The Bears rebounded from back-to-back losses on Sunday, defeating the division rival Minnesota Vikings 28-10. Mike Tice’s offense was able to get back on track for three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing), only allowing Jay Cutler to be sacked one time (5-yard loss) despite a slew of in-game injuries along an offensive line already in flux.
Here’s how it went down:
All told, the Bears lost five starters to injury on Sunday, four of them on offense. WR/KR Devin Hester has been diagnosed with a concussion, so his status for next week is certainly in serious question. Charles Tillman and Matt Forte both left the game with ankle injuries, and Chris Spencer and Lance Louis both have knee sprains, according to Lovie Smith.
Tillman went out onto the field with the offense for the final snap of the game (they took a knee) and was seen jogging on the field and down the sidelines, leading me to believe he’ll be ready to go next week, barring a setback. He did leave Soldier Field in a walking boot, according to reports.
(It should be noted that Kelvin Hayden did a nice job filling in for the injured Tillman.)
The biggest concern for the Bears moving forward, injury-wise, is their depth along the offensive line. Having lost Chilo Rachal for the season just last week, the Bears were already down to their next level of depth, giving Chris Spencer the start at left guard. With both Spencer’s and Lance Louis’ status unknown, the Bears are down to one guard in Edwin Williams currently on their roster.
Vikings’ DE Jared Allen told reporters he was informed Lance Louis injured his medial collateral ligament (MCL), although the Bears declined to confirm that report. If so, it will be a tough break for the Bears. One could make an argument that Louis had been the team’s most consistent offensive lineman.
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune said Louis will have an MRI on Monday.
Regardless, I’d expect the Bears to bring some offensive lineman in for a look this week, if only as a precaution should someone not be ready to go. Tackle Gabe Carimi, who had been benched in favor of Jonathan Scott, came in and played right guard toward the end of the game, earning head coach Lovie Smith’s approval.
“Gabe Carimi hasn’t played a lot of guard,” Smith said. “Coming into the game he wasn’t thinking about playing guard, but just being able to fill-in there. Same with Edwin Williams. Both of those guys. It’s always about the next guy stepping up. Injury is a part of it. I thought they did a good job.”
Despite a slow start, Bears’ offense rebounds with Cutler at the helm
The Bears’ offense struggled to get into a rhythm to start the game, as has been their M.O. all season, but they were eventually able to get going against the Vikings and looked like a different group at times, making a strong commitment to the run game early and getting the ball out quick on short, intermediate routes.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush combined for 35 carries and 102 yards. Bush ran in two touchdowns.
In addition to a renewed commitment to the run game, Cutler had success rolling out of the pocket on multiple occasions, something the Bears haven’t done consistently. Jay Cutler explained why: “Against a defense like [the Vikings], you can [rollout]. With 3-4 teams it’s harder. If we can do it, I love to do it.”
Regardless, Mike Tice certainly deserves praise for finding a way to get his offense back on track. When asked after the game if Tice had still been calling the plays during the game (a silly, if necessary, question), Lovie Smith confirmed that he was.
“The play calling was good,” Jay Cutler said. “I think when we stay committed to the run and we block well, we’re going to be successful. Whenever you get into pass-happy and divert from the run, it’s hard—especially in November and December.”
Starting quarterback Jay Cutler, in his first game back after suffering a concussion in Week-10 against the Houston Texans, played well, completing 23 of 31 passes (74%) for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His passer efficiency rating on the day was a respectable 86.5.
In the win, Cutler became the third-ranked passer—in terms of total yards (11,261)—in Bears’ franchise history, surpassing Jim McMahon (11,203 yards). Cutler now needs 307 passing yards to surpass Jim Harbaugh (11,567) for second most in franchise history. Hall of Famer Sid Luckman has the most in franchise annals with 14,686.
Cutler zipped in impressive passes to Brandon Marshall and one in the endzone to TE Matt Spaeth, who made an even more impressive catch, keeping both feet inbounds for the score.
“I was looking for Brandon coming across the field because they zoned it out,” Cutler said of the play. “I thought Matt (Spaeth) ran a great route and kept the guy inside. It gave me a little bitty window. It’s a hard catch for the receivers and for him to bring that down, I have a lot of confidence in him right now.”
WR Brandon Marshall pulled down 12 receptions for 92 yards on the day, putting him at 1,017 yards receiving on the season, the first Bears’ WR to reach the 1,000-yard mark since Marty Booker in 2002 (1,189). Marshall is the ninth player in franchise history to reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark, his sixth-straight season doing so (2007-12).
“In the third quarter I leaned over to Jay and said ‘That catch puts me at 1,000 yards for six seasons in a row,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re disgusting,’” Brandon Marshall told reporters after the game. “So, yes, I’m aware of it. I definitely learned over to Jay and told him I was over 1,000.”
On special teams, with the score 16-3 in the second quarter Bears punter Adam Podlesh ran in a fake extra-point attempt for a two-point conversion, making Podlesh the second Bears' punter in franchise history to score points in a game along with Bob Parsons (also a tight end), according to the Bears.
Defense contains Peterson, confounds Ponder
On defense, the Bears’ defensive line put the rest of the unit in a position to succeed by containing Adrian Peterson early and putting a ton of pressure on Vikings’ starting QB Christian Ponder. The line only recorded two sacks on the day (15 yards lost) but had seven quarterback hits. Henry Melton was credited with one sack, Shea McClellin and Israel Idonije split a sack.
While Adrain Peterson did have one of his better games against the Bears in recent memory (18 attempts, 108 yards, 6.0-yard average), most of it came in the second half after the Bears held a strong lead and had held the League’s leading rusher to just 25 yards on seven attempts in the first half (3.6-yard average).
“We were doing a lot of stunting,” DT Henry Melton said of containing Peterson. “We just wanted to make (Adrian) Peterson go one way. It kind of hurts your rushing times, but we were still getting there on the movement. We definitely just wanted to make him go one way.”
Most of what the Vikings do in the passing game is set up off the run, where Ponder excels on play-action, but the pressure dialed up by the Bears forced him out of rhythm and out of his comfort zone, especially without his go-to receiver in Percy Harvin.
DT Stephen Paea appeared to have a nice game, too, putting a lot of pressure on Ponder up the middle.
Chris Conte took perfect advantage of the Bears’ pressure up front and picked off a poorly thrown ball by Ponder while under duress. It was Conte’s second pick of the season. One play later and QB Jay Cutler found TE Matt Spaeth in the endzone for the impressive 13-yard touchdown, making good on the interception.
LB Nick Roach knocked the ball loose from Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, which was recovered by CB Charles Tillman in first quarter, and S Major Wright recovered a fumble on third-and-1 at the 50 in the fourth quarter. It was the fourth takeaway for the season for Wright (three interceptions and one fumble recovery).
The Bears now have 33 takeaways on the season, the most in the NFL. As a unit, the defense combined for an impressive nine passes defended. Bears’ DE Julius Peppers also blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt by Minnesota’s Blair Walsh in the second quarter, the 12th of his career.
All told, this was an import win for the Bears and will surely have playoff implications later on in the season. The Bears take on another NFC opponent at home next Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.