm caused by incompetent special teams play. And a few three-and-outs in the third quarter last night were okay too. Cutler was actually at his best on a few sacks. Those were plays where he reined himself in, tried to move up in the pocket and when a play wasn't there, he went down.
You might say Cutler "managed" the game. Somewhere Lovie Smith was smiling. Meanwhile, the Bears really won the game on turnovers (Kyle Fuller could get elected mayor right now) and defense.
Of course, the Jets helped, inexplicably going away from powerhouse running back Chris Ivory after he was kicking Bear ass in the third quarter. The guy might be the toughest tackle in the NFL (announcers Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden were quick to tell us he led the league last year in yards after contact).
Clearly the Jet plan was to bring him in for a stretch of plays in the second half and then go back to starter Chris Johnson down the stretch. But when a running back is doing damage like Ivory was, it seems obvious that you should stick with him. At least it was obvious to everyone but the Jets, who not only went back to Johnson but also stopped handing the ball to Ivory in the red zone on a big third-quarter drive in particular.
And it was the red zone where the Jets ultimately lost the game. From Daryl Slater at NJ.com:
The ball dropped out of the night sky and landed in Jeremy Kerley's hands after he ran across the goal line and reached up for it. The one catch, to this catch, was that Kerley also happened to cross the end line, and glide out of bounds, before securing the ball on the Jets' final play in Monday's 27-19 loss to the Bears.
The moment typified an evening on which the Jets' offense got plenty of push, teasing their fans as they marched toward the Bears' end zone, only to grind to a halt.
On that potentially game-tying final possession - even after all their stunning miscues - the Jets had four shots at the end zone. On first-and-10 from the 14-yard line, Geno Smith threw an incomplete pass. On second-and-10, some progress - a 5-yard completion. Then, back-to-back incomplete throws on third-and-5 and fourth-and-5 from the 9.
For a moment, in the waning seconds of an unsightly game, everyone in MetLife Stadium was standing, gripping and waiting, as they had waited all night. Then Kerley caught the ball well out of bounds, leaving them all waiting for another week.
This was the Jets' red-zone offense at its worst, on a night when it failed time and again. Six times, the Jets moved inside the Bears' 20-yard line. Before the final turnover on downs, the previous five red-zone trips resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Kerley (the Jets' lone touchdown of the game), three field goals and a Smith interception. Six red-zone chances, on Monday night's grand stage. One touchdown.
The red zone has been a problem for the Jets all season, but let's also give credit to Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Trestman, who, in a very un-Lovie-like way, made key adjustments at halftime that worked, just like they did in San Francisco.
And now they're 2-1.
* Kyle Fuller not only had the huge pick (although what in the world was he thinking when he tried to bring that sucker out of the end zone?), he also punched out not one but two fumbles. MVP! MVP!
* Jon Bostic didn't just drop a potential late interception, he dropped it twice. Otherwise, not a bad game for the second-year linebacker out of Florida, who led the team with 13 tackles (six solo, seven assisted; D.J. Williams lead the team with eight solo tackles). Bostic is starting to get himself up to NFL speed and that is an extremely good sign for this year's Bears defense and for Bear defense in the foreseeable future.
* Chris Conte seems to get hurt on about half of his tackle attempts these days, but I sure won't fault him for bowing out after suffering significant damage trying to chop down Ivory.
* That Danny McCray hit on the Jets only touchdown - how the hell was that a personal foul? The zebras called it "a hit on a defenseless receiver." I am serious here, is the rule now that defensive backs are just supposed to allow receivers to ease themselves down to the turf without contact when they run across the middle and expose themselves?
It would be great to get an explanation on this. The explanation would start with what McCray was supposed to do. He led with his shoulder and aimed for the relatively tiny torso target presented by a receiver who is mostly horizontal after stretching out to make a catch. There was helmet-to-helmet contact, but it was completely incidental - something that couldn't be avoided if McCray was even going to attempt a tackle. Hey NFL, if defensive backs simply aren't allowed to hit guys on those plays anymore, please step up and let us know.
Finally, one note of caution regarding the coming contest with the Packers. In the NFL, if there isn't a significant disparity in talent levels, the desperate team wins. And at 1-2 so far, Green Bay will be the more desperate team going into Sunday.
* Morrissey: Bears Making Their Own Lovie-Like Luck.
* Potash: Bears Defense On Upswing.
* Arkush: Bears Doing Just Enough To Win.
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