By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Winning the “Mediocre Bowl” championship won’t set off any spontaneous celebrations in the streets, but it certainly beats the alternative.
A week removed from a sobering glimpse into the yawning abyss of a season doomed, the Bears combined opportunistic offense with an invigorated defensive effort to at least stave off a week of worst-case-scenario murmuring and even give the more naturally cheerful crowd some reasons to get tingly about possibilities after a 27-13 win against the Falcons on Sunday.
Such is existence somewhere in the middle, where the most recent outcome points the arrow. Beating the Falcons means it’s up. Ish.
Holding Atlanta to 13 points in the Georgia Dome was both a surprise and an achievement for Mel Tucker’s radically remade defense that featured enough new names that we found ourselves glancing at the numerical roster like it was a mid-July practice.
Tucker used pressure schemes early to speed up the decision-making of Matt Ryan behind a patchwork line, but the best play he ran was the Opponent’s Dropped Pass, which was successful at least seven times in helping stall drives. To be fair, the Bears’ defensive backs were closing fast to deliver the kind of hard hits that interfere with receivers’ concentration. Ryan Mundy clobbered Roddy White, Chris Conte brought his weekly big shot to knock himself out of the game, and all three linebackers starting in place of the regulars looked speedy enough, if occasionally overrunning plays.
Five regular starters were out by game’s end on the defensive side of the ball, and still the unit held. That’s worth noting. Phil Emery’s offseason investment plan paid dividends, with Willie Young adding two more sacks and Jared Allen getting his first. Raise your hand if you’d like to see more of this front four with the kind of footing an artificial surface provides.
Kyle Fuller can ball, too. He’s just where things are happening, and in a good way.
Jay Cutler also had a monster game, after smacking his head on the turf when hit late by Paul Worrilow. There was no sideline protocol for Cutler after he held his helmet with both hands, and he stayed in to complete 26 of his 38 passes for 381 yards and a touchdown. He spread the ball to five receivers and avoided an unconscionable turnover. We wish that fact could somehow mitigate the belief that he’s just as capable of doing so once again next week, but no matter.
The Bears’ 478 yards of offense is a nice number: 368 passing, 110 rushing, with some of it managed creatively by Marc Trestman – a coach who needed this win and needed it like this, holding onto a lead and clicking in the second half and fourth quarter. That it still didn’t lead to 30 points against this defense is a quibble for another day.
Why we wasted all that time talking about Devin Hester, nobody knows. He had one catch and did nothing on any punt or kick returns. Meanwhile, the Bears’ special teams didn’t disappoint those of us entertained by checking off the bush-league Blunder of the Week, which this time was the blocked extra point. And someone needs to instruct Bears kickoff returners to stay in the end zone because not only are they bad, but some blocker will do something illegal every single time. Take a knee, please.
More good than bad was evident Sunday, enough so to stabilize a team teetering on the edge of something awful. A road win against an explosive quarterback with star receivers is a very good thing, especially with a defense populated by too many players some kind of undrafted, unwanted and untested.
The Bears are level at 3-3, and still viable enough. There’s no parade, but there’s some hope.