By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Surrounded by no-names on both sides of the ball, the Bears’ biggest names turned out to be the difference Sunday.
Quarterback Jay Cutler and rapidly emerging linebacker Pernell McPhee – their best offensive player and best defensive player – all but won a game by themselves, aided by a coaching staff that prepared a team ravaged by injuries and used steady, flexible game-planning to guide them back from a 17-3 halftime deficit for a stirring 18-17 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
Who knows what it meant in the big picture, and for now, who cares?
Whatever it was, the win was more proof that coordinators Adam Gase and Vic Fangio are in full control of their respective sides of the ball. With receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal missing, that means Cutler wasn’t only operating down the projected top three receivers for 2015 but also behind an offensive line starting a physically overmatched rookie center in Hroniss Grasu and two inexperienced tackles.
The early results augured a long day, with Grasu getting destroyed at the goal line to allow a strip-sack of Cutler for a Chiefs’ touchdown. When the Bears got a chance to actually get into their offense, Gase called unproductive runs and lateral passing plays, not trusting protections. Given time to shore things up, however, they used more shotgun looks and allowed tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Kyle Long the chance to hold their own against the edges while helping Grasu inside. It worked.
Cutler kept his eyes downfield and feet moving, taking off for critical first downs in the second half despite a hamstring that’s not yet fully healed. An 80-degree day may have worn down the Chiefs’ pass rush, too, something Gase may have noticed.
But it’s fair to say the rally started with McPhee, who bolted through the line to block a 27-yard field goal attempt by Cairo Santos with 8:49 left in the third quarter and the Bears still down by 14. A Robbie Gould field goal cut the lead to 17-6 by the end of the third.
At the 7:51 mark of the fourth quarter, Cutler started the Bears down the field from their own 12. His favorite target had been taken from him all day, too, as safety Eric Berry was winning the individual matchup with tight end Martellus Bennett. A drive that saw Cutler target six different receivers brought the Bears down to the Chiefs’ 22, from where he made the kind of throw only real talent can make – a back-foot lob into the tiny window available for a Marquess Wilson touchdown.
A disputed, failed two-point conversion later and it was again on Fangio’s defense, which rallied for the three-and-out with just 50 seconds ticking down.
For the second straight week, Cutler had a two-minute drill to run. This time he needed a touchdown and got it. It almost melted down on him, the shotgun snap from the Chiefs’ 7 yard-line too low and fumbled. But Cutler grabbed the ball while keeping his head up enough to see Matt Forte coming free behind the defender and found him for the go-ahead score with 18 seconds left that evinced more opposing fans in Arrowhead Stadium than we knew were there all along.
The numbers? Cutler was 26-of-45 for 252 yards and the two scores, with five receivers catching at least four passes. And McPhee added another sack to go with the critical field goal block.
Bears defenders stayed active and aggressive despite the hot conditions, with John Fox using whatever was left on his roster in the effort. Sam Acho, Christian Jones and recently acquired LaRoy Reynolds all made notable open-field individual plays, as did Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Tracy Porter.
There were no glaring special teams breakdowns, and Robbie Gould’s second field goal made him the all-time franchise scoring leader.
Beaten up going in and beaten down most of the day, the Bears stole a victory in one of the league’s toughest environments. Nobody saw it coming, until it just happened.
Even if it’s hard to place any actual value on a single outcome at the start of a rebuilding, a win like that has to count for something.