Well, well, well. It has been interesting to hear the media faun all over New Orleans, Green Bay, Philadelphia and even Atlanta as the top teams in the NFC this year. But the Bears were never really included in the conversation. Apparently they were just too lucky last year in making it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Don’t get me wrong, they did have a lot of luck last year.
It seemed as if every other week they were playing against a backup quarterback. But they still went out and won a playoff game…yes it was against a 7-9 Seattle team that had no business being in the playoffs…but it was a playoff game none the less. And they played very well against the Green Bay Packers and may have won if it wasn’t for an injury to Jay Cutler.
I think that a lot of people bought into the “Jay Cutler is soft and cannot be a leader” Twitter firestorm that ensued after that injury. How anyone can think that Cutler is not tough after last year boggles my mind. The guy was sacked 52 times last year including 9 times in one half by the New York Giants. In that Giants game, Cutler suffered a concussion that had him walking to the wrong sideline before he was taken out by the coaches at halftime.
Fast forward to week 1 of the 2011 NFL season and the Bears opened up against the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons. And straight from clichéville: The Bears showed up to play. They were very good, but not great, in all three phases of the game. Their defense did give up some yards but held the vaunted Falcon offense to two field goals. They sacked Matt Ryan 5 times, had 11 more hits on him and intercepted him once. They also forced 2 fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. They did give up 100 rushing yards to Michael Turner and 319 passing yards to Ryan but the Bears played the “bend but don’t break” defense to a T. Brian Urlacher had a great diving interception and then returned a fumble for a TD. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton both had two sacks. Melton had 7 of the 11 quarterback hits and took full advantage of being on the opposite side of Peppers.
Special teams played well as they were able to pin Atlanta deep on punts (48.0 yard average) and limit the Falcons returns on kickoffs as well as punts. Devin Hester was good on returns but didn’t break any really long ones. Robbie Gould was gold again: 3 for 3 on both PATs and FGs.
Cutler led the offense with 312 yards passing and a 107.8 QB Rating. His only interception came on a ball tipped at the line that bounced right to Kroy Biermann. Biermann ran it back for a TD and if Earl Bennett had only been a step closer to the play, he would have caught Biermann and possibly caused a turnover. Matt Forte was great. He rushed for 68 yards and had 90 yards and a TD receiving. The Bears need to be smart and make sure that Forte is a Bear for life. I think Cutler is on his way to being an elite QB but Forte might end up being mentioned as one of the top three or four Bear running backs ever. He is right now their most complete offensive football player.
The season is long but if the Bears continue to improve from week to week, we are probably looking at a very good season. Handily beating the Falcons may go a long way towards changing the perception of the Bears throughout the league. The next two weeks (at New Orleans and vs. Green Bay) will go a long way in revealing just how good or bad the Bears are going to be this season.