Good as Gould
Robbie Gould was absolutely critical in the Chicago Bears' 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. Not only did Chicago's kicker connect on a 46-yard field goal to end the first half, cutting Baltimore's lead to just four points, but he also won the game for his team with a 38-yarder in overtime.
"That's your job is to make plays," Gould said after the game. "I put it right where I wanted to put it and thank God it was inside the upright."
His performance is even more exceptional given the severe winds and muddy conditions at Soldier Field following a rainstorm that delayed the game nearly two hours.
"The wind was definitely moving a lot more toward the end of the game," said Gould. "I hit it right where I wanted to hit it. I hit it good and when it left my foot I thought it was good. Thank God I gave myself a couple of extra inches."
Gould credited his teammates for their work in getting a clean snap and hold, as well as keeping the Ravens out of the backfield.
"[The execution] was great. The guys were awesome," he said. "They did a great job holding, snapping, blocking. They've been doing a great job all year. To have Jeremy [Cain] come in here and do what he's done here the last couple of weeks has been pretty amazing, especially given the conditions."
With the wind pushing the ball, Gould's kick barely cleared the right upright but it was good enough to give Chicago its sixth win of the season and propel them into a tie for first place in the NFC North. It was the 11th game-winning kick of Gould's career and one that will give him even more leverage when the soon-to-be-free-agent sits down at the negotiating table next offseason.
Three in the Back Pocket
With the Bears nursing a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the Ravens executed a drive that put them in Chicago's red zone with less than two minutes to play. Marc Trestman had all three timeouts to use in order to save time in case Baltimore scored a go-ahead touchdowns. Yet Trestman let those timeouts sit in his back pocket, never once seeing the value in leaving his offense time to drive down the field for a game-winning touchdown or field goal. The Ravens were going to get three points either way, so extending the clock would have been the only way to win the game in regular time. But for some reason, Trestman chose to let the clock run.
He offered very little explanation for it in his post-game press conference.
"We didn't see the value in calling a timeout," he said.
Trestman mismanaged last week's game against the Detroit Lons and followed that up by this curious decision (and explanation). It's too early to fairly judge him as a game manager, considering he's never before been an NFL head coach. Bears fans just need to hope he learns from his recent mistakes.
Ice Water Melting
Previous to Baltimore's final drive of regular time, Chicago's offense had a chance to put the game away. On a 4th and 1 play from the Ravens 44-yard line, with less than five minutes to play in the game, Trestman opted to punt. A few week ago, Trestman sealed a win over the Green Bay Packers with a gutsy 4th-and-1 call from his own 32-yard line. Yet against Baltimore, he chose to take the safe route – or as some call it, the Lovie Smith route.
"Fourth and one, based on the way our defense had been playing we were up by three points, I thought we didn't want to lose field position with them going into the wind," Trestman said.
Yet that's exactly what happened, as Chicago's porous defense, as has been the case all season, allowed the opponent to execute a late-game scoring drive. Had it not been for an exceptional goal-line stand, the decision to punt would have lost the game for the Bears.
The Bears were penalized 15 times in Sunday's contest, which is a season-high by a large margin. Penalties came from all three phases, ranging from horse collars, neutral zone infractions, holding calls and more. There was even an offside call on a kickoff, the second time this year Chicago has incurred such a penalty.
Coming into the game, the Bears were one of the least-penalized teams in the league but it was mess out there yesterday.
"We had too many penalties," Trestman said. "Too many pre-snap penalties today that really inhibited our ability to function as well as we would like."
Five of those penalties were called on Zack Bowman, who started at cornerback for the injured Charles Tillman, picking up two pass interference calls and a horse collar. He also had two penalties on special teams. His worst infraction came after the Bears had forced Baltimore into a three-and-out on the final drive of the game. Yet Bowman's horse collar kept the drive alive and nearly cost Chicago the victory.
"You can't worry about what the officials call," Bowman said. "He called what he called. I respect the man's call. I just moved on to the next play."
Blame this game on the weather, which made footing extremely difficult, but the Bears nearly allowed a mediocre Ravens team to come into Soldier Field and hand them their second straight home loss. Much of that had to do with penalties, for which a good team will make them pay.
Two Plays to Victory
Yesterday's win was a team victory in every sense of the term but two plays truly stood out ones that led to the win.
The first came in the second quarter with the Bears trailing 10-3. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked for a receiver in the right flat but defensive end David Bass had other plans. Bass jumped up and snatched the pass out of midair. He was then able to corral it and took off for the end zone. The pick-six tied the game at a time when Baltimore had all of the momentum.
"It's tackle down. My initial read was to close," Bass said. "After that, I saw the fullback and the running back came. The fullback went to the flat and the running back came to cut. I didn't see the quarterback do a legitimate play action. I was told to beat the cut to the outside, so I can keep contain. When I saw him throw it, I just threw my hands up.
"It's definitely a confidence booster. As a rookie, there's a lot of learning you've got to do. You know, focus on your fundamentals and techniques every day. I was just going out there and play my role, do my responsibility. When you make a play like that, that's huge. It allows you to relax and feel good about yourself."
The other key play came in overtime. After just one catch for five yards in regulation, tight end Martellus Bennett took off down the right seam against man coverage. McCown threw it up for his big receiver and Bennett made the leaping grab. He threw the defender to the ground, then stiff armed the safety for even more yards. He was finally dragged down at the Baltimore 35-yard after the 43-yard catch and run. Three plays later, the game was won.
"My whole thing is I don't want to be a JAG, which is Just a Guy," Bennett said. "It's easy to become that in this offense when you have guys like Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, you kind of go down the list and say, ‘where do I fall in there?' You really just want to make plays."
Bennett finished the game with just two catches for 48 yards but his overtime grab was the play of the game.
Peppers on the Comeback
Through seven games this season, defensive end Julius Peppers had just 15 total tackles and 1.0 sack. In the past three contests, Peppers has 14 tackles, 3.0 sacks, two passes defended and an interception.
After yesterday's 11-tackle, two-sack performance, there's definitely reason for excitement about Peppers, who can be dominant when he's playing at his best. It will be absolutely critical for him to maintain his current level of play, as two more starters, DT Stephen Paea and CB Tim Jennings, were knocked out of yesterday's contest.
The only chance Chicago's defense has at this point is for Peppers to beast up and be a force off the edge. Otherwise, opposing offenses are going to carve up a Bears defensive unit comprised almost entirely of backups.
Tale of Two Run Games
The Ravens came into yesterday's matchup with the worst ranked rushing offense in the league. Averaging just 73.0 yards per contest, Baltimore hadn't been able to run on anyone. So leave it up to the Bears to allow 174 yards on the ground, 131 by Ray Rice, who had just 289 total rushing yards coming in to the game. After averaging 2.5 yards per carry as Baltimore's full-time workhorse back, Rice plowed over Chicago's defense at 5.2 yards per clip.
It's really a broken record at this point, as everyone runs on the Bears. Over the past four games, Chicago's defense has given up 699 rushing yards, which is the worst in the league during that span. And there's no end in sight, as the team's best run stopper, nose tackle Stephen Paea, re-aggravated his turf toe injury yesterday.
Protection Leads to Production
The Ravens did get two sacks but both were on Josh McCown scrambles, combining for just one lost yard. Otherwise, McCown was clean for most of the contest, which allowed him to be efficient in the pocket. He completed 19 of 31 pass attempts for 216 yard and one touchdown, good for a 92.9 passer rating. More importantly, he didn't throw a single interception, which is phenomenal given the wind and footing conditions.
"Just a terrific job by Josh and our entire team," said Trestman. "Our guys taking care of the football. We talked about it just before we went out; the team that took care of the football on a difficult day, the team that was able to create a turnover or two would be in it in the fourth quarter and have a chance to win. And we did."
McCown said ball security was always in the back of his mind.
"That's the main thing when you're in the wind," said McCown. "You know what type of ballgame it's going to be. You know what kind of defense you're playing. Baltimore is a very, very good defense. We talked about it this week with you guys – we were concerned because they were probably as good as we've faced. For me, add the elements to it – there was a heightened sense of ball security. Marc and I talked about that before the game – wanting to get out of this thing on the plus side of it on turnovers. We were able to do that and we were able to protect the ball. I'm proud of everyone involved for getting that done."
Chicago's front seven has been decimated by injury this year, which is why defensive end Cheta Ozougwu was elevated to the 53-man roster on Saturday and activated on Sunday. Not only was Ozougwu active but he was on the field for 19 snaps against the Ravens, including 12 pass-rush attempts, which is his specialty.
Late in the game, Ozougwu shined.
With the Bears down four points, the Ravens lined up for a 4th and 8 at the Chicago 32-yard line. Flacco dropped back to pass and Ozougwu beat his man around the edge. He closed on Flacco from behind and knocked the ball loose. He then recovered the fumble, giving the offense the ball at the 39-yard line. It was an outstanding play by an inexperienced player looking to make an impact, similar to that of Bass.
"They're doing a good job developing," Peppers said. "We're getting them out there a lot in practice to get some reps, and in the games a little more. We need those guys to make plays for us and they're coming around and doing it."
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.