No one gave the Chicago Bears a chance heading into the Week 1 regular-season opener against the Green Bay Packers. For a Bears team undergoing major transitions on both sides of the football, a meeting with a Super Bowl contender to start the season had most predicting a blowout.
Yet the Bears came out this afternoon and played at a high level for most of the contest. Chicago was leading 13-10 at halftime and had a number of opportunities to secure a win in the final two stanzas. Unfortunately for the Bears, the Packers made about three plays more than the home team, which now puts the Monsters of the Midway at 0-1 to start the season.
Let's break down the Bears players who exceeded expectations in the opener and those who failed to leave it all out on the field.
RB Matt Forte
True to his word, Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase stayed committed to the run game throughout the contest, with Matt Forte rushing 24 times for 141 yards - which would have been his single-game high in rushing yards last season. Forte showed power between the tackles and good burst on stretch runs. Forte also had five catches for 25 yards and rushing score. For a 29-year-old many assumed would begin to decline this season, Forte today looked about as good as he ever has and will surely carry Chicago's offense going forward.
WR Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery has practiced just three times, in limited fashion, since Aug. 12. Yet he came out this afternoon and led all Bears players in targets (11), receptions (5) and receiving yards (78). He didn't appear too hampered by the injury, although he didn't show his trademark downfield burst, something that should return in time. After sitting on the sidelines so long, Jeffery's performance today was very encouraging in terms of his value and potential production going forward.
S Adrian Amos
In his first NFL start, rookie Adrian Amos had a solid outing. He finished fourth on the team with five combined tackles, including a tackle for loss. He did not get beat in man coverage and did a good job of keeping the Green Bay offense in front of him. Most impressive was his willingness and aggression in run support, where he took good tackling angles and was sound in the open field.
LBs Shea McClelin and Christian Jones
In their first starts as 3-4 inside linebackers, both Shea McClellin and Christian Jones played well. They combined for 15 total tackles and helped hold Packers RB Eddie Lacy to just 85 yards on 19 carries. Chicago's young linebackers are still works in progress but this was an outing upon which both players can build.
CB Alan Ball
The Packers signed WR James Jones this week after he was cut by the New York Giants. Jones is 31 and probably won't be in the league next year, yet Alan Ball made him look like the second coming of Randy Moss. Jones caught four passes for 51 yards, including two touchdowns, all of which came with Ball in coverage. As I saw in training camp, Ball lacked awareness, balance and timing, and Jones had his way with him. If Ball continues to play at this level, he won't last long in the starting lineup.
QB Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler actually played a smart, efficient game unitl the fourth quarter. With 8:14 left in the game the Bears had first and goal from the 6-yard line. Passes were called four straight plays - which is a red-zone problem in and of itself - and he was unable to get the ball into the end zone. The defense forced a Packers 3-and-out on the following drive, yet Cutler could not capitalize, instead throwing a game-clinching interception to Clay Matthews as the Bears were heading in for a potential game-tying drive. If Cutler and the offense had been able to score on just one of those drives, the Bears would have had a legitimate chance at victory.
OLB Pernell McPhee
The Bears spent a lot of money this off-season on Pernell McPhee because of his ability as a pass rusher. Yet McPhee and Chicago's defense failed to not only sack Rodgers but they never even hit Green Bay's quarterback. That's not all on McPhee, who had a pair of QB hurries on the first drive, but he certainly did not have an impact requisite to the size of his contract. When the Bears needed a stop, Rodgers either had all day to throw or he was able to easily slip out of the pocket. That's on McPhee and the rest of Chicago's non-existent pass rush.
WR Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal was supposed to add an element of quickness to the Bears' offense but he failed to have any impact in the opener. He caught just one pass for eight yards and had to leave the game to get tested for a concussion. Royal had two red-zone passes thrown his way and he came down with neither. Overall he was invisible out there and in no way served as Cutler's security blanket, like so many predicted Royal would.