The Day After: Week 9

The Chicago Bears did what few thought they could, picking up a 27-20 win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. Here are 10 observations from the crucial victory.

Raise your hand if you picked the Chicago Bears to beat the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football, without both Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs, at Lambeau Field, in your office pick ‘em pool.

Now let me be the first to call you a liar.

The Bears last night pulled off one of their most improbable wins in recent history. Double-digit underdogs coming into the game, Chicago used an all-around team effort to overcome injuries and raise their record to 5-3 on the year. With the victory, the Bears are now tied with the Packers and Lions for first place in the NFC North.

Here are 10 observations about Chicago's Week 9 performance.

North Shakeup

When Shea McClellin drove Aaron Rodgers into the turf to finish off Green Bay's first drive of the contest, little did anyone know that would also finish Rodgers' night. He never returned to the game after the hit and it's being reported that he has a fractured collarbone and will miss three weeks. The Packers have not announced any official news about the injury or his return timetable.

In his place, Green Bay trotted out 33-year-old Seneca Wallace, whose performance (11 of 19, 114 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) left a lot to be desired. The Packers are banged up on defense as well, with two more linebackers going down last night, on top of the already injured Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Offensively, Green Bay's receiving corps are in shambles, with Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley likely done for the season, and James Jones less than 100 percent.

Now with Rodgers out, the Packers instantly go from being one of the toughest teams in the NFC down to the basement. Without the best quarterback in the league carrying them, Green Bay will struggle. If they lose their next three games with their All-Pro signal caller on the sidelines, which is entirely possible, that would essentially knock Green Bay out of the playoffs.

Which makes this week's contest between the Bears and the Detroit Lions one of the utmost significance. The Lions defeated the Bears already this year and hold the tiebreaker, yet Chicago can nullify that with a win at Soldier Field on Sunday, while also putting themselves a game ahead in the division. In the long-term view of the season, this week's game could decide which team makes the playoffs and which team will watch the postseason from home.

Fourth-Down Stones

Few coaches in the NFL will go for it on fourth down at their own 32-yard line. Even fewer will do it while nursing a four-point lead. Even fewer will do it with less than four minutes to play in a crucial division matchup. And even fewer would do it on the road.

There's a reason why Marc Trestman was known as the Bill Belichick of the Canadian Football League and calls like that one show why. His gutsy decision, which showed supreme confidence in his players, sealed the game for the Bears, allowing the offense to drain nine of the game's final 10 minutes and preserve the victory.

"I can't say that there was great analytical reasoning involved," Trestman said after the game. "It was a sense that we needed to stay on the field and I felt that we could and that is what we did. I knew that one way or the other I wouldn't look back and regret the decision that was made."

If that play taught us anything, it's that Trestman is not your typical head coach and he'll fly in the face of conventional wisdom if he feels it's in the team's best interest.

One Big Block

The fourth-down run was intended to go off-tackle left. Yet Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk shot the gap and forced Matt Forte to bounce outside. Hawk had a clear path to the ball carrier and was about to bring Forte down in the backfield. Yet just as Hawk was about to make a game-changing tackle, fullback Tony Fiammetta, who was leading the play, turned back and clipped the linebacker. This gave Forte just enough space to turn the ball up-field and pick up the first down.

This was the play of the game by Fiammetta. If he doesn't recognize Hawk and turn back his block, the Packers would have gotten the ball back inside the Bears' 30-yard line. Yet Fiammatta, who has gotten incrementally better as the season's progressed, showed amazing awareness and singlehandedly kept the play alive. Without that crucial block, it's safe to assume Chicago would have lost the game.

Set-Up Man

Most have already forgotten about the play before that fourth-down conversion, the one that put the Bears just inches from a first down. It was an out pass to tight end Martellus Bennett in the left flat. He caught the pass at the line of scrimmage, had a defender barreling in on him and needed nine yards for the first. As he made the catch, it looked as if Chicago would be forced to punt.

Yet Bennett stopped in his tracks and let the defender fly past him. He then rumbled six yards before plowing through three would-be tacklers and dove for the marker. It was a close call, one the Bears might have been able to overturn had Trestman challenged the play.

Without Bennett's individual effort on this play, Chicago's offense would have been forced to punt, which would have put the shaky defense back on the field to win the game. We saw against the Redskins how that might have turned out.

Bennett had just four catches for 36 yards but he came up big when the team needed him most and was very good as a blocker all night. His teammates get most of the accolades but Bennett deserves much of the praise as well.

Best 1-2 Punch in the NFC

Speaking of Bennett's teammates, is there a better 1-2 wide receiver combination in the NFC than Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. We all know what Marshall, a four-time Pro Bowler, can do. His performance last night (7 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD) was just par for the course for one of the best wideouts in the NFL.

Yet that stat line would not have come to fruition if not for the play of Jeffery, who could be the No. 1 receiver on more than half the teams in the league right now. Last year, the Packers held Marshall in check because they feared no one else in Chicago's passing attack. With Jeffery performing at a high level (5 catches, 60 yards, 1 TD last night) the Packers couldn't roll coverage to Marshall on every play, which gave him the room he needed to make plays.

If these two continue to play like they have all season, it won't matter who is under center for the Bears, as he'll be throwing to the best wide receiver combo in the NFC.

Offensive Line Dominates

The Packers came into MNF with the fourth-ranked run defense in the league, allowing just 83.6 yards on the ground per contest. Chicago rolled up 171 yards rushing, with Matt Forte leading the way (24 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD). Forte was very good in making defenders miss but he had some very nice holes through which to run, so credit goes to the offensive line for overpowering a defensive front seven that has been dominant this season.

In pass protection, the front five was again stellar. Josh McCown had time to throw the entire contest and was sacked just once for a 1-yard loss.

"We keep getting better and better," Roberto Garza said after the game. "Obviously, Josh getting rid of the football makes us look good. Tight ends did a good job, receivers got open and running backs stepped in. The guys have a lot of trust in each other."

Trestman and coordinator Aaron Kromer, as well as the quarterbacks and skill position players, all deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround of Chicago's offense this season. Yet none of that is possible without the play of the offensive line, which has been superb since Week 1.

Ends Arrive

The Bears have given up points at a historic rate this season, due in large part to the lack of a pass rush. Julius Peppers appeared over the hill and Shea McClellin had been a bust.

Yet against Green Bay, those two played like Pro Bowlers. Peppers showed good burst from the opening whistle and his interception, on a pass he tipped to himself, was one of the most athletic plays of the night.

Yet it was McClellin who truly impacted the game. Not only did he knock Rodgers out of the contest but he also finished with three sacks, which matched his career total coming into the game. Without his pressure off the edge, the outcome would have been much different.

"We definitely felt a lot of pressure, and we needed a game like this where we stepped up," said McClellin. "It was a team win."

Lost Linebackers

The Bears started two rookie linebackers, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, on Monday night and the Packers rolled up 199 yards on the ground. This comes a few weeks after the Redskins pounded out 209 rushing yards.

Greene and Bostic made numerous mistakes against the run, filling incorrect gaps and running themselves out of plays. Both players had some good stops but overall, their run fits need a lot of work. On both of Green Bay's big runs – James Starks' 32-yard TD and Eddie Lacy's 32-yard jaunt, which set up the second TD – there wasn't a linebacker to be found.

Yet blame needs to go to James Anderson, who played as poorly as his rookie teammates. Anderson was on the field for the entire game and was also out of position more often than not. On top of that, he let a crucial late-game interception go right through his hands. With Briggs out, Anderson must play better if the Bears are to have any chance stopping opposing rushing attacks.

Without a Net

The Bears have the worst safeties in the NFL, and it's not even close. Against Green Bay, both Major Wright and Chris Conte were amazingly horrible. Their angles to the ball are almost always wrong and neither player can tackle. On Starks' TD run, Conte came up in support but then stood and watched the runner go by him. And on Lacy's big run, Conte again took a poor angle and let the ball carrier fly past.

At some point, coordinator Mel Tucker has to get these two off the field. Is there any chance Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters, two guys with starting experience, can be worse?

If Conte and Wright continue to start, the Bears will continue to struggle on defense all year, which could cost them a shot at the playoffs.

Stay Seated Jay

It was reported before the game that Jay Cutler intends on playing this week against Detroit. After McCown's performance last night, it might be a good idea for the Bears to err on the side of caution with Cutler. With McCown proving he can move the offense consistently, there's no reason to risk putting Cutler back on the field if he's not completely healed. If he's anything less than 100 percent, Cutler should sit.


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.

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