What We Learned Sunday Afternoon

The Monsters of the Midway had perhaps their worst performance on defense during the Lovie Smith regime and dropped a critical division game to the Vikings 34-31 on Sunday, and Bear Report came away from Soldier Field in Chicago with five important observations from the game.

1. Washington didn't make a mistake dumping Archuleta so quickly
Adam Archuleta enjoyed a solid career in St. Louis and ultimately signed the richest contract in history for a safety before the 2006 season to play for the Redskins, but he quickly fell out of favor in our nation's capital and was relegated to special-teams duty down the stretch. With the Bears in need of help at the safety position and Smith very familiar with the former Sun Devil after serving as his defensive coordinator with the Rams, GM Jerry Angelo was able to land Archuleta for just a sixth-round draft pick this past offseason. It was assumed that Washington was simply misuing him in the secondary, forcing him to play out in space too often as opposed to near the line of scrimmage where he excels in run support.

But now it appears that the Redskins were right all along because Archuleta was benched in the second half this past Sunday – he may have lost his starting job permanently – because he gave up a 60-yard touchdown pass from Tarvaris Jackson to Troy Williamson and isn't near the tackler he was advertised to be, with or without his broken right hand.

2. Accuracy is the most underrated attribute for a quarterback
When Brian Griese took over for Rex Grossman in Week 4, everyone just assumed that the Bears were losing their ability to make big plays in the passing game because Grossman has a much stronger arm and Griese is known as a short- and medium-range passer. However, Griese threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's loss to the Vikings, and each of his scoring strikes was 33 yards or longer. Being able to catch the ball perfectly in stride gives the wideout a chance to make something happen with yards after the catch, an element that is lost if the pass is thrown slightly off center and the receiver has to slow down, jump, or dive just to come up with the completion.

Even Muhsin Muhammad, now 34 years old and nothing more than a possession target these days, was able to weave his way through the second level of the defense and into the end zone for a TD on a drag pattern over the middle because Griese put the ball right between the "8" and the "7" on his jersey.

3. Manning Jr. does not have the team's confidence to start at corner


CB Ricky Manning Jr.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Bears have been bruised and battered on defense all season long, but a convincing case can be made that starting right cornerback Nathan Vasher was the biggest loss the team sustained. Both he and his counterpart Charles Tillman were given giant contract extensions this past offseason because they form one of the better corner combinations in all of football, but this D just isn't the same when one of them is out of the lineup. Ricky Manning Jr. is a veteran with starting experience who has found a home in Chicago covering slot receivers in the nickel package, but the Midway Monsters would rather play safety Danieal Manning or rookie Trumaine McBride at right corner in place of Vasher because they apparently don't believe Manning Jr. is anything more than a No. 3 CB.

Manning Jr. started four games the latter part of last season when first Vasher and then Tillman missed some time with minor injuries, and the Bears were simply shredded through the air in each of those contents.

4. Hester is already the greatest return man in NFL history
The Vikings lost to the Bears in Week 13 last season in large part because Devin Hester returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown and injected some life into a Chicago team that was sleepwalking that day, and he just about stole Sunday's game all by himself despite a miserable performance by the Chicago defense. He returned another Chris Kluwe punt 89 yards for a TD to open the scoring late in the first quarter, and then he hauled in an 81-yard bomb from Griese with less than two minutes to go in regulation to improbably tie the game 31-31 before Ryan Longwell's 55-yard field goal broke the Soldier Field faithful's collective heart at the gun. Hester finished the game with 275 all-purpose yards, trading shots with Minnesota rookie tailback Adrian Peterson all afternoon and causing everyone in the press box to simply shake their heads in amazement.

Legendary special-teamer Brian Mitchell holds the NFL record with 13 combined kick/punt return touchdowns over the course of a brilliant 14-year career from 1990-2003, but Hester already has 9 in just 22 games as a pro and only seems to be getting better at his craft.

5. The loss of Walker in the trenches was bigger than anticipated
Nobody in the 88-year history of the Chicago Bears has rushed for more yards against them in one game than Peterson's 224 on Sunday, and his combination of power and speed reminded this sports writer of a young Eric Dickerson. There were many reasons why Peterson had so much success, including the defense's inability to get off blocks and tackle consistently, but not having Darwin Walker – unavailable with a knee injury – lining up next to Tommie Harris up front created a serious weak spot that was exploited. Anthony Adams was forced into the starting lineup even though he was a gameday inactive in Week 1 back when Dusty Dvoracek was still healthy, and Israel Idonije is much better suited to play defensive end – he was completely overmatched by mammoth Minnesota guards Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks.

With Harris essentially playing on one leg because of a bad knee, not having Walker to help clog the middle meant linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were having to deal with offensive linemen in their faces instead of being able to roam from sideline to sideline unencumbered.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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