Jay Cutler led the Chicago Bears to their third fourth-quarter comeback of the season in last night's 22-19 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Cutler's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller with 3:19 left to play put the Bears on top for good. Cutler finished 27 of 40 for 345 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, good for a 100.5 QB rating, his highest passer rating in any game he's finished this season. The Bears were 9 for 15 on third downs, and converted all five third downs in their final two drives. Cutler is now fourth in the NFL in third-down passer rating, behind only Josh McCown, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady. Cutler's two turnovers agains the Chargers - one interception, one lost fumble - was the first time he's had more than one turnover in any contest this year, although Alshon Jeffery took full responsibility for the miscommunication on the interception. If it weren't for the fumble, this would have been an "A" worthy contest from Cutler, who continues to improve and develop under coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
Running Back: A
Coming into the game, there were many who questioned whether or not rookie Jeremy Langford could handle a starter's load in the backfield. Langford quickly erased those concerns, rushing 18 times for 72 yards and a TD, while adding 70 receiving yards on three catches, which included an outstanding 31-yard diving grab in the second quarter. "Wide receivers have a tough time on that catch," head coach John Fox said after the game. Not only did Langford post 142 yards from scrimmage but he was exceptional in pass protection too and had a number of quality blitz pickups. Ka'Deeem Carey actually started the game and finished with 28 rushing yards on 7 carries. Even third stringer Antone Smith gained 11 yards on his lone carry. Bears running backs ran a combined 26 times for 111 yards (4.2 yards per carry). Langford's breakout performance may make it much easier for the Bears to part ways with Matt Forte at the end of the season.
Wide Receiver: A-
Alshon Jeffery continued his dominant ways against a banged up Chargers secondary, which lost two starters before halftime. Time after time, Jeffery bailed out Cutler and the offense with crucial catches at the game's biggest moments. Jeffery finished with a team-high 10 catches on 16 targets for 151 yards. It was Jeffery's third straight 100-yard receiving performance, the first time in his career he's accomplished the feat. During that three-game stretch, he's accumulated 28 catches for 414 yards and 2 TDs. The rest of the club's wideouts combined for just four catches against San Diego, although Marc Mariani had an important 3rd-down grab that kept the Bears' game-winning drive alive.
Tight End: A+
To almost no one's surprise, Martellus Bennett shined under the bright lights of national television. After complaining this week about his lack of use - despite the fact he's Chicago's most targeted pass catcher - Bennett rose to the occassion with 8 catches on 9 targets for 57 yards and a first quarter touchdown. Yet Zach Miller stole the show with his one-handed circus grab that resulted in the game-winning touchdown. On a seam route from the San Diego 25-yard line, Miller cleared the linebacker and Cutler fired a ball that had flames shooting out of its back. The pass was high and slightly behind Miller, who stuck out one hand and sucked in the missile. It was one of the most spectacular catches by a Bears player in recent history and resulted in a touchdown that put the Bears ahead for good. Not to be overlooked was Miller's lead block on Langford's touchdown run, during which he paved the way for the score.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line consisted of the same starters as last week, which included Charles Leno at left tackle, despite the fact Jermon Bushrod was healthy and dressed. Obviously, the Bears have made a change up front, choosing the younger Leno over the veteran Bushrod to protect Cutler's blind side. Leno promptly gave up a sack that resulted in a turnover, yet overall, he had a quality outing against a dangerous pass rusher in Melvin Ingram. The remaining four starters did not give up a single sack and helped the running backs to more the 4.2 yards per carry. This was a strong outing for a front five that has been painfully inconsistent all season.
Defensive Line: C+
The interior of Chicago's defensive line picked up just two total QB hurries and no QB hits against Phillip Rivers. Even against an offensive line without two of its starters, the Bears could not collapse the pocket in the face of the quarterback. The Chargers also averaged 4.1 yards per carry on the ground, although the front three did a good job containing running back Melvin Gordon, who averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. This is a depleted unit, so we're going to be disappointed if we expect top-tier play from Chicago's D-line each week.
Outside Linebacker: B+
Pernell McPhee garnered a lot of attention from the Chargers and was routinely chipped and double teamed on passing downs. Despite the constant stream of extra blockers, McPhee led the team in QB hurries (4) and QB hits (3). He got knocked on his butt a couple of times, which was surprising, but overall, McPhee had his typical productive outing. The Bears wanted to pressure Rivers, so Willie Young started in place of Sam Acho. After playing just 7 snaps last week, Young played 49 snaps against the Chargers (compared to Acho's 18) and picked up 4 QB hurries of his own. Yet the biggest impact came from Lamarr Houston, who played a position-low 17 snaps, yet picked up 2.0 enormous sacks in San Diego's final drive. Houston and Young combined for 11 reps against Minnesota in Week 8, yet bounced back in a big way on MNF, which is a great sign for Chicago's pass rush going forward. Acho gave up the touchdown to Danny Woodhead, otherwise this unit would have earned an "A" rating.
Inside Linebacker: B-
There were a lot of missed assignments by Chicago's inside linebackers, yet this was a resilient group that made big plays when the defense needed them. Jonathan Anderson took over for Christian Jones as the primary play caller. Anderson stayed on the field in nickel situations as well and played 69 of a possible 70 snaps last night. He finished with a team-high 12 combined tackles. If there's one area in which Anderson must improve it's as a blitzer, where he was dangerously hesitant all night. Jones played 53 snaps and played very well against the run, showing good burst and physicality at the point of attack. He struggled to keep pace with Danny Woodhead in coverage but still picked up a pass breakup and recovered Dontrelle Inman's fumble in the second quarter. LaRoy Reynolds, who was part of the ILB rotation the past two weeks, played just four snaps. It appears he has been phased out.
This was as easy an assignment for Chicago's secondary as they'll see all season, as the Chargers were without Keenan Allen and lost Malcom Floyd in the first quarter. With Stevie Johnson their only viable option, the Chargers could not sustain their passing attack. Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller started, with Bryce Callahan in the slot. All three played well, with Porter and Callahan picking up a PBU, while Fuller was outstanding as a tackler in open space. Porter also forced a fumble in the second quarter and held Johnson to just 68 yards on 7 catches. It's too early to say Chicago's cornerbacks have turned the corner but it was good to see them dominate against an undermatched opponent, something that should give them confidence going forward.
Antonio Gates had just six catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns, thanks in large part to the play of Chicago's safeties, who did a good job corraling one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the league. Antrel Rolle is a competent back-end leader who rarely makes mistakes, while Adrian Amos is developing into a potential stud. Against San Diego he continued to display his willigness and physicality in run support, while laying the lumber on receivers after the catch. Amos has rapidly developed into a bona fide starter, and with Rolle at his side, the Bears have finally found a competent safety pairing. That only took 12 years.
John Fox: A-
For the third time this year, Fox's crew has fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit to earn victory. The Chargers are a bad team with one of the most extensive injury lists in the league. Yet winning any NFL contest on the road should not be discounted due to the talent level of the opponent. The Bears found a way to pull out a victory in a prime-time game on the West Coast. Fox deserves credit for having them ready to play and for not allowing them to give up.
Adam Gase: B
Gase has found a winning formula in Chicago: lean heavily on the run game and use Cutler as a game manager. The Bears passed the ball 40 times but that's an inflated number due to the urgency to score in the fourth quarter. Yet Gase still called 26 run plays, showing once again his continued commitment to the rushing attack. Unfortunately for the Bears, Gase does not have a firm grasp on what it takes to score inside the opponent's 20-yard line. The Bears were just 2-for-4 in red zone efficiency last night, which has been a problem for Gase and the offense all season. Until they straighten out their red-zone woes, the Bears' offense will never reach its potential.
Vic Fangio: B+
The Chargers came into the game with the NFL's No. 1 overall offense and passing attack, and the Bears held them to just 19 points and 280 yards through the air. Again, injuries at the receiver position made it tough for the Chargers to sustain drives through the air, yet Chicago's defense deserves credit for a job well done. The one area in which the defense struggled was pressure from blitz packages, which just could not get home. Fangio needs to go back to the drawing board if the Bears are going to have success with five- and six-man rushe packages.