By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) For one week at least, Chicago general manager Phil Emery’s vision for 2014 crystallized in Atlanta as the Bears downed the Falcons, 27-13, on Sunday to even their record at 3-3.
The quarterback the team invested franchise-level dollars in, Jay Cutler, played an error-free game and generated explosive plays through the air en route to his highest passing yardage total since arriving in Chicago (381).
The four centerpieces of the Bears’ offensive arsenal delivered. The quartet of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and do-it-all running back Matt Forte accounted for 94 percent of the team’s total yardage and 99 percent of the passing yards. The lone target to someone other than those four was completed to Josh Morgan for a 3-yard touchdown, the only passing touchdown of the game by Chicago.
The Bears’ basketball team in cleats used their physical prowess to bully an overmatched Falcons secondary and roam free down the field. Forte powered his way into the end zone twice in the second half, turning the Falcons offense into a one-dimensional attack, which played right into the hands of the Bears’ defensive blueprint.
A patchwork defense with three new linebackers limited the Falcons to 42 rushing yards, achieving its primary goal of stopping the run and earning the right to rush the passer late in the game. The big-money defensive line delivered three sacks — two by Willie Young, who now leads the league with seven, and one by Jared Allen, his first as a Bear — on the Falcons’ final three drives, thwarting any thoughts of a comeback.
“Being able to get them in third-and-long a lot and force them to spread us, forcing them to create some one-on-one options and then just taking advantage of what we saw on film,” Allen said. “When we got situational matchups, I thought if we could get more rush rhythm, we could have some success and we were able to.”
The Bears will only be as successful as their defensive line allows them to be, but it’s a matter of achieving continuity in all phases. When the Chicago offense is able to control the clock, play mistake-free and be efficient in the red zone, it allows the defense to function as designed.
“That was crucial,” Young said of the Bears’ 87-yard touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter. “We were up by a couple points, but it’s still a crucial time in the game to come out and still be productive, make things happen. That’s an opportunity for a defensive line to come out and get after some people without having to worry about the run game.”
Was it perfect? No. The offensive line — particularly Jordan Mills — was beaten for three sacks by a team that had only four heading into the game. The return game remains woefully absent, as the Bears’ average starting field position was their own 19-yard line.
Are there caveats? Yes, the Falcons are a soft team on both sides of the ball whom the Bears physically dominated in every phase of the game, which led to unforced errors.
But in a series of weekly one-game seasons, all three phases delivered four quarters of football for the first time this year in what amounted to a must-win game for the Bears.
“We played a complete game offensively,” Chicago coach Marc Trestman said. “It wasn’t perfect at the start. We had a couple of field goals, we did get the touchdown. They (Atlanta) got points in the second half, and we were able to come back and get two touchdowns in the second half, I think on a long field to my recollection. I thought as an offense we played our best games in terms of playing a complete game.”
The Bears offense broke their streak of two straight scoreless second halves and closed out the game, dominating time of possession for the entire game, particularly in the fourth quarter.
The defense held a Falcons team that averaged 30 points per game to 13 and limited its foe to 98 total yards in the first half.
The special teams coverage units corralled Devin Hester, limiting him to 44 yards on two kick returns and 10 yards on two punt returns.
With two of their next three games against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the Bears must be able to reproduce this effort and output in order to remain in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Since 1990, teams that start 3-3 make the playoffs 38 percent of the time, while those that start 2-4 make the playoffs just eight percent of the time.
So while it seems like only one win, by beating the Falcons, the Bears more than quadrupled their chances of making the playoffs.
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.