The Chicago Bears looked downright awful for three quarters of their final game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, but were able to keep it close and only lose by seven with a good shot to push for overtime at the end.
Their defense played outstanding and made the same Aaron Rodgers, who has been a postseason god, look like a below-average quarterback.
The stat-line of 244 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 55.4 quarterback rating, something you don't expect out of somebody who is a top five quarterback in the NFL.
The defense obviously wasn't the problem, despite a few bad drives early in the game, they were able to settle down and shut down a Packers offense that is one of the best in the NFL.
The problem was the offense.
Namely Jay Cutler.
He somehow found a way to have a lower quarterback rating in his half of play than Todd Collins in his quarter. Keep in mind that Collins didn't complete a single pass.
Caleb Hanie tried to remedy the situation by mounting a late-game come back, leading the Bears to both of their touchdowns and throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late.
The big issue that most Bears fans have against Cutler after his poor performance against the Packers is his toughness, the way that he seemingly gave up and didn't want to play the second half of the game. It didn't help that Fox only told us that he had a knee injury and then spent a lot of the rest of the game showing him standing around on the sideline.
It turns out that the injury Cutler had was actually quite serious, an MCL injury, and he actually showed a lot of toughness by going out and attempting to play in the second half.
My issue with the Chicago Bears isn't Jay Cutler's toughness. In fact, it isn't Jay Cutler at all, I think that he is a good quarterback who can lead a team to the Super Bowl with some good pieces around him.
My issue is that (outside of Matt Forte), he doesn't really have any good pieces.
The offensive line, although improved throughout the second half of the season, is still a very big liability, and having your big name quarterback get sacked 52 times isn't something that a team that playing the NFC Championship game should have.
He got sacked at least four times in seven games, led by the horrible performance against the New York Giants where he was sacked nine times.
The Bears need to work through both the draft and free agency to try to fix their offensive line problems.
According to Football Outsiders, the Bears offensive line ranked 28th in run blocking and last in pass blocking, something that isn't surprising, but needs to be fixed. Among playoff teams, only Seattle had a worse run blocking statistically.
Pressure breeds bad decisions, and even while being sacked more than anybody else in the NFL, Cutler was able to cut down on interceptions and throw fewer than both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
The second issue that the Bears need to fix, if they intend to give Jay Cutler the tools to thrive, is their wide receiving core. I'm not saying that they have to get rid of anybody because the players they have play very well.
The issue is that they don't have a clear cut No. 1 receiver. Johnny Knox played well this season and came just short of breaking 1,000 yards while ending the season tied for fifth in yards per catch.
Although Knox is good, I see him best being a No. 2 receiver for the Bears, with Earl Bennett in the slot. The Bears need to use free agency to try to find a top tier receiver who can give Cutler that big target he loves so much.
With guys like Vincent Jackson and Braylon Edwards possibly heading into free agency, the Bears need to pick up somebody who can be the leader of this receiving core.
With the offseason here, the Bears need to start looking at ways to improve their offense if they want to be able to make that next step and become Super Bowl champions again.
I'm Joe W.
With the Philadelphia Eagles surprising loss to Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears are secured at least the #2 seed in the playoffs and still have an outside chance at the top seed (if the Vikings can beat the Eagles, the Carolina Panthers have a shot against the Atlanta Falcons).
But although the Bears have clinched a bye week, they still, as Rodney Dangerfield would put it, don't get no respect, at least from most people.
This is mostly from inconsistency from Jay Cutler and a shaky at best offensive line, but the Bears are a team that, when firing on all cylinders, is just as dangerous, if not more, than any team in the NFL.
Let's take a journey through why the Bears should be your sleeper pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Jay Cutler has been outstanding as of late. After throwing 26 interceptions last season, he has come back big time to play with more consistency and has thrown just 14 interceptions, tied for the second fewest in his career.
Out of his last five games, he has had over a 100 quarterback rating in four of them, throwing 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions over that span, plus another rushing touchdown.
Another reason that he can lead the Bears through the NFC in the playoffs is his mobility, something rare in quarterbacks. He can extend a play, elude defenders looking for a sack, and take off and gain good yards if necessary (he has at least 10 yards rushing in nine games this season).
The Bears have been in search for a gunslinger quarterback who can take charge and lead their offense since their inception, and with Jay Cutler under center, they may have finally found their guy.
The offensive line
The Bears offensive line has been a big weakness for the Bears in the past, and a huge drawback early in the season, but they have begun to mesh and their ability to stay healthy has been a huge help in a season where a lot of teams are experiencing big injury problems.
Over the last three games, Cutler hasn't been sacked more than twice, and Matt Forte has had at least five yards per carry each of the last two games.
Although this ragtag bunch doesn't have all the same players expected at the beginning of the season (Chris Williams has slid to left guard and J'Marcus Webb has played surprisingly well at right tackle), they have learned how to play with each other and are a serviceable offensive line.
Another perceived weak spot for the Bears coming into the season has worked itself out as the season has gone on.
Johnny Knox has solidified himself as the top receiver, as he is currently on pace to break 1,000 yards and he has scored three touchdowns over the last two games.
Earl Bennett has become a decent number two receiver and a favorite target for Cutler, he has a catch of over 20 yards in seven of the last nine games.
Devin Hester has been a surprise at wide receiver. Although he still isn't great, he can stretch defenses and is a threat to score whenever he is on the field and has made some spectacular catches this season. Add to that his resurgence in the return game and Hester is a dangerous man.
The Bears brought in Peppers to be their big splash in the offseason and create a pass rushing presence off the edge, something that they were lacking without Alex Brown or Adewale Ogunleye.
Although he's on pace to be below the 10-sack mark, he's still been a force in both the pass and run games defensively.
He has two interceptions and forced three fumbles this season, he's also blocked a kick this season.
Despite his old age, Urlacher is having one of his best seasons in recent memory. His season off last year may have been a great thing for his career, he's been healthy and he's been a force that was missed big time last season.
He's currently on pace to have the most tackles he's had since the Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2006. He also has three and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
He's the leader that can take over a game defensively and single handedly stop an offense.
The Bears let him out of the grasp once before, but they need to hold on to Chris Harris like he's the best player in the NFL, as he has finally brought stability to the safety position not seen since the days of Mike Brown.
His five interceptions, more than the Bears got from both safety positions last season. He's also a solid run stopping presence, something the Bears needed this season.
The Bears have a habit of drafting people in late rounds and having them become productive members of the team early in their careers. They have been able to do this again and have also found some gems from teams as well.
I've already talked about J'Marcus Webb, Johnny Knox and Chris Harris having breakout years, but there are more players on the team contributing above there potential.
Tim Jennings has taken over for Zachary Bowman and played better than he ever has, and chances are the Indianapolis Colts are kicking themselves for letting him go.
Israel Idonije has been the player everybody hoped Mark Anderson would be, giving the Bears a solid defensive end opposite Peppers.
Matt Toeaina has been a good presence up the middle, helping take some pressure off Peppers as well.
They have proven that they can win
The Bears have won a lot of games that people have made excuses for, either due to injuries, "lucky calls," and poor performances, but they fact is that they are winners.
They are 7-1 over their last eight games, their only loss coming against the insanely good New England Patriots. They have wins against the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets, and they are 5-0 in their division.
They have proven time and again that they can win, and they are going to be tough for anybody that they meet in the playoffs, so nobody should be surprised if you see them in Dallas.
I'm Joe W.
The Chicago Bears were able to improve their record to 2-0 with an impressive win over a Dallas Cowboys team that some expected to make it to the Super Bowl this season.
By dropping to 0-2, the Cowboys are proving that a poor preseason might not be able to just magically be fixed with the start of the season, and that maybe if your team doesn't mesh offensively throughout the preseason, there might be some issues with your team.
But this article is about the Bears, because let's be honest, nobody cares about the Dallas Cowboys (learned that one after the Texans signed Matt Leinart).
While the Cowboys learned the value of the preseason, the Bears learned the value of an offensive line and being able to give your quarterback any sort of time to get rid of the ball.
How the Game Happened
The Bears started the game with Jay Cutler getting hit on (as far as I saw) every single play on the first two drives. They were, however, able to put up three points to take an early 3-0 lead.
That didn't last long, however, as the Cowboys were able to jump back to the lead a few minutes later on a 62-yard punt return by electrifying rookie Dez Bryant.
But the pendulum continued to swing back and forth as the Bears needed just three plays on the next drive, all passes by Cutler, to quickly drive down the field and score on a beautiful 39-yard catch and run by Greg Olsen (who said he wouldn't do anything in Mike Martz's offense).
The 'Boys and the Bears weren't done throwing the lead back to each other yet. Halfway through the second quarter, the Cowboys drove back down the field on a long drive that ended in a one-yard touchdown catch by undrafted rookie Chris Gronkowski, one of three catches on the day for him.
The Bears finally took the lead for good late in the second quarter thanks to a spectacular nine-yard, one-handed catch in the back corner of the end zone by Devin Hester, which Bears fans hope is just a small preview of things to come.
Up 17-14, the Bears were able to add a field goal just before halftime and go up 20-14 at the midway point.
After pulling within three, the Cowboys seemed poised to tie the game, but replacement kicker David Buehler was unable to convert a 44-yard field goal, pulling it to the left and leaving the Bears with the lead.
The Bears were able to come back and increase their lead to 10 via Matt Forte's third touchdown catch of the year on a perfect throw by Cutler, his third touchdown of the game. The Cowboys were able to tack on a final field goal but were unable to convert on an onside kick with about a minute left in the game.
The Chicago Bears seem to have fixed most of their problems from last week. They cut down big time on penalties, only committing two for 10 yards, and they didn't give the ball away a single time throughout the game.
They weren't perfect, however, as they still were unable to get any sort of running game going and were only able to convert one third down on 11 attempts.
Both of these problems can be traced back to a single personnel issue, a complete lack of an offensive line. They are going to need to improve their offensive line play big time, and a lot of that will rely on the health of left tackle Chris Williams, who left early in the game with a hamstring injury.
The rest of the team seemed to play with perfection.
Jay Cutler, despite a complete lack of any kind of protection by the offensive line, completed 21 of 29 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns while not throwing a single interception. Meanwhile, Tony Romo looked like last year's version of Cutler, completing 34 of 51 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions.
Matt Forte was unable to get anything going on the ground, running for just 29 yards on 10 attempts. But like last week, he was able to get a few more yards through the air, catching five passes for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Cutler was able to spread the ball around, as four players were able to catch four or more passes.
Johnny Knox had a big game that included a 59-yard catch on a third and long play. He ended the game with four catches for 86 yards, leading all Bears. Devin Hester was next on the Bears for yards, catching four passes for 77 yards, including a quick screen that he took 38 yards.
Defensively, the Bears were outstanding for the second week in a row. They only gave up 13 points (one of the touchdowns came on a punt return) and shut down the run for the second week in a row against strong running teams.
For the second strait week, the Bears were able to hold the opposing team under two yards per carry. Following last week's domination of Jahvid Best, the Bears were able to hold the combination of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice to just 1.8 yards per carry and just 36 yards.
The Bears were just as good against the pass despite the raw statistic of 374 passing yards for Tony Romo. A lot of that came in the fourth quarter and he attempted 51 passes throughout the game. He threw just one touchdown to two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 78.4.
D.J. Moore had a coming out party in this game, snagging both of the aforementioned interceptions and holding Roy Williams up long enough for Charles Tillman to knock out the ball and force a fumble which was recovered by Brian Urlacher.
Urlacher had another great game as he continues to make his presence felt on a defense that seriously missed him last season, racking up eight tackles with two for a loss and another tackle for a loss which was discounted due to a holding penalty on the Cowboys.
The big story of this game, though, was the cornerbacks.
Zack Bowman and Tillman combined for 18 tackles. They were able to play well against the Cowboys' duo of Miles Austin and Roy Williams, who even though were able to combine for almost 200 yards receiving, were able to do so thanks to being targeted a combined 22 times and neither were able to catch a touchdown pass.
Even though the Cowboys passing game may have left fantasy owners happy, they weren't able to convert on scoring opportunities and were unable to get any sort of consistent attack going.
The Bears, on the other hand, looked like a team that is going to be a force in the NFC this season. Although we are only two games into the season, the Bears were able to go up against a team that was a favorite in the NFC and come out with a decisive victory.
Next week, they will be taking on a very tough team in the Green Bay Packers who are coming off of a complete dismantling of the Buffalo Bills en route to a 34-7 victory.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys will try to begin their comeback trail after falling to 0-2 against the Houston Texans who are coming off a let down performance against the Washington Redskins.
I'm Joe W.
Throughout this game, Lovie Smith made bad calls that nearly cost the Bears a game that, on paper, should have been a blowout.
Here are some stats to let you know just how one-sided this game really was.
Now, here are some stats that show the mistakes that the Bears made, most of the time in crucial situations, that nearly cost the Bears this game.
What is surprising is, unlike last season, it wasn't Jay Cutler who caused most of these issues. Yes, he threw one stupid interception and had a fumble, but he also nearly threw for 400 yards and found Matt Forte for two touchdowns. This time, it was others that nearly cost the Bears this game.
For example, the horrible play calling of Lovie Smith.
The most obvious example is his handling of fourth down on the goal line. In the first quarter, you have a choice when it's fourth and goal from the one-yard line of whether or not to kick a field goal or go for a touchdown, Smith chose the field goal, no problem, you have set the precedent for how you treat that situation for the rest of the game barring extenuating circumstances.
Then, the Bears are put in the exact same situation in the fourth quarter down 14-15 and needing just a field goal to take the lead. You set the precedent early in the game, so you know what you are going to do, right? So you can imagine my, and every Bears fan's, surprise when you see the Bears lining up to go for it on fourth down, and the anger running through out veins as Forte was stuffed for a third time on that specific goal line stand.
It seems reasonable enough to ask the coaching staff to go for a field goal in that situation, especially when they have two very good defensive linemen in Ndamokung Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch that can easily make it through a weak Bears offensive line.
The running game was bad all day, with Forte running for only 50 yards on 17 attempts and averaging just 2.9 yards per carry while highly touted free agent acquisition Chester Taylor didn't do much better picking up 29 yards on nine carries, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
In fact, the Bears only reached 100 yards rushing thanks to Cutler, who ran for 22 yards on five attempts, all while running for his life and trying not to be mauled Jake Delhomme-style by Suh.
Luckily for the Bears, the defense played outstanding and the receivers were just as good as promised and better than expected by the general public.
Devin Aromashodu played well catching five passes for 71 yards including a play in the first quarter where he juked about half of the Lions defense at separate times throughout the play before being tackled from behind. Other than a dropped pass in the end zone on the next play he looked stellar.
Hester, however, is the subject of another misstep by the Mr. Lovie Smith. If he is only going to be used sparingly in this offense, why isn't he back to returning both kicks and punts? He didn't have any big punt returns this game, but he also had nowhere to go. Maybe you need to watch this video and realize how good he really is at what he does.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears were nothing short of outstanding. They kept highly touted first round pick Jahvid Best in check, and not including his two touchdown runs he had just nine yards on 12 carries.
Calvin Johnson was held completely in check, catching just four balls for 45 yards. The Lions were unable to get anything going through the air, as Johnson was still their leading receiver.
Julius Peppers showed up a few times throughout the game getting to Stafford on occasion and eventual separating his shoulder, causing Shaun Hill to be put at the helm for the Lions during the second half.
Brian Urlacher was everywhere on the field as he got to the Lions for eight tackles and one sack in his first game since he was injured Week 1 of last season, let's hope he can stay healthy this season and become the force he once was.
The star of the game defensively, however, was Lance Briggs, who led the Bears in tackles with 10 and also had a forced fumble on a play where he perfectly timed the snap count and got to Hill before he could hand the ball off to Best.
The Bears showed some good things in their game against the Lions, and most of the problems that they had can be easily fixed. Here is a short list of things that you need to do to have a successful season.
Now get on that Bears management.
I'm Joe W.