By Chris Emma–
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CBS) — Running into the locker room after a resounding 37-13 win over the Rams on Sunday, Bears tackle Kyle Long busted the media’s collective chops.
“Anyone pick the Bears?” Long asked. “Didn’t think so.”
Very few pundits picked the Bears to win in the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams boast the NFL’s next best running back in Todd Gurley, a hostile defense and a physical football identity. It seemed on paper that they have a talent edge over the Bears, but none of that mattered when the two teams took the field.
In a rebuilding season, the Bears keep showing their improvement in moving to 4-5. Call it character, resiliency or culture, but the results must be earned. This team is showing its constant growth.
The Bears have bought in to their coaches and each other. It’s a unique characteristic for a football team, where a locker room of highly paid, differing personalities can seem so united, but it’s real. After the game, tight end Zach Miller — who scored two touchdowns — and running back Ka’Deem Carey both gave high praise to offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s “flawless” game.
Asked specifically how the Bears have moved from 0-3 to open the season to a team that wins handily in St. Louis, Carey offered a simple solution.
“Man, (John) Fox,” Carey said. “He’s a great coach.”
Added Long: “We got the right people in place to lead us where we want to go.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler has earned plenty of credit for his season. He deserves much more, too. Cutler finished Sunday’s contest 19-of-24 for 258 yards and three touchdowns, boasting a passer rating of 151.0. He was a perfect 158.3 in the first half. This season, Cutler has made his entire offense better.
On Sunday, the Bears showed that their next-man-up mantra pressed by Fox carries water. Jeremy Langford tallied 182 all-purpose yards, including seven catches for 109 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, one in the air and one on the ground. Without Matt Forte, the Bears haven’t lost any production, thanks to Langford’s terrific work.
The 83-yard touchdown reception for Langford was topped by Miller’s 87-yard scamper, part of his emergence as a weapon in the Bears’ offense. Receiver Marc Mariani even started Miller on his fantasy team this week.
“I called him a liar,” Miller joked.
But Langford and Miller are just part of the Bears’ newfound arsenal on offense. There’s Forte, who could return next week, plus Pro Bowl receiver Alshon Jeffery, versatile tight end Martellus Bennett and possibly the debut of rookie receiver Kevin White later in the season.
Defensively, coordinator Vic Fangio’s unit shut down Gurley to the tune of 45 yards on just 12 carries. He had averaged 111 rushing yards in the last five games. They did this without star linebacker Pernell McPhee, left behind in Chicago to nurse a knee injury. Shea McClellin’s return to the Mike position brought stability, while Willie Young and Lamarr Houston brought key contributions at outside linebacker. The secondary took advantage of a poor performance from Rams quarterback Nick Foles.
Late in the fourth quarter, Houston got a clean sack of Foles, and Young later followed with an interception. Those are two former standouts at defensive end who have shown great improvements at linebacker, thanks to preparation in practice.
“I’m all about winning and helping the team win,” Young said.
Character counts for the Bears, but only to an extent. Chicago could’ve quit after falling to 0-3, gotten down after blowing games to Detroit and Minnesota and bummed out on this season. Instead, the Bears committed to improving in practice. Carey said the team had “two great, solid, solid” weeks of practices behind them, building to these victories over the Chargers and Rams.
“We’re starting to know our football team better,” Fox said. “It’s changed the course of nine weeks quite a bit. The way we’re trending, I like the way our guys are going about their business. It showed today.”
Ahead for the Bears are games with the Broncos and Packers. In the preseason, those were picked to be blowouts. But both opponents have struggled mightily as of late, while Chicago continues to ascend.
Hey, it’s getting harder to pick against the Bears right now.
“You’d be lying to yourself if you didn’t say you see a lot of improvement in this team,” Long said.
Credit Fox’s coaches, a stellar staff that’s made the most of a rebuilding season. And praise the group of players who refuse to let up. This is a Bears team that seems to be headed in the right direction for the future and is even making noise right now.
Another impressive victory showed how far the Bears have come.