The Chicago Bears stormed out of the gates in this afternoon's game and led 21-5 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into the fourth quarter. Then the team seemed to take its foot off the pedal, allowing the Bucs to climb back into the contest. Tampa was driving for the game-winning score with less than a minute to play but CB D.J. Moore came up with a late interception to seal the game.
The Bears climb to 4-3 heading into next week's bye – the same record they had at this point last season. Chicago's schedule gets relatively easier over the next month, so the playoffs are nowhere near out of reach. A lot of football is still left to play. If the Bears can make the same changes they made in the second half of last season, a trip to the postseason is a real possibility.
The Buccaneers had five players leave the game due to injury but the Bears came away unscathed. There are no serious injuries to report.
-Receiver Roy Williams had himself a game. He showed up on the stat sheet – 4 receptions, 59 yards and 1 TD, all team highs – yet it was the little things he did that were so impressive. On numerous occasions he was down field getting blocks in the secondary, helping Forte pick up extra yards. And he frustrated CB Aqib Talib to the point the Tampa corner was called for a personal foul for shoving his fingers in Williams' facemask, which nullified a fourth-quarter, third-down stop in the red zone. Williams did drop a wide-open pass but overall it was his most productive performance as a member of the Bears.
-RB Matt Forte is no longer "bordering" on elite status. He has firmly entrenched himself as one of the game's elite. At this point, it's hard to argue against him being the most-complete running back in the NFL. He carried the ball 25 times for 145 yards – his third 100-plus performance in his last four contests. He added 38 yards through the air on two catches.
When the holes were there, Forte hit them, and when the holes weren't there, he repeatedly created something out of nothing. On nearly every run, he made a defender miss, either by blasting through an arm tackle, using his quickness to juke a tackler or by using his deadly stiff arm. He now has 1,091 yards from scrimmage through the season's first seven games – the fastest player to reach the all-purpose 1,000 mark since Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes in 2004.
The back with the most total yards through seven games was Marshall Faulk's 1,192 in 2000, when he played under coordinator Mike Martz.
-The offensive line, for the majority of the game, played very well. Lance Louis was solid at right tackle, as was J'Marcus Webb at left tackle. RG Chris Spencer was outstanding. He did a great job on pulls and traps, lead blocks and finding defenders at the second level. Even LG Chris Williams had himself a solid game. The only complaint was the play of C Roberto Garza, who had a hard time generating any push in the middle. The unit did seem to wear down toward the end of the game, especially Louis, but overall it was their second straight solid performance.
Tackle Gabe Carimi is expected back when the Bears next suit up in Week 9 after the bye. Offensive line coach Mike Tice will have some interesting decisions to make upon his return. Spencer is the best lineman on the team right now and must stay in the lineup. Louis has also shown he deserves a starting spot, whether at guard or tackle. Carimi will slide back in at right tackle and Garza isn't going anywhere. So of the four – Williams, Webb, Louis and Spencer – which will get knocked out of the starting five? It's a development worth paying close attention to the next couple of weeks.
-TE Kellen Davis cannot block. It's plainly obvious on the field. He stands up when the ball is snapped instead of coming off low and hard. Defenders were flying past him all day. He has to be taken out of that role and used as a receiver – he was targeted just twice on the day – otherwise he shouldn't be on the field.
-FB Tyler Clutts was very impressive today as a lead blocker. On Forte's touchdown run, Clutts found a defender at the third level, which cleared the way for the score. During Marion Barber's touchdown run, Clutts led into the hole and stuck the linebacker, opening a cutback lane for the ball carrier. Clutts is one of this year's best offseason pickups.
-QB Jay Cutler was sharp for most of the day. He had time to throw – he was sacked just once – and was delivering crisp, on-target passes. Yet in the second half, he made a number of questionable throws, many off his back foot. His second interception was atrocious, throwing up a wobbly pass into traffic as he was falling backward. Cutler can be Jekyll and Hyde on the field. The offense will need him to channel his inner Jekyll for the remainder of the season and keep Hyde in the closet. Otherwise, one of those boneheaded interceptions is going to cost them a crucial game.
S Chris Conte
-The Bears intercepted Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman four times on the afternoon. Linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher both picked one off, with Briggs nearly bringing his back for a touchdown. It was Urlacher's third pilfer of the season. D.J. Moore also picked up his third pick with 0:37 second left in the game to clinch the victory.
Yet it was safety Chris Conte who stole the show. Conte's interception – the first of his career – came in the first quarter on the first play after Cutler's interception. Freeman attempted to hit receiver Mike Williams on a crossing pattern at the goal line. Conte laid a hit on the receiver, jarred the ball loose and came up with the pick. It was a terrific play that created a turnover, took points away from the Bucs and shifted momentum. He also had a nice knockdown, keeping the defender in front of him, on a trick play where Tampa Bay attempted to go deep. It's safe to say Conte will be the starting free safety for the near term, and very likely the long term.
-His partner, SS Chris Harris, had another shaky day. He allowed a late touchdown to receiver Dezmon Briscoe and looked slow for most of the game. Major Wright (hip) was inactive, which was why Harris started, yet it's obvious he's still hampered by his hamstring injury.
-CB Charles Tillman was all over the field today. He led the team with 10 tackles, one of those for a loss, and had a nice pass breakup.
-The defensive line overall did not generate enough consistent pressure. DT Stephen Paea, after breaking out last week, performed well but he didn't have much of an impact. DT Amobi Okoye picked up the team's only sack of the game but that was all he did on the day. And DT Henry Melton has apparently dropped off the face of the Earth. After dominating in training camp, during preseason and in the team's first game, he's since disappeared. He's not getting any pressure up the middle and cannot hold his ground against the run. At this point, Melton may be the odd man out once Matt Toeaina returns from his knee injury.
-DE Julius Peppers was double and triple teamed for most of the game, yet he still made a number of individual plays that disrupted both the Buccaneers' passing and rushing attacks. He bowled over LT Donald Penn on one play, forcing a quick pass that fell incomplete, and chased down RB Kregg Lumpkin toward the sideline the next. Even with a bad knee, Peppers is still one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the game.
-The Bears were able to get good pressure using the blitz today, something they've struggled with throughout the season. D.J. Moore was particularly effective as the extra rusher. That's a good sign for this defense going forward.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.