A win in the NFL doesn't need to be pretty. But you don't need to tell the Chicago Bears that.
Facing the San Diego Chargers this afternoon, the Bears were able to secure their fifth win in a row in a game that looked like it had been beaten with the ugly stick. Chicago struggled to run the ball, could not get pressure on Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers and could not stop receiver Vincent Jackson. Yet when the final whistle blew, the Bears had done just enough to pick up the team's seventh win of the season.
Chicago came away nearly unscathed in this contest. Long snapper Patrick Mannelly left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. Other than that, the Bears players are as healthy as when they came into the game.
-My game ball goes to fullback Tyler Clutts, who served as the team's long snapper after Mannelly left the contest. Clutts, who snapped briefly during his stint in the Arena League, was flawless in the second half of the game. With no practice time between he and holder Adam Podlesh, Clutts connected on all three of his extra-point snaps – as well as delivering perfect balls to Podlesh when the Bears were forced to punt. He also contributed a 9-yard reception on offense and showed well as a lead blocker. For a player who did not prepare to play at a certain spot, yet still performed flawlessly at his duties, he deserves to be named player of the game.
-The connection between Jay Cutler and Roy Williams is continuing to grow. In the third quarter, after the Chargers had tied the game 17-17, Cutler found Williams on three straight plays, each of which went for a first down. The drive led to the go-ahead touchdown, from which the team never looked back. Williams was second on the team in targets (8) and led all players with 5 receptions for 62 yards. With Devin Hester sidelined on offense due to an ankle injury, Williams stepped into the starting role and had one of his best games in the Navy and orange.
-Cutler completed 18 of 31 passes for 286 yards, two touchdowns and one interception – which came after Johnny Knox fell on a slant pattern. He was given time by the offensive line for most of the evening and took advantage of the protection. He did a good job not forcing passes and taking what the defense gave him. Yet his best individual play came after the interception to Antoine Cason. The defender had open field down the sideline with two blockers in front of him. Cutler chased the play for 40 yards and took a solid angle to the ball carrier. He then occupied both blockers, forcing Cason to cut inside. This allowed Matt Forte time to catch up to the play and take Cason out at the Chicago 16-yard line. The Bears' defense intercepted Rivers a few plays later, essentially sealing the win. Had Cutler not given that effort and allowed Cason to score, the Chargers would have pulled within four and would have had all the momentum. It was an outstanding individual effort by Cutler.
-Johnny Knox had one of the best touchdown grabs of his career tonight. In the third quarter, on a first down play from the San Diego 24-yard line, Cutler dropped back to pass and was pressured. As the rush was about to reach him, Cutler let fly a high pass toward the back of the end zone. Knox tracked the ball and made an over-the-shoulder grab as he tiptoed the end line. The score put the Bears up by an insurmountable 14 points.
-Matt Forte did not have one of his signature dominant performances. That was due in large part to the inability of the offensive line to open up holes in the run game. Edwin Williams, starting his first game this year at left guard, did well in pass protection but struggled moving San Diego's big defensive linemen in the run game. He also had a hard time finding and blocking linebackers at the second level. Additionally, C Roberto Garza could not get in a groove and was overpowered in the middle for much of the evening. The interior of Chicago's offensive line must improve if this team is going to be successful running the ball going forward.
-RT Lance Louis was easily Chicago's best lineman today. He dominated on the right side, hardly allowing any pressure off the edge. He also had a number of great cutback blocks that gave Cutler time to roll out and find receivers downfield. Louis is playing so well at right tackle that the Bears coaches may not be able to move him out of the position heading into next season. On the other side, J'Marcus Webb had his usual struggles, giving up plenty of pressure throughout the contest. When the Bears head into training camp next year, the coaches might want to see how Gabe Carimi fares at left tackle, as Louis is a monster on the right side.
-The Chargers put out on the field a patchwork offensive line that was without three starters. Things were so bad up front that the team had to sign a player off the free agent scrap heap, Tony Moll, and started him just four days later. Yet against this group, the Bears' defensive line could muster just one quarterback hit and zero sacks. Henry Melton and Amobi Okoye were non-existent inside, as was Israel Idonije off the edge. Julius Peppers was able to be disruptive but not very often. This is not a good sign for the group going forward. If they are unable to apply consistent pressure against a front five composed mostly of backups, what are they going to do against an experienced group?
-There was a lot of talk last week about Charles Tillman being a Pro Bowl player after he held the best receiver in the league, Detroit's Calvin Johnson, in check. Yet today, against a similar receiver in Vincent Jackson, Tillman was eaten alive. Jackson caught 7 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. But not all of the blame can be placed on Tillman. S Chris Conte was not able to provide adequate help over the top and the defensive line gave Rivers time to throw all afternoon. For now, we'll keep the Pro Bowl talk for Tillman to a minimum.
-The Bears struggled against the Chargers' passing attack but they were dominant in shutting down the run game. Running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews combined for just 51 yards on 16 carries. Lance Briggs was especially tough against the run, making a number of plays behind the line of scrimmage and forcing a fumble. Right now, there isn't a linebacker in the NFL playing better than Briggs.
-Corey Graham, filling it at nickel corner for the injured D.J. Moore, wasn't tested that often but he did a good job of keeping San Diego's slot receivers in check. He also picked up one of the team's two interceptions and was outstanding, as usual, on special teams.
-Devin Hester officially returned just two punts for a 29.5-yard average. He was held out on offense but the few times he touched the ball, he made a difference. His ability to put the Bears' offense in good field position gave them the boost they needed in the first half, when the group was struggling as a whole. Hester brought a third punt return back inside the Chargers' 15-yard line but it was called back on a holding penalty. From here on out, it wouldn't be a bad idea to continue to limit Hester's offensive snaps so he can stay fresh and dominate as a kick returner.
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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.