High-octane Bears offense grounds Jets

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High-octane Bears offense grounds Jets

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
Posted 3:09 PM Updated 6:40 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The New York Jets may have backed into the AFC Playoffs Sunday, qualifying by virtue of the Jacksonville Jaguars losing. The Bears needed no such help and showed why they are already the champions of the NFC North.

Shaking off a succession of first-half jolts that saw the Jets pile up 24 points in the first 30 minutes, the Bears turned loose their offense in the second half to down the Jets 38-34 for their seventh win in their last eight games.

We talk a lot about finishing, said coach Lovie Smith. And thats exactly what we did.

The victory kept the Bears (11-4) very much in the competition for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The win was the Bears third of 2010 against a team with a winning record, having taken down the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles in Soldier Field. It also gave the Bears a 5-3 home record. Not since Lovie Smiths first year (2004) have the Bears failed to reach .500 in Soldier Field.

This was the kind of offensive explosion that the Bears envisioned when they brought in Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Including a Devin Hester return touchdown last Monday against Minnesota, the Bears scored 40 and 38 points in the span of six days, their biggest two-game onslaught of the Lovie Smith era.

Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes in the first nine minutes of the third quarter and ran two yards for a score in the second quarter, his first rushing TD in 26 games. The Bears were outgained but were efficient both running and passing, the hallmark of the play that has carried them to seven wins in their eight games since their Sunday off back on Halloween.

Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, one for a touchdown, and added 56 yards on four pass receptions.

The defense, rocked in the second quarter that included a touchdown return of a Cutler interception, turned back the Jets on a Chris Harris interception with 58 seconds remaining to preserve the win.

The guys are extremely excited, Harris said. It was one of those games where you dont care how you get it done; you just have to get it done.

Pendulum football

It was a game of dramatic swings. The Bears dashed to a 10-0 edge, then stumbled around while the Jets scored 21 straight points and led 24-17 at halftime.

The Bears scored 14 points in less than five minutes at the outset of the third quarter to lead 31-24 and got on top of the Jets 38-31 with a 21-point quarter of their own.

From the second quarter on we lost some momentum, said center Olin Kreutz. People think its all the quarterback but its not; its all of us. We came in at halftime and just said we need to get back to executing our assignments.

Weve said all year if we could improve little by little and be playing our best ball now, thats what we wanted to do. Hopefully we keep doing that.

Cutler threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Johnny Knox and 25 yards to Hester. The first followed a head-shaking fake punt by the Jets that failed miserably and gave the Bears the ball in Jets territory and the offense was able to turn that into points.

Cutler struck again to Knox for 26 yards and a score against cornerback Antonio Cromartie to become the first Bears quarterback since Erik Kramer in 1995 to pass for three touchdowns in one quarter.

Going into the game I dont think anyone would have predicted a game like that, with two outstanding defenses, Smith said. You never know; each game takes on its own personality.

The Bears failed to score in the fourth quarter as New York scored on a Nick Folk field goal just as the quarter began. The Jets reached the Chicago 35 midway through the quarter but were driving north into a wind, could not attempt a field goal, and never seriously threatened again.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

Bad blood fueled Bears-Vikings playoff bout profiled in 'Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon'

From the high ground of hindsight, what unfolded in the Metrodome that day in 1995 was actually quite a big deal. But not for reasons that you could have really understood at the time watching the Bears stun the Minnesota Vikings 35-18 in the wild card round of the 1994 playoffs.

It was not so much the game alone. It was the overall context of the time for the Bears, before and after.

Though the 1995 season would get off to a 6-2 start for the Bears before their near-historic collapse, the Minnesota game would prove to be the high-water mark for the coaching tenure of Dave Wannstedt. This was the postseason, and the Bears looked to be going where then-president Mike McCaskey envisioned when he made the play to beat the New York Giants in securing Wannstedt, who was unquestionably the hot coaching prospect coming out of the Dallas Super Bowl pantheon after the 1992 season.

To fully grasp the situation, you need to understand the undercurrent of venom that had developed between the Bears and Vikings. Bears-Packers might have been the glitzy rivalry, but what had grown between the Bears and Vikings was true hostility, with little of the respect that the Bears and Packers had managed. The Vikings carried grudges for Pro Bowl slights going back almost to the Bears' Super Bowl win. One Bears defensive lineman remarked that his most hated opponent was Minnesota right tackle Tim Irwin, adding, "He's a guy that, if I ran over him with a car, I'd back up over him to make sure I got him." Dwayne Rudd's backpedaling taunt after an interception came a couple years later, but you get the idea.

What's easily forgotten looking back through the mists of time was the epic decision made by Wannstedt to make a quarterback change, from a quarterback he wanted in free agency to one he knew well from their time together at the University of Miami. That was every bit the turning point of the season and the real reason the playoff trip and win ever happened.

The Bears had been annihilated in their first game against the Vikings in the 1994 season — 42-14 — and something was really, really wrong, which become glaringly more evident just a few weeks later, even though the Bears were reaching a 4-2 mark under quarterback Erik Kramer, the centerpiece of an aggressive offseason foray into free agency. But the Bears then lost — badly — to the Lions and Packers, with Kramer throwing three interceptions against Detroit and two against Green Bay, the latter in only 10 pass attempts.

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I talked privately to Kramer after the Green Bay game, specifically about why it was that he was playing his absolute worst against Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, all teams with which he was intimately familiar. My thought: You know those defenses and where their people are going to be.

Kramer shook his head: "The 'other guys' I know. It's my own guys. I don't know where they're supposed to be."

It wasn't a comment on his receivers whatsoever. It was Kramer admitting bluntly that he was not getting the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ron Turner and its timing element.

Wannstedt knew it wasn't working and made the change to Steve Walsh, who'd been the Hurricanes' quarterback under Jimmy Johnson when Wannstedt was the defensive coordinator.

That was the tipping point, and Walsh and Wannstedt are among the principals of "Bears Classics: Eclipsing Moon," airing on Monday at 8 p.m. on CSN.

Anyone with any time spent in or around the NFL knows that beating a team three times in a season is incredibly difficult. The Bears had been blown out in the first Minnesota game but had pushed the Vikings to overtime in the second and would have won had Kevin Butler not missed a 40-yard field goal try.

The playoff meeting was No. 3, and after the Vikings put up a field goal in the first quarter, the Bears scored with a Lewis Tillman touchdown in the second and just pulled steadily away from the winner of the only NFL division that produced four teams with winning records.

From there it would be another decade-plus — 2006 season — before the Bears would win a playoff game.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

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What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.