The “next man up” once again played a factor in a Chicago Bears victory last night in a game that saw key starters leave due to injury.
The defensive unit for the team began the game missing five starters from opening day, and the injuries kept piling on in the 27-19 victory over the New York Jets. The Bears got off to a fast start with an early interception thrown by Jets quarterback Geno Smith. The second-year pro threw a pick to Bears safety Ryan Mundy, who returned it for a defensive touchdown in the opening minutes of the game. Despite the Jets keeping the game competitive, the Bears never relinquished the lead.
The defense steps up
The Bears defense, continuing the trend from last week’s primetime win over the San Francisco 49ers, made big plays when the team needed it the most.
Mundy and the Bears defense set the tone early, and the secondary followed up with plenty of big plays. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had two interceptions last week, came up big once again, picking off a Geno Smith pass in the red zone and recording seven tackles. Fuller also channelled his inner Charles Tillman, forcing two fumbles with a Peanut Punch that looked a lot like Tillman’s maneuver that forced many fumbles for the Bears over the years.
A lot of the errant throws by Smith came from defensive line pressure, especially after being sacked three times by the Bears defense. The defensive end rotation of Willie Young, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston continues to get the job done, and the linebacking unit looks much better since the first week.
The offense shows consistency
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and the offense capitalized on good field position thanks to Jets turnovers, with the offense scoring two touchdowns and setting up two field goals for kicker Robbie Gould. While Cutler didn’t throw an interception, he did fumble the ball on a sack that the Jets recovered. While the Jets could have scored a touchdown on the recovery, the officials prematurely blew the play dead, leading only to the turnover and avoiding a costly touchdown. The offensive line had some difficulties against a tough Jets defense, but Cutler kept his composure and, by extension, kept his team in the game.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall aggravated the ankle injury that hobbled him in last week’s game, limiting him to just one catch on the night. Tight end Martellus Bennett stepped up in Marshall’s place, catching both of the team’s two touchdown passes. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, whose hamstring has been an issue, looked healthier than last week’s game, catching eight passes for 105 yards.
The team’s rushing attack continues to be a problem. Running back Matt Forte managed only 33 yards on 13 carries, similar to last week’s poor 21-yard performance. Forte still made impact plays, making five receptions on short throws, but the Bears need to figure out how to run the ball better. The team can still move the ball down the field with its West Coast offensive attack using short throws to set up big plays, and Forte continues to be a big part of that equation as a running back who operates well as a pass-catching asset.
Special teams showed flaws, but came up big
Special teams continues to look like the most flawed part of this team, making mistakes and looking overwhelmed at times. Punt protection still looks to be a problem, with the Jets making a few close calls to block a punt. With last week’s blocked punt that set the 49ers up for a touchdown early in the game, the team needed to make improvements.
Despite the struggles, special teams recovered a fumble on a muffed punt, which led to the 14-point Bears lead early in the game. The Bears need special teams to help in the field position battle, and it’s going to have to improve greatly as the season goes on.
Injuries continue to pile up
The team’s already long list of injuries increased after last night’s game.
On offense, wide receiver Brandon Marshall aggravated the ankle injury that has nagged him the last couple weeks. Marshall suffered the injury in the second quarter and tried to come back later in the game, catching a touchdown that was called back due to a penalty. He ended the game with only one catch, and the shortened week may make it difficult to recover before a big divisional game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Center Roberto Garza and guard Matt Slausen continue to recover from ankle injuries, but neither lineman played in last night’s game.
The defensive depth is being tested for this team early as the team battles even more injuries. Linebacker Shea McClellan and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were both scratched from the game, with safeties Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte leaving the game due to injuries. The Jets challenged the Bears backup players for much of the game, but the team’s backups in the secondary played well enough to secure the win. Credit also goes to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, whose players have vastly improved since last year’s nightmare defensive struggles.
Looking ahead to Green Bay
The shortened week won’t do the Bears any favors on the injury front, but they play a home game against a Packers team that has looked vulnerable for most of the season. The Packers are one bad Jets timeout from being 0-3, and the Bears will present a tough challenge at Soldier Field.
The Bears have two impressive back-to-back road wins and one bad home loss so far, and the Bears will have to build off the wins and learn from the losses in the first divisional game of the season.