By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) The early performance of the vaunted offense had Bears fans contemplating suicide by immolation, drowning, multiple cobra bites, bridge-plunge, underwear bomb, antifreeze cocktail, acid bath, or prolonged exposure to the Dave Matthews Band.
After an initial drive that featured a sack, a false start and a bounced shotgun snap, Jay Cutler threw a perfect pass to an onrushing defender to put his team in a 7-0 hole and caused an entire city to experience searing chest pain and hair loss.
All ended up just fine, however. A 41-21 opening win is in the books, and nothing happened to derail the story going in — that Cutler with new weapons and new coaches could carry an aging defense to great places.
It makes it better if you conveniently forget that they started protecting, passing and run-blocking much better roughly around the time that seven-time Pro-Bowler Dwight Freeney left the game with an ankle injury. Could be coincidence, of course, so let’s go with that.
- Cutler To Fans: ‘Let’s Tone It Down A Little Bit’ In Red Zone
- Urlacher Not Happy About Being Taken Out Of Game Early
- Hoge’s Notebook: Disaster Averted As Offense Steals The Show
- Hoge’s Grades: All Units Good, But Room To Improve
Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush all justified the higher hopes that arrived with them. Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates have installed a system that allowed Cutler to make late changes at the line, and to throw to what he sees. A passer rating of 98.9 is a notable start.
I won’t worry that the Colts may really be horrendous. Some believe they could be the worst team in the NFL this year, doomed to suffer growing pains after a near-total teardown. I’ll keep in mind that wins in this league are precious, and you can only play the team against you that day. I’ll repeat that to myself.
It wouldn’t be a game at Soldier Field if moronic fans didn’t disrupt red-zone playcalling with excess noise, still completely unaware that they are hurting their own team’s communication. The giant signs held up that say “Quiet, Bears at Work” remain unheeded, causing Cutler to curse the fans directly at the time and lecture them after the game. I’m sure their unfortunate, amateurish behavior will stop, even though it hasn’t, yet.
Julius Peppers was a romping, stomping beast, the only real individual force on the defensive line. He was plowing through double-team attention to harass rookie Andrew Luck and chase ballcarriers, so I’ll block out his chronic foot inflammation that will have to be managed for the next few months, hoping his condition never deteriorates as the games and practices go on.
And first-round draft pick Shea McClellin had one nice move, so that’s good. The neutral-zone-infraction penalty that negated a Peppers sack/fumble-recovery will just be chalked up to youth.
Lovie Smith wasn’t lying when he said he expected Brian Urlacher to return to start the game. Start he did, even if he couldn’t run, jump or change direction with any assertiveness. It was the right thing to do to take him out when the lead expanded in the second half.
But that just has me acutely aware that the Bears play again as soon as Thursday night.
Against the Packers. At Lambeau.
Plenty of time to seal up any holes in the defense, heal up Urlacher and Charles Tillman, and make sure Peppers is ready once again to do all he needs to do. Plenty of time to find ways to use a big win in constructive fashion during a truncated week of practice, fine-tuning the new offense.
Thumbs-up for week one of seventeen. Next test in four days.