A close, hard-fought battle in Week 4 brought the Chicago Bears its first win of 2015 over the Oakland Raiders. A truly gutsy performance by much-maligned quarterback Jay Cutler and an improved effort by the defense allowed Robbie Gould to kick the game-winning field goal with two seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a 22-20 win.
So far, it has been a tough season riddled by injuries to key players like Cutler, No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery and now starting center Will Montgomery, whom the Bears placed on IR this week. Yet although Jeffery wasn’t in action Sunday afternoon, the offense did just enough, riding Matt Forte's 25 carries and Martellus Bennett's 11 catches for 83 yards.
In Week 5 the Bears are trying to build off an emotional win but are heading into the NFL’s second loudest arena, Arrowhead Stadium, for a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
1. “Jay Cutler is… Tough”
After being traded in the 2009 offseason to the Bears, Cutler has been one of the most scrutinized players in the league. Over the years, national and local media alike have questioned Cutler’s toughness, commitment and dedication to his team, and most of all his decision making.
The narrative that Cutler is not tough or committed was put to final rest after Sunday’s gritty win. Just a week and a half after suffering a hamstring pull, the 32-year-old worked hard to come back from an injury that was once expected to sideline him for 3-5 weeks.
With a makeshift line, the absence of Jeffery, and a nowhere-near healthy hamstring, Cutler threw for 281 yards and two touchdowns, and guided the team on a 12-play game-winning drive in the game's final moments.
Final Verdict: Cutler has flaws but toughness and dedication to the game of football is not one of them. It’s time to put this narrative to rest.
2. “Who will Start at Center this Sunday?”
The million-dollar question going into Week 5. Veteran starter Will Montgomery is done for the year with a broken leg and although general manager Ryan Pace spent a third-round pick on Oregon standout Hroniss Grasu, the question remains: Is he ready to start?
Based on what he showed in the preseason: no. That might not matter, as the Bears may have no choice but to start Grasu, as Patrick Omameh has not practiced this week due to an ankle injury.
“I think [Grasu] is a very talented player," head coach John Fox said. "He’s a guy that is familiar with our offense. I think everyone in our locker room, or in our football building, has confidence in him. At some point, we will get to find out [if he's starting]”
Matt Slauson, the team’s starting left guard the past three years, slid into the center spot after Montgomery’s injury on the opening drive against the Raiders. Outside of two botched snaps, Slauson did a nice job filling in. Could he stay there this weekend heading into one of the league’s loudest stadiums? That appears most likely, as his experience and leadership has a lot of value at the pivot.
If Slauson does stay at center, either Omameh or Grasu will line up at left guard.
Final Verdict: Slauson better have a few beers, because it looks like he could be playing center for the near future. Without the endorsement of the head coach and a rough preseason, it’s hard to imagine Grasu getting the nod at center in a tough road game where communication will be paramount.
3. Can Marquess Wilson build off last week’s breakout game?
Wilson may be one of the most hyped seventh-round picks in recent memory. After red-shirting most of his rookie season, the 6-3 receiver was poised for a breakout season in 2014 before breaking his clavicle on a diving catch in training camp.
He had very little impact the last half of 2014, as well as the first three games this year. Most had all but written Wilson off.
Sunday’s performance - six catches on nine targets for 80 yards, including a big sideline grab on the game's final drive - showed more than just ability. It also showed that Wilson can overcome adversity. After a brutal drop on the last drive of the game, Cutler kept his trust in Wilson and found him for two more impactful catches, which led to Gould’s game-winning field goal.
With Jeffery expected back soon, can Wilson continue to build off his Week 4 effort?
Final Verdict: Due to his track record, it’s best not to get your hopes up just yet. Wilson has yet to string together any consistency outside of training camp, so the coming weeks will be big for him and his role moving forward.
What to watch this week:
- Will defensive linemen Jeremiah Ratliff make his 2015 season debut this weekend? Reports remain optimistic that this could be the week but Fox will be in no hurry to rush him back, especially with the play of Jarvis Jenkins - who leads the team with 3.0 sacks - and Eddie Goldman - who has been very good against the run and picked up his first career sack last week.
- Just how good was GM Ryan Pace’s free-agent pickup of OLB Pernell McPhee? With 2.0 sacks and 13 QB hurries, 6th most amongst 3-4 outside linebackers per Pro Football Focus, McPhee has been a great find so far. Jenkins has not been far behind, as well, which gives the Bears two rock-solid veterans around whom they can build their defensive front.
- Is this the week that Alshon Jeffery returns to the lineup? After missing the last three weeks with calf and hamstring issues, Jeffery has been limited in practice this week. My gut says he'll do everything he can to get on the field against one of the league's worst passing defenses.