The Chicago Bears had lost two games in a row heading into yesterday’s contest against the Atlanta Falcons. In both losses the offense collapsed in the second half, scoring just three points combined.
On Sunday, in a tie game at the Georgia Dome and having already gone three-and-out to start the third quarter, it appeared the offense was headed for another meltdown.
The Falcons had scored 10 unanswered points to start the second half and momentum had shifted completely to the side of the home team, bringing life to a crowd that had been dormant the entire first half.
Jay Cutler and Chicago’s offense lined up for a 2nd and 10 at their own 20-yard line. Cutler faked a handoff up the middle then dropped back seven steps in the backfield. He scanned up the field and stepped into a throw that shot out of his hand like a cannon.
On the other end of the field, receiver Alshon Jeffery was behind the defense, running alone near the Atlanta 20-yard line. Cutler’s pass flew 60 yards through the air, right into Jeffery’s gut.
The receiver caught the pass and was dragged down at the Falcons’ 6-yard line. One play later, running back Matt Forte scored his first rushing touchdown of the season, giving the Bears a seven-point lead they never relinquished.
“We called it the play before but I flipped it,” Cutler said after the game. “I called it wrong so [head coach Marc Trestman] dialed it up again and we got the look to his side, safety was low, so I just had to wait for Alshon to get out there. He did a great job. I could’ve put a little more on it and he probably would’ve scored.”
The play was designed to pressure the safeties, using Brandon Marshall to fill the deep zone on a post route, which allowed Jeffery to beat the defense deep.
“The protection [was crucial] because it was a bog drop,” Trestman said. “We had Brandon on a diagonal and we had Alshon on a deep, we call it a ‘pylon’, route. More than anything it was the protection. Alshon split the safeties, they were in a shell coverage, he split the safeties and really the ball could have gone to either guy. Alshon got open deep and Brandon was open on the crossing route.”
It was a game-changing play that not only helped the Bears secure their third victory of the season but it helped curb a disturbing second-half trend.
“It was big momentum swing there,” said Cutler. “We came into it knowing that we were going to have to get some chunks. We weren’t going to be able to dink and dunk. Trest did a good job of installing the game plan and then dialing up some shots so we could push the ball a little bit.”
For his part, Jeffery said the protection from the offensive line was key in the big completion.
“Give credit to the O-line, that’s who made the play,” said Jeffery. “Jay threw it and I caught it but our O-line held up and gave us a chance.”
The 74-yard completion was crucial in the context of Week 6 but it may have also saved the Bears’ season. It pulled the offense, as well as the team, out of its two-game slide and kept the club within one game of the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
“That huge bomb to Alshon took the momentum back,” Jared Allen said. “Once we got the lead, we had to take it. I thought we had some good situational advantages and when we got in those we were able to take advantage of them.”
If the Bears climb out of their current hole and find their way into the playoffs, we may all look back at the Cutler-to-Jeffery bomb as the play that flipped Chicago’s season.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.