As of this writing, the Chicago Bears are a first place team, a half a game above the Detroit Lions who are still to play Monday night versus the Baltimore Ravens.
To look at the Bears yesterday in their 38-31 win at Cleveland it is arguable that we saw a first place team but its inarguable that we saw a team that knows how to survive.
The game itself was a climb and sort of a re-birth by fire for Jay Cutler, back from his recovery from the high ankle sprain. I suppose one of the main things that keep Bears fans from falling in love with this guy is that he just does not know how to make things easy — his two first half interceptions were the main reason why the Bears played from behind and didn’t see a lead in this game until the third quarter.
One good thing about messing up, though, is that redemption is always a card that you can play down the line and in that second half Cutler settled down and did things to not lose the game while also using more of his blessed weapons, the ones that maintained some sort of momentum for this team while Josh McCown was under center.
So, coming out of this game the Bears are now assured of what offense they will try to march into the playoffs with and while the defense gave up 24 points (apart from the pick-6 Cutler gave up) to a pretty unorganized Cleveland offense, it put together a sort of vintage performance, forcing multiple turnovers itself including a pick-6 of their own and containing well one of the NFL’s top offensive weapons this season.
Looking at these keys to the win you see things that the Bears have rode with in their successful outings this year and in one case a pleasant surprise that can mean that this team is actually gaining momentum entering the final two weeks of the regular season.
- Running the ball consistently, positively and with multiple options
Running the ball hasn’t always been the priority this season that Bears fans would have liked it to be, it’s been hard to give that part of the offense the proper attention when the pass attack has been so effective. Sunday provided a great example of what the Bears’ offense can be when it is balanced.
Not surprisingly, Matt Forte led the charge, matching a season-high in carries (24) and pushing up his previous season high in yards with 127 (up from 125 against Green Bay). Forte is within 38 yards of his career high in rushing for a season (1,238) and he’s had three straight weeks where he carried the ball at least 20 times after doing so only twice in the first 12 weeks.
Forte didn’t break the scoring plain but Michael Bush did in an entertaining (for lack of a better word) 40-yard run that saw the hefty back push his speedometer from 0-30 as a bewildered Browns D looked on.
- Containing Josh Gordon
Gordon has set multiple receiving records for Cleveland this season and has become the only wideout to catch for over 200 yards in two consecutive weeks along with setting a new NFL record for most yards caught in a seven week period. Against the Bears, Gordon ran into a short but stout wall named Tim Jennings.
Gordon’s three balls for 67 yards was his smallest output since a three-catch, 44-yard performance against Baltimore on Nov. 3 and although he scored once it came squarely in garbage time with his team down 38-24.
- Rallying in the 4th
The Bears out-scored the Browns 21-7 in the fourth, the 21 coming all unanswered to begin the quarter. Chicago has routinely outplayed opponents in the fourth this season and its starting to become a defining characteristic for Cutler under Trestman’s guidance to stand out in the final 15.
You can definitely argue why can’t Cutler have such great ratings in the first three quarters as well, but if a certain steeliness is forming in this team during late moments that will mean a lot in the remaining games this season. How many run away wins do you see anymore in the NFL in December and January? As games get more meaningful they play out closer and if the Bears are going to win big games they need to know that they can win big games late.
- Getting Alshon Jeffery in the End Zone
Alshon Jeffery would be smart to get some sponsorship for an “Air Jeffery Catch of the Week,” because like clockwork he’s getting something every week that amazes his team, its fans and the League in general.
Jeffery’s circus catch for 45 yards and a touchdown early in the fourth salvaged a day in which it seemed throughout that Cutler was overlooking the second-year phenom. Watching the game with a couple dozen Bears fans at a choice viewing party Sunday, we were all amazed that Cutler was struggling so much to even get looks for the guy, but eventually they connected.
Jeffery has made big plays with both Cutler and McCown but it seemed like he and McCown had a particular chemistry, it’ll be nice to see that carry over to the prohibitive starter. Surprisingly, the Bears are only 3-3 in games where Jeffrey scores, but they’ve won three of the last four in which he’s scored.
- Carrying no one out on the stretcher
Maybe most important — and pleasantly surprising given the setbacks the team had in promising weeks at Washington and at home versus Detroit that were marred by injury — the Bears got through this game without anyone, not a major or minor member of the team needing to be carried out. In fact, there are no stories to be had on the injured list aside from Lance Briggs, who is looking to be on the verge of his comeback.
Something I’ve been careful to look at this season is the Bears’ momentum in the latter part of the season. This is a team that dealt horribly with injuries in the past two years and went 3-7 in the last two Decembers as a result. This December the team is 2-0 in the final regular season month and actually rising in the standings — the Bears, at best, may only be able to match last year’s 10-6 record but there’s no mistaking that this time around the team is in the direction it needs to be in.
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and Kyle Means @Wrk_Wrt