Hoge’s Notebook: Disaster Averted As Offense Steals The Show
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By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) The start of the 2012 Bears season was nothing short of a disaster. Fortunately, that disaster only lasted a few minutes.
Sack. False start. Bad snap. Interception returned for a touchdown.
That’s how things went for the Bears offense to start the game and they quickly fell behind 7-0 to the Indianapolis Colts. Cutler started the game just 1-for-10 and at one point in the first quarter had a QB rating of zero.
To the Bears’ credit, however, the unit regrouped quickly. Cutler found his old friend and new Chicago toy Brandon Marshall often and completed 10 of his next 11 passes. Marshall finished the game with nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown.
“Through the course of the year, you’re going to have to fight through some adversity,” head coach Lovie Smith said after the game. “You might as well get it out of the way early on to see what you’re made out of. Things aren’t going to be perfect for you and I thought they fought through it with no panic on the sideline or any of that.”
When it was all said and done, the Bears did what they were supposed to: beat the Colts soundly. The 41-21 season opening win showcased what the team can do offensively, especially when Cutler gets the kind of pass protection he did Sunday.
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“I thought the offensive line did a great job all day long,” the quarterback said. “In that fourth quarter we had all day to throw. Right before halftime we had all day to throw. I think they had a point of emphasis a lot this off-season and I think they did a great job today.”
Considering the way the game started for the line, it was impressive to see the unit turn it around. The offensive line’s performance wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly good enough to win.
“I think they played pretty good. Hopefully the film says that,” Smith said.
Not only was Marshall as advertised in the opener, but rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery quickly proved he belongs in the NFL. Jeffery finished with five catches for 80 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown on a beautiful pass from Cutler.
With Jeffery going too, it makes really hard to double Marshall and leaves gaps for Earl Bennett and Devin Hester in the middle.
“A lot of excitement when I see those guys going,” Marshall said. “I’ve seen a lot of double coverage — a lot of push coverage my way. It’s really hard to do that with guys like Hester, Alshon and Earl on your side. I look forward to a lot of 1-on-1s this year because it is impossible for them to do that with the other guys on the other side of the ball.”
No one was talked up more in the offseason by the Bears than cornerback Tim Jennings. It started way back in OTAs and the finished product showed up on the field Sunday.
Jennings’ biggest problem last season was capitalizing on opportunities to grab takeaways and it’s the biggest thing he focused on in the offseason. Sunday, he came up with two interceptions and tipped another pass that was picked off by safety Chris Conte as a result.
“I caught more than I dropped today,” Jennings said. “Last year I struggled with that. I worked on that in the offseason with the JUGS machine. I got the opportunity today and I made some plays on the ball.”
Forte Earns His Paycheck
No story dominated the summer more than Matt Forte’s contract extension. Sunday, he showed that he deserved every single cent he received.
Forte ran for 80 yards on just 16 carries — an average of five yards per carry — and caught three passes for 40 yards, including a sweet one-handed grab that went for a gain of 31 yards to set up a touchdown.
After the game, Forte praised rookie Evan Rodriguez who made the switch to fullback during the preseason, a position he has never played before.
“He did very well to be his first game and not be as comfortable with the fullback position,” Forte said.
The debut of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck pretty much went as expected. He showed plenty of potential, but also made mistakes against a Bears defense that loves to create turnovers. He finished the game 23-for-45 with 309 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
After the game, Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton — who sacked Luck twice — said the rookie was more elusive in the pocket than he thought. Lovie Smith echoed that sentiment.
“When they got behind, he kept showing up and making plays,” the Bears’ head coach said. “He did a great job of being mobile in the pocket and finding different receivers.”
Of course, Luck wasn’t as complimentary of himself.
“When you’re responsible for four turnovers, it’s hard to win, it’s hard to be productive as an offense,” he said. “Three picks and a fumble for me, those are killers. A lot of credit goes to them for making those plays. Not too many fond memories I think of an opening loss.
The Bears came out relative clean, but may have a big loss as cornerback Charles Tillman left in the first quarter with a lower leg injury. Lovie Smith took Brian Urlacher out of the game in the third quarter to give him rest, but the linebacker insisted after the game that he is fine and didn’t want to come out.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.