Noots' Notes

The Bears (7-3) won their sixth consecutive game, snapping the Carolina Panthers' win streak at six. The Bears dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage, allowing no sacks while sacking Jake Delhomme eight times.


OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Kyle Orton (15-26-136, TD, INT) was very impressive against the best defense the Bears have faced all season. The overthrown passes that plagued him since the Cincinnati game were gone. He put the ball on his receivers in good time throughout the contest. His one interception was a pass that was slightly behind Muhsin Muhammad, which could just have easily been caught. Orton's overall numbers are misleading. The Bears' receivers dropped six passes. Among them was a sure touchdown to Muhammad. Orton did connect with Muhammad for a 3-yard touchdown pass. His timing was especially good on the short routes to the sidelines to Justin Gage and Muhammad. He was able to hit his receivers early enough for them to continue moving forward, and either break tackles or make people miss. This was a statement game for the Bears in many ways. In the middle of it all was Orton, who was a model of efficiency when the Bears needed it most and against a pair of cornerbacks as talented as any in the league. GRADE: B+

Running Backs

Thomas Jones (25/87) returned to action after missing last week's game to rest his sore ribs. Jones played well. He was facing the second-ranked rushing defense in the league. Most of his yards were tough runs where he made a defender miss behind the line and eked out four yards. He made some excellent cutbacks as well. Overall, it wasn't the kind of game-breaking performance that many have come to expect, but he was the kind of steadying force that allowed Kyle Orton to continually see third down and five yards instead of ten or more. Adrian Peterson (4/37) was given a series to show off his fresh legs, and to keep Jones well-rested. Peterson picked up where he left off a week ago, ripping off nine and nineteen-yard gains to lead a drive from the Bears' own 16-yard line into plus territory. Bryan Johnson (2-6) had a decent overall game that was only marred by a holding penalty. The Panthers lost linebacker Dan Morgan early in the contest to a leg injury. Overall, the backs did just enough to keep the Panthers off the field. GRADE: B

Receivers

Muhsin Muhammad (6-49, TD) struggled through a personally emotional game, facing his former teammates. He held on for a 3-yard touchdown reception and also made someone miss on a short route but failed to catch four different passes that were on his hands. One of them, along the left sideline and between two defenders, could have been forgiven. However, he dropped a perfectly thrown post route in the end zone, and then bobbled a slant that the defense came away with for an interception. Justin Gage (7-81) had a marvelous game. He caught everything Orton threw at him. He used his body to shield defenders well on the slants and skinny posts. He then showed great body control in making a leaping, twisting catch along the sideline. Gage kept his feet in bounds as he came down, and held onto the ball as he was getting hit. Carolina reviewed the play and the ruling on the field was upheld. Perhaps the more impressive part of Gage's performance was his blocking. He ensured Muhammad was able to get positive yardage on the hitch routes by erasing the inside defender every time. Tight end Desmond Clark had two drops, but also made a key block for an off tackle run by Jones for 8 yards. As a group, the drops are difficult to forgive. They literally took points off the board. The blocking helped offset the shortcomings. GRADE: D+

Offensive Line

Fred Miller returned from the fractured jaw he suffered at the hands of teammate Olin Kreutz. Miller stymied Julius Peppers on the right side, while John Tait kept Michael Rucker at bay on the left. Looking at his entire game (run blocking and pass blocking), John Tait is playing at a near Pro Bowl level. As a unit, the offensive line did well to keep Kyle Orton from being sacked. The Panthers had registered 24 sacks through their first nine games. Saying Orton wasn't sacked doesn't say enough. Orton was barely touched. Guards Ruben Brown and Terrence Metcalf committed false starts, as did Miller. However, the guards and center Olin Kreutz walled off at the point of attack so Jones and Peterson could either force yardage behind them or make cutbacks to pick up solid gains. The play of the line was very encouraging. Their ability to turn back the challenge of the Panthers front four could be a launching pad for future contests. The next one will be against Tampa Bay, who the Bears play next week. GRADE: B+


DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Although the yardage and points totals the Bears' defense has been allowing have been top notch, at no point before Sunday had anyone taken seriously any comparisons to the 1985 Bears. One reason was because they hadn't really faced a top offense and performed at a high level. Another was because the sack totals hadn't been especially high. They put it all together on Sunday. The Panthers, who averaged 28 points per game and had only allowed 12 sacks, were sacked 8 times and held to only 3 points. All 8 sacks came from the defensive line. Adewale Ogunleye (4 tackles, 3 sacks, PD) led the charge with three. He did commit a facemask penalty but it was because he was engaged with a blocker and blindly reached out for Jake Delhomme (22-38-235, 2 INTs, 2/8) as he was running past. Alex Brown (4 tackles, 2 sacks, FF, PD) had his best game of the season, collecting two sacks and forcing a fumble. Brown also drew a holding penalty on Travelle Wharton, and nearly picked off a pass. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris (3 tackles, sack, TFL) had an early tackle for a loss and then on consecutive plays registered a quarterback knockdown and a sack. Ian Scott had a rare, quiet game. Tank Johnson picked up a tackle for a loss at the very beginning of the contest. Reserves Alfonso Boone (2 tackles, sack) and Michael Haynes (2 tackles, sack) got into the act with a sack each. Boone's came from left defensive end. Boone picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty. The line not only suffocated Delhomme when he tried to throw, but also kept the Panthers in check when they tried to run (16/55). GRADE: A+

Linebackers

The defensive line was so active it left few opportunities for the linebackers to make big plays. Brian Urlacher (3 tackles, PD) stuffed Stephen Davis at the line and also had a pass deflection. He allowed a receiver to slip his tackle on a short route. Lance Briggs (7 tackles) had one of his better games of the year. He was more under control, not running past the ball carrier. He stopped the checkdown passes short of the first down marker. Hunter Hillenmeyer (2 tackles) wasn't on the field as much, since the Bears were out to an early lead, and needed nickel and dime coverage against the Panthers' receivers. He was held on a pressure he created off the edge. Overall, the linebacker play was decent. Although they allowed some rushing yards to DeShaun Foster (9/41, 3-20), most of them came on draws that were stopped well short of converting the first down. GRADE: B-

Secondary

Cornerback Nathan Vasher (4 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PDs, FF) had his second consecutive memorable performance. He set the tone for the game by stepping in front of two Jake Delhomme passes along the left sideline for interceptions. He returned both of them a long way, setting up a field goal and a touchdown for the Bears' offense. Vasher also forced a fumble out of bounds along the sideline on another pass. Charles Tillman (8 tackles, 2 PDs) had a strong game as well. He broke up a short pass to Nick Goings and a deep one to Steve Smith (14-169). He had good form taking Smith down for a 3-yard gain in the left flat. Tillman was penalized for illegal hands to the face in the fourth quarter. Chris Harris (3 tackles, PD) either underestimated Smith's speed or took a poor angle on a 48-yard bomb. He recovered to have a strong game, delivering big hits on Smith and Foster. He just missed an interception by inches on an overthrow, and later made a key pass deflection in the end zone. The deflection came at the end of the game, and was a diving stab to redirect what would have been a sure touchdown over the middle. The rookie safety also needs to make sure he wraps up on his tackles. Mike Brown (5 tackles) had a quieter game, but had a hand in ensuring the short routes to Smith didn't turn into long gains. Jerry Azumah (8 tackles) and Mike Green saw a good deal of action in sub packages. Azumah was sure in his tackling of Foster on a checkdown route. Overall, the coverage was tight, tackling was sure, and the interceptions set up the Bears' offense to seal the victory. GRADE: A


SPECIAL TEAMS

Robbie Gould made both of his field goal attempts (33, 39) and appears to be gaining confidence as are his teammates in him. His kickoffs were shorter than usual, averaging about the 13-yard line. Brad Maynard had a decent enough game punting the ball. It would have been better if Carl Ford and Chris Thomson could have figured out where the goal line was before they tried to hit the ball back into play. Both players struggled to stay in the field of play before hitting the ball back while jumping from the end zone. Thomson also missed a tackle on a punt return. Tillman was penalized for holding on a punt return. His holding penalty combined with a deep Jason Baker kick resulted in a huge change of field position in the fourth quarter. Bobby Wade didn't have anywhere to go on his punt returns, and cleanly fielded them as well as the ones that were fair catches. Jerry Azumah had two very short kickoff returns. Steve Smith and Rod Smart were not given opportunities to make a difference returning punts and kicks. GRADE: C


COACHING

Lovie Smith's team was ready for the Panthers. They outplayed Carolina on both sides of the line. Coach Rivera's defense pressured Delhomme into numerous errant and off balanced throws, even when there wasn't pressure. Rivera's defense applied pressure not so much from blitzing, but more from continually rotating fresh bodies into the game on the line. At one point, they drew a penalty for having too many men on the field. The Panthers must have thought the Bears had played with twelve men the entire game. On offense, Ron Turner's plan was simple. They stuck with what has worked throughout the season. It was a balanced attack that favored the run yet was not too predictable. Kyle Orton found his receivers and was rarely greeted with pass rush pressure. In the end, the Bears came out looking very tall in their measuring stick game. They have a six-game winning streak worth of momentum behind them as they travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. GRADE: A-


GAME BALLS

Nathan Vasher
Justin Gage
Kyle Orton
Chris Harris
Adewale Ogunleye
Alex Brown
John Tait
Fred Miller

HORNS

Muhsin Muhammad

HARDEST HITS

Charles Tillman on Steve Smith
Chris Harris on Steve Smith
Chris Harris on DeShaun Foster



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