By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) Rhythm.
It’s something the Bears haven’t had on offense all season.
Even when they were occasionally scoring points against bad teams earlier in the season, long drives were rare and continuity was nowhere to be found.
That’s pretty common when your offensive line can’t block anyone.
But Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, rhythm was somehow found and largely sustained against a decent Vikings defense as the Bears ended a two-game slide with a 28-10 victory.
How ironic that in a game where both starting guards went down with knee injuries — and the Bears’ benched right tackle was forced to play guard for the first time in his entire life — continuity appeared to be present on the Bears’ offensive line? After scrambling for answers during a short week full of line changes and drama, the Bears were able to give Jay Cutler — returning from a concussion — just enough time to make plays and sustain drives.
“We wanted to see some rhythm and a little sense of urgency,” Cutler said after the game. “Guys just doing their job, play after play and getting some drives together.”
It wasn’t always pretty. Cutler was often forced to scramble, but he was able to shuffle his feet and move like backup Jason Campbell cannot, giving the Bears’ offense a dimension it needs. In Campbell’s defense, even Cutler wouldn’t have been able to dodge the 49ers’ pass rush in San Francisco, but Sunday the Bears needed Cutler to win.
After weeks and weeks in which offensive coordinator Mike Tice stubbornly stuck with his deficient tackles, he finally made the choice to bench Carimi in favor of Jonathan Scott — a move that paid off. Scott was quicker out of his stance and more effective, while Carimi came in and provided a nice boost as an extra blocker in short yardage situations.
Unfortunately, knee injuries ravished the offensive line during the game and sent guards Lance Louis and Chris Spencer to the bench. Carimi moved to guard and was effective, but major health questions remain regarding a unit that was already playing a man down after Chilo Rachal abruptly left the team mid-week.
Cutler singled out Scott for playing well, a sign that he will remain the starting right tackle. Meanwhile, Smith gave credit to Carimi and Edwin Williams for filling in at guard. Carimi said it was the first time in his life he played guard.
“I thought the offensive line did a good job,” Cutler said. “There were a few moving pieces in there with some guys filling in. Under the circumstances, they played well.”
Health is a concern moving forward, but good signs remain. Just when one had to assume the offense wouldn’t “click” all season, it put together long, fluid drives Sunday.
The Bears made its biggest commitment to the run all season, handing the ball off 36 times. That helped them keep the ball for over 37 minutes, resulting in one 14-play touchdown drive and two 10+ play drives that led to field goals. Getting positive yardage on first down and converting 11-of-19 third downs will go a long way in keeping your defense off the field.
Of course there are still a number of things to clean up. Matt Forte lost a fumble and nearly was guilty of a second fumble that was originally ruled a touchdown for the Vikings on the field before being reversed. He suffered an ankle injury on the play though and failed to return.
Cutler was outstanding for the most part (23-for-31 and QB rating of 86.5) but also threw an interception when he missed Brandon Marshall high (something that comes with the territory with No. 6). He also stalled a drive in the first half with a goofy, unnecessary toss of the football that was deemed taunting.
The Bears coaching staff will nit-pick like that all week at Halas Hall — as they should — but the bigger story on the offensive side of the football Sunday was progress.
Three weeks ago, as the Bears prepared for a showdown against the Houston Texans, head coach Lovie Smith talked about his team hadn’t peaked yet. He was right. Unfortunately, his team went on to regress in the next two games.
The prevailing thought remained, however: If the offense could find some sort of rhythm, a promising season could be saved.
That happened Sunday against the Vikings in a must-win game, and while there’s still plenty of work to do, there’s hope for this offense after all.
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.