Maybe the most encouraging development for the 3-0 Bears, who put their unblemished record on the line against the 1-2 Giants in the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday night, is that they weren't really impressed with their Monday-night performance.
The Bears feel like they can perform a lot better than they did in their prime-time 20-17 victory over the Packers that left them as the NFC's only undefeated team.
"I didn't play very well," quarterback Jay Cutler said after completing 16 of 27 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown, one pick and a passer rating of 82.5. "I thought we were out of sync. I missed some throws that I should have made. We needed to make some plays, and we didn't make them. Offensively, we've got to get a lot better. I need to get a lot better."
Despite a game that he wasn't satisfied with, Cutler owns a 109.7 passer rating through three games, third best in the NFL, even though he saw his four-game streak of plus-100 passer ratings come to an end.
Cutler praised the Bears' defense for keeping the team in the game, as the offense struggled in the early going and failed to score until less than a minute remained in the first half. But the consensus on the defensive side of the ball is that they, too, could have played much better.
"We didn't play good at times, but we played good enough to win," said linebacker Brian Urlacher, whose forced fumble late in the fourth quarter set the Bears up for Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal.
"It was big," Urlacher said of the turnover, which helped make up for allowing the Packers to roll up 379 yards of total offense. "I always say yards don't matter to us. We like to keep them to a minimum, but yards don't really matter. Points matter. Takeaways and sacks [matter]. We didn't get any sacks again, but we got takeaways when we needed them."
Monday night was the Bears' second straight game without a sack. They have now allowed the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, in back-to-back weeks, to throw a total of 96 passes for 690 yards without being sacked.
"We need to be able to get the quarterback down," coach Lovie Smith said. "But Aaron Rodgers is a good player. It's hard to get him down. We kept the ball in front of us for the most part most of the game and came through with a big takeaway at the end, which we needed."
For the second straight week, the Bears did not establish a presence in the run game, following up a 38-yard rushing effort vs. the Cowboys with a 77-yard total against Green Bay. And 37 of those yards came on three scrambles by Cutler, who was the game's leading rusher.
"Running game-wise, we didn't do as much as we would like, but some nights the run just doesn't work," Smith said. "You have to rely on the pass, and of course we did that."
Even with all the Bears' imperfections Monday night, the sum effort still added up to another victory.
"We didn't play our best game, and we won," Cutler said. "That's got to be a good sign."
NOTES AND QUOTES
"Tommie is always motivated," Smith said. "I have no complaints about how Tommie Harris has done anything this offseason, or what he's done on the practice field. We just thought based on performance that someone else deserved an opportunity to see exactly what we had in Marcus [Harrison]. We were saying the same thing about Marcus, but he hadn't gotten an opportunity to play. So I don't have any complaints about Tommie. Tommie will go through practice this week and may be [active] this week."
What, then, IS the problem?
"That's what we're trying to figure out, all right?" Smith said. "You don't have to figure all that out after three games." ...
Matt Toeaina had an inkling he'd get his first NFL start Monday night, but he tried to take it in stride and not let his emotions get out of control.
"I kind of sensed that earlier in the week when I was getting all the reps with the ones," he said. "I was surprised, but then I got over it because I didn't want to come in and be all in shock. I had to act like I've been here before."
Toeaina, who was signed by the Bears off the Bengals' practice squad near the end of the 2007 season, started in place of Harris. The 6-2, 308-pound Toeaina had played in just five NFL games before this season.
Although the Bears struggled as a team in the preseason, Toeaina's impressive play earned him a solid position in the Bears' four-man tackle rotation. Toeaina said the Bears' unimpressive preseason was misleading.
"People doubted us because we were 0-4 in the preseason," he said. "But the preseason's pretty much for evaluation, seeing who's capable of being on the team for the [regular] season. We're off to a 3-0 start, a perfect start. We can't get any better than that. We just have to keep it moving." ...
Cutler has already been sacked eight times this season, knocked down at least that many times when he wasn't sacked and roughed up in general. But it hasn't caused him to miss a single snap or appeared to have bothered him in the least.
Against the Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews grabbed Cutler's facemask in the process of the quarterback's 10-yard run, adding 15 yards to the play. In the fourth quarter, linebacker Frank Zombo drove his helmet into Cutler's chin, drawing 15 more yards for roughing the passer and negating a would-be interception by Nick Barnett.
Every time Cutler gets hit, he gets back up. Hopefully for the Bears, he doesn't have to keep proving his toughness every week.
"I've come to expect Jay not blinking when he takes a shot," Smith. "He's a tough guy. We'd like to have him take less hits, of course, and we'll keep working on that. But that's a part of it. We played a good defense [Monday] night. They were coming after him quite a bit. But he stood in there and made plays." ...
"One play they just told me to be ready, and then the next play they threw me in there," the 5-8, 185-pound Jennings said. "But it's not my first rodeo. I played a lot at Indy."
Jennings spent his first four years with the Colts and played in 31 games the past two seasons with 17 starts. He was jacked up Monday night to get a chance to contribute to his new team.
"I just want to be a part of it out there and play with some of the best guys in the league," he said. "It felt good to be out there with those guys."
QUOTE TO NOTE
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