It was one of those games where you don't even know where to begin in telling the tale. During today's NFC North battle between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, there was a little bit of everything. There were six turnovers, amazing special teams play and the second comeback with for the Bears in as many weeks, brining their record to 2-0.
The game started with a 105-yard return TD on the opening kickoff by Cordarrelle Patterson. From there, it was a heavyweight matchup with momentum shifts throughout. The Bears followed by scoring 14 unanswered points on touchdown passes to Martellus Bennett and Brandon Marshall. Brian Robison then returned a Jay Cutler fumble for a score, which tied the game up.
Tim Jennings then responded with a 44-yard interception return for a TD, followed by a Kyle Rudolph touchdown reception. Chicago finished the first-half scoring with a Robbie Gould field goal. The Vikings came out in the second half and ripped off nine straight points on three Blair Walsh field goals.
Yet the Bears had one last chance to pick up the win. Down by six with just more than three minutes to play, Chicago lined up on their own 34-yard line. After two straight third down conversions, both on passes to Marshall, the Bears moved into Vikings territory. With 16 second remaining, Chicago lined up for a 3rd and 10 and Cutler found M. Bennett in the front corner of the end zone for a 16-yard game-winning touchdown.
Now take a breath.
-Major Wright went to the locker room in the first half to get tested for a concussion. Results were negative and he finished the game on the field.
-M. Bennett hurt his shoulder late in the game going up for a potential touchdown. He came down hard and said after the game his shoulder was really hurting him. Yet he finished the game and it didn't appear to affect him, so it would be surprising if he misses any time going forward.
Notes from Week 2
-It was a sloppy track at Soldier Field, with rain falling throughout the contest. As such, I assumed the game would be heavy on rushing attempts and short on passes. For the Bears, that never materialized. Cutler threw 39 times in the contest, while Chicago ran the ball just 26 times as a team – three of those were Cutler scrambles.
Cutler was up to the task, completing 28 of 39 attempts for 290 yards and three touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 97.2. He was sacked just once and had time to throw the ball for most of the afternoon, which we know is a recipe for success with Cutler. And when plays broke down, he did a good job avoiding the rush and making plays with his legs.
He was at his best when the game was on the line. On the final 66-yard TD drive, Chicago's offense was forced into three third-down situations. Cutler completed passes on all three of those third downs, including the 16-yarder to M. Bennett for the game winner. During that drive, Cutler was calm and collected, taking what the defense gave him and not forcing passes into coverage.
"It takes great poise for him to come out, having turnovers like we did, throwing interceptions and fumbling the ball like I did," Matt Forte said after the game. "It showed great poise to forget about that and go down on that last drive like nothing happened, and then throw the game-winning touchdown."
Yet, as always, you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Cutler. He was great for stretches but we also saw plenty of the "gunslinger", which makes most Bears fans cringe. He fumbled the ball the only time he was sacked, which resulted in six the other way, and threw a pick in the red zone. Both of those plays could have proved extremely costly and if he can't curb those boneheaded mistakes, it will cost the Bears in a crucial matchup later in the season.
-Like last week, Cutler did a good job of spreading the ball around. Forte was targeted 11 times, Marshall 10 times, M. Bennett nine times and Alshon Jeffery five times. Even Earl Bennett saw a few targets.
"Going into the season I knew we had a lot of talent at the skill positions," Forte said. "It's only right that we spread the ball around to Alshon and Brandon and Martellus and me. It puts the load on all of us but at the same time, it's not a heavy load, like Brandon who had 1,000 catches last year."
-Matt Forte rushed 19 times for 90 yards (4.7 average). The game dictated more passing but Forte got his, leading the team with 11 receptions, on 11 targets, for 71 yards. The Vikings played a lot of Cover 2, which is designed to take away the deep ball. So Chicago's offense did took what the defense gave them, which resulted in Forte being a force on underneath routes.
"It's kind of just taking what is given," said Forte. "If they are going to drop in deep coverage like that, you're going to dump the ball off and get chunks of yardage [that way]."
-Through two games, The Black Unicorn has 10 catches for 105 yards and three touchdown receptions. To give you some perspective, Kellen Davis caught 19 passes for 229 yards and two TDs all of last year.
In Phil Emery's short time as general manager of the Bears, signing M. Bennett is easily the best personnel move he's made. Bennett not only holds his own as a blocker, but he is also a huge weapon for Cutler near the goal line. He had two red-zone touchdowns today, the second of which was a twisting catch near the pylon that Davis only makes in his dreams.
"It's hard to judge him because he is such a great blocker that sometimes you get caught up in, ‘Hey, we can get three out [in patterns],'" Cutler said. "He can lock down a defensive end. Then you see him run routes and you're like, ‘Man, we've got to throw him the ball.' You kind of have to use him on both avenues there. Whenever he's gotten opportunities to make plays, he's made some big ones for us."
-Through two weeks, Chicago's offensive line has allowed just one sack. There isn't a person on this planet who could have predicted such production. As a result, Cutler has produced two games with QB rating of 93 or better. In comparison, he had just five games in 2012 with a QB rating of 93 or better.
This is not a coincidence. Cutler is good when you give him time and his offensive line has shut down two straight top-tier pass-rush attacks. If it happens again next week, it will officially be a trend. That bodes very well for the passing attack this season.
-The final score may say the Bears gave up 30 points, but that's misleading in regard to the performance of the defense, as 14 points were scored on special teams and a fumble returned by Minnesota's defense for a score. Other than that, Chicago's defense allowed just two touchdowns and held the Vikings to just three red-zone field goals in the second half.
That includes a goal-line stand that kept the Bears within six points of the lead late in the fourth quarter. The Vikings started with 1st and goal at the six-yard line. Chicago's defense stuffed Adrian Peterson on first down and third down, which forced the field goal. It was an impressive performance by a defense that was noticeably gassed at that point in the game.
"In the fourth quarter, we rallied our troops together," Stephen Paea said. "We said, ‘Field goal at the worst.' We couldn't allow them to score a touchdown. If they score a touchdown on third down, that's game over. We showed up."
-Speaking of Peterson, he was able to gain 100 yards on the ground against Chicago's defense, yet he needed 26 carries to reach the century mark. He had a few nice runs in the second half, including a 36-yard scamper in which he broke a number of tackles, but for the most part the Bears kept him under wraps, which was key.
-The play of the game came during the second quarter. The Vikings tied the game up earlier in the quarter on Cutler's fumble. Then Cutler threw the end-zone interception, which gave the Vikings all of the momentum. At that point, things were looking bleak.
Four plays later, Ponder stared down receiver Jerome Simpson running a 20-yard stop route down the right sideline. Cornerback Tim Jennings broke hard on the ball, stepped in front of the wideout and intercepted the pass. He then streaked 44 yards to give the Bears a 21-14 lead.
"I definitely watched [Christian Ponder] the whole way," Jennings said after the game. "It looked like he was watching me the whole way. He let it rip and I was able to get a good break on the surface we had today. I was able to make a play and take it in for the score."
-For the second week in a row, Chicago's pass rush was able to get just one sack on the opposing quarterback. Corey Wootton picked it up this week on a play that was a borderline sack to begin with, as Ponder reached the line of scrimmage on his scramble. The lack of a consistent pass rush is concerning and must be fixed going forward.
-Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention Devin Hester, who had four kick returns in which he was one move away from scoring. On the day, he had 249 return yards, which is a franchise single-game record. His ability to give the offense good field position was huge in this game, as he repeatedly stunted Minnesota's momentum.
"[Hester was] a huge boost," said Forte. "If we don't get that field position, it's a different type of game that we played out there. That was heavily important for today."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.