You would have to have a pretty cold, stone heart made of ice to not be excited by the Bears’ resoundingly spectacular performance yesterday afternoon. After having watched the Packers torch the Saints for 42 points and 477 yards of total offense on Thursday night, it seemed like the questions surrounding this Bears squad became even more suffocating… How would their 4 new offensive linemen handle the task of protecting a quarterback in an offensive system that demands long dropbacks to execute its precise routes? How much longer could the defense, with nearly every playmaker on the wrong side of 30, maintain its championship pedigree? How would Jay Cutler respond after a nightmare NFC Title game and off-season? How would the team respond after a shortened off-season punctuated by players openly questioning the cheapness of the front-office after contract extension demands were made by Matt Forte and Lance Briggs, the trade of Cutler’s favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, and the release of long-time captain and popular teammate Olin Kreutz over, reportedly, $500,000?
Well, for one bright weekend, consider those questions answered.
The Bears did everything right. Their defense was patient, swarming, and suffocating. The offense, though sputtered twice in the red zone, was nonetheless effective and efficient. Two enormous challenges still loom in the upcoming weeks; a trip to New Orleans in six days followed by an afternoon hosting the Packers one week later, but for right now, the Bears added their names as early season contenders for the Halas Trophy.
Offensively, I thought the Bears looked great, even (dare I say) brilliant at times. They’ve become a very effective screen team, as both of their big plays, Forte’s 59-yard touchdown and Hester’s 53-yarder to the 1, came on effectively established screens with Jay putting the ball in his two biggest playmakers’ hands and letting them slice and dice through an overmatched Falcons’ defense. The Bears made a point this off-season to get more physical offensively, and though I am still mixed on the Greg Olsen trade (still think it would have been more prudent to just stop calling him a TE and just make him a WR), Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth both added a toughness to the offense that I haven’t seen in a while. Hell, even Earl Bennett, Tyler Clutts, and Roy Williams (!) were throwing blocks downfield, so hopefully it’s contagious.
Defensively, what more can I add? What is so encouraging about the way the Bears manhandled Atlanta is that they appear to be a Packers Lite kind of team, with playmakers all over the place in the skill positions and a good, young quarterback leading the way, this game could have gone a lot of different ways, but even the most optimistic Bear fans would have had a hard time believing they could hold Atlanta’s offense to 6 points Sunday. This is a team that scored 25.9 PPG last season, 5th best in the league, and they added another element with the addition of rookie WR Julio Jones.
Play of the game was definitely Brian Urlacher’s diving interception of Matt Ryan in the 1st quarter. Before that play, Ryan and the Falcons looked to be getting into a bit of a rhythm, running their patented no huddle offense and finding holes and weak spots in the Bears’ coverage. Up to the interception, Matt Ryan was 7-7 for 54 yards and had another short completion that was taken off the books thanks to an unrelated defensive holding call on D.J. Moore. After that interception, Ryan went 24-39 for 265 yards. Not very impressive. Three plays after Urlacher’s pick, Matt Forte put the 1st TD on the board for the 2011 season and the defensive line really pinned their ears back and just assaulted Ryan. If there was one downside to the game, it was that Michael Turner rushed for precisely 100 yards, although 1/2 of those yards came on a single play in the 3rd quarter.
Looking forward to next week’s test in New Orleans. That game, and then Week 3 at home against Green Bay will really tell where this team is in the NFC pecking order. Count me as someone who is not exactly high on Atlanta this year, who was statistically one of the luckier teams in the NFL in 2010. Despite their 13-3 record and #1 seed in the NFC, I don’t know if they are truly an elite team. And, early season wins are never an accurate indicator of where a team is headed. The last two Bears’ Week 1 performances as impressive as Sunday’s was their 29-13 manhandling of the Colts to open Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008 and their 26-0 shutout of the Packers in 2006. The former was the 1st win in a disappointing 9-7 season that saw the Bears miss the play-offs. The latter was the 1st of 15 regular season and play-off wins as the Bears marched to the Super Bowl.