by Carlos Nazario
After last season’s NFC Championship game, everyone was talking. Everyone was talking about how Jay Cutler was lacking toughness, about how the offensive line could not block, and about how the team was going to struggle this season.
Now that the season has started, the Bears are making the statements. They made a big statement Sunday afternoon by thoroughly beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-12.
The Bears showed that they should still be considered contenders for the NFC crown this season. They dominated the Falcons in all phases of the game.
Quarterback Jay Cutler completed 22-32 passes for 312 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. Many of his passes were short passes that allowed his receivers to make their moves. Running back Matt Forte caught a screen pass, broke some tackles and took it 56 yards to pay dirt in the first. In the third quarter, Devin Hester took a short pass 53 yards and was stopped at the 1 yard line.
Forte, looking to show the Bears hierarchy that he deserves a contract extension, had 158 yards from scrimmage (68 rushing, 90 receiving). In fact, he led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and rushing yards.
After the game, he spoke about his value to the team.
“If the Bears don’t see my value,” Forte said, “hopefully some other team will.”
Cutler is a big believer of Forte. “His ability in this offense is endless,” Cutler said.
“He’s such a smart player and he’s so versatile. This offense really can’t run without him back there.”
“The way he’s able to take screens and get into the passing game and still run between the tackles, he’s a threat all over the field and there aren’t many running backs who can do what he does.”
The receivers also played well. Hester and Johnny Knox each had 3 catches for 60 yards, and Roy Williams had 4 catches for 55 yards.
After allowing 3 sacks in the first quarter and a half, the offensive line settled down and only gave up one more the rest of the way.
The engine that got the Bears rolling was again the defense. The unit recorded 5 sacks, 3 turnovers, and scored a touchdown. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton each had 2 sacks, and Amobi Okoye had the other.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher had a banner day. He had 10 tackles, intercepted a pass, recovered a fumble and ran it in for a score. Cornerback Charles Tillman had 7 tackles and forced a fumble.
To Urlacher, it was a good effort, but there was room for improvement.
“It’s a good start,” he said. “We’ve got ways to go. We made some mistakes, me included. Our offense played great today. I know they’re going to say they didn’t do this and that, but they kept us on the sideline for the most part.”
On special teams, kicker Robbie Gould was again his accurate self. He connected on all 3 of his field goals (41, 23, 26). Also, Adam Podlesh came through with a punt inside the Falcons 10 that allowed the defense to pressure Ryan and get a turnover in the red zone.
Though the Bears were happy with the points, those last two field goals were a disappointment for them.
“We started off pretty good, but we’ve got to get better in the red zone.” Cutler said. “We left 14, 21 points on the board.”
They had the ball inside the Falcons’ 10, but could not get a touchdown. Perhaps the loss of Marion Barber to a calf injury hurt them. Barber is supposed to be the bruising back used in goal line situations to power in and score touchdowns. He should be available in week 2 so the Bears hope having him rectifies that situation.
The Bears continue an extremely difficult schedule in the first month of the season. They play the last two Super Bowl champions over the next two weeks. First up, they go on the road to New Orleans to play the 2009 champions Saints. After that, they play the defending champions Green Bay Packers at home. They are hoping their play continues to speak volumes on how good they can be this season.