Noots' Notes

The Bears (10-4) used a smothering defense to limit Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons (8-6) to only 3 points in front of a Soldier Field crowd that bared the bitter cold. Lovie Smith's decision to insert quarterback Rex Grossman in the second half gave not only the passing offense but the entire team a spark.


OFFENSE

Quarterbacks
Kyle Orton (2-10-12) had an abysmal first half. His best plays were an interference penalty Muhsin Muhammad drew and a hard count to draw the Falcons offsides. Otherwise, he continued to display the inaccuracy and late throws that have gotten him into trouble all season. Falcon defenders dropped two passes that looked like sure interceptions. Orton's misfire to tight end Desmond Clark in the flat at the end of the half was likely the final straw. Muhammad came back to the sideline incensed. He was open in the end zone. Rex Grossman (9-16-93, Int) opened the second half with a 22-yard strike to Muhammad over the middle. Another highlight for Grossman was a perfectly thrown 19-yard rope to Justin Gage cutting to the left sideline to convert a third down. Grossman was intercepted at the goal line but the Bears got the ball back as Desmond Clark forced a fumble on the same play. Seeing Grossman and Orton play in the same game was like night and day. Grossman's read and release are at least a full count quicker than Orton's. This is a stark contrast, especially since Grossman hasn't had as much time working with the offense as Orton since the regular season began. It's not just the crisp passes down the field to Muhammad and Gage, but also the quick slants and passes off the line. They're very hard to defend when they are coming out of Grossman's hands that quickly. GRADE: D

Running Backs
Thomas Jones (27/91, TD, 1-3) didn't have a ton of running room, but made the tough yards. He broke off a 31-yard run at the end of the first half off left tackle. Jones also had a couple of good stops and starts that picked up yardage or evaded tackles. Adrian Peterson (3/6) didn't find much running room, either, and had very few touches. The Falcons played the run tough, forcing the Bears to pass the ball to move it down the field. Jason McKie (3-13) started at fullback and caught the ball well when he was thrown to. He did a better job run blocking this week, but had a tough time picking up Patrick Kerney in pass protection in the early part of the contest. GRADE: C

Receivers
Muhsin Muhammad (3-40) didn't have big numbers but made a few plays. He drew a 25-yard pass interference penalty against DeAngelo Hall at a time when the Bears couldn't move the ball at all. It set up one of their first half field goals. He dropped a 12-yard pass from Grossman in the left seam and then caught the same pass on the next play to pick up a first down. Bernard Berrian (2-20, 2/31) had a strong all-around game. Berrian settled down after committing a false start on the Bears' first series. He took an end-around 37 yards to anchor the Bears first field goal-yielding drive. Berrian also made a leaping, stretching catch for one of Orton's two completions. Justin Gage made an excellent downfield block to spring Berrian on his reverse. Gage (2-29) also picked up a first down with each of his catches on a deep out and a slant. Desmond Clark had a bobbling drop to the sideline of a Grossman pass. Clark's error is forgiven because of the possession he returned to the offense. After Keion Carpenter intercepted Grossman at the goal line, Clark stripped him of the ball and Justin Gage jumped on it to return possession to the Bears. It was a huge sequence for the offense, resulting in a touchdown for Thomas Jones on the next play from the one-yard line. Gabe Reid and John Gilmore got in the game but were not factors. GRADE: B-

Offensive Line
Ruben Brown struggled in the early parts of the game, getting flagged for two holding penalties which were declined. He had a tough time when Rod Coleman was his assignment. Brown settled in over time. John Tait had another solid game at left tackle, while Fred Miller had a few rough spots working against Patrick Kerney but overall played well enough to keep his quarterbacks clean. Roberto Garza started at right guard and didn't suffer any breakdowns. Olin Kreutz allowed a knockdown of Orton by tackle Chad Lavalais. Overall, run blocking wasn't strong, but pass protection was good. GRADE: C+


DEFENSE

Defensive Line
The Bears' defensive line bounced back from a poor game against Pittsburgh. They deployed five down linemen for a few stretches of the game in a 5-2-4 alignment. The big star of the line was Tommie Harris. Harris (5 tackles, 2 TFL) had two tackles for a loss on T.J. Duckett (8/-2) and 3 knockdowns of Michael Vick (13-32-122, 2 Ints, 6/35), including the final play of the game. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye registered his 10th sack of the season. He also drew a holding penalty from the Falcons, and gave back an offsides. Alex Brown (5 tackles, PD, TFL) put a big hit on Duckett early and deflected a Vick pass which the quarterback caught before being tackled for a 14-yard loss. Tackles Alfonso Boone and Tank Johnson (3 tackles, sack, TFL) were manhandled up the middle on a couple of Warrick Dunn's (17/81, 1-9) better carries. Johnson responded with a tackle for a loss on Duckett and a sack of Vick. Israel Idonije and Michael Haynes played but were not factors. Ian Scott played sparingly because of his injury. The line played exceptionally well, holding the Falcons' league-leading rushing offense to 114 rushing yards, while still harassing Michael Vick. GRADE: A-

Linebackers
In spite of tracking down the slippery Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn, Brian Urlacher (12 tackles, PD, TFL) managed to play under control. He zeroed in on Vick to hold him to no gain on an early bootleg. Urlacher had one of many tackles for a loss on Duckett. He also went up high at the line to knock down one of Vick's passes. Lance Briggs (6 tackles) didn't have as many tackles as Urlacher, but he made some very big hits. He made a key crunching stop on Dunn in the opening moments of the game. Briggs also had one of the numerous big hits on Brian Finneran (6-75), who took so many massive hits he looked like the second coming of Tom Waddle. Leon Joe (2 tackles) didn't see a ton of action since the Bears had some nickel opportunities as well as Joe being the odd man out in the 5-2 alignment. He did play enough to stop Dunn for a loss. The linebackers did an excellent job filling holes to limit the running of Atlanta, as well as preventing stud tight end Alge Crumpler (2-14) and the Falcon running backs from carving them up through the air. GRADE: A-

Secondary
He was demoted at the beginning of the year. He played poorly last week in his first extended action since then. Believed to be in the doghouse of the coaching staff, Mike Green (4 tackles, Int, 2 PDs) reminded people why he was one of the Bears' most dependable defenders the last two seasons. Green picked off an errant Vick pass for an interception. He then put one of the hardest hits of the season on Michael Jenkins, separating him from the ball. As the ball squirted up into the air, Nathan Vasher (4 tackles, Int, 3 PDs) swooped in to collect yet another interception. Brandon McGowan (6 tackles) was all over the field again like last week, racking up tackles. Vasher dropped a sure interception at the end of the game, and nearly had yet another a short time later. Jerry Azumah (2 tackles, PD) played in sub packages and deflected a third down pass to prevent an Atlanta conversion. Azumah made an excellent read of a draw play to Dunn for a one-yard gain. Charles Tillman (2 tackles, PD) put a huge hit on Finneran, but was relatively quiet through the contest. GRADE: A


SPECIAL TEAMS

Robbie Gould connected on three (35, 29, 39) of four field goals, missing just right from 44 yards out. His kickoffs averaged about the 10-yard line, which was decent considering the ball must have felt like a brick in the cold. It appeared to affect punter Brad Maynard more than Gould. Maynard had a tough time on several of his punts, including a partial block. Bernard Berrian had two punt returns for 30 yards, including a 24-yarder. The big return gave the Bears some much-needed field position since the Falcons had punted the Bears to or inside their own 10-yard line four times. The Falcons didn't give Jerry Azumah an opportunity to return a kickoff. Jason McKie returned both kickoffs, mishandling one of them but regaining possession of it. Coverage on punts and kicks was excellent. Adrian Peterson, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Leon Joe led the charge on coverage. GRADE: C


COACHING

Electing to utilize a five down linemen front against the league's best rushing team was a great move, especially knowing that the Bears' third linebacker was hurt. The end around to Bernard Berrian was also a very good call. Of course, the focus will be on the move to Rex Grossman in the second half. He immediately gave the entire team a lift with his presence and ability. The Bears now have the threat of a passing attack, which will open up the running lanes for Thomas Jones and allow the defense more opportunities to play with a lead. Imagine how many sacks Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye would have if the Bears were routinely ahead by 10 or more points in their 10 wins this season. Like good teams, the Bears bounced back from a down game against the Steelers to finish off a worthy competitor. Christmas and New Years' day games at Green Bay and Minnesota are all that remain on the regular season schedule. GRADE: A


GAME BALLS
Tommie Harris
Brian Urlacher
Mike Green
Bernard Berrian
Nathan Vasher

HORNS
Kyle Orton

HARDEST HITS
Lance Briggs on Warrick Dunn
Alex Brown on T.J. Duckett
Lance Briggs on Brian Finneran
Charles Tillman on Brian Finneran
Brandon McGowan on Brian Finneran
Mike Green on Michael Jenkins



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