Well, that’s more like it. The Bears took it to the Cowboys on national television, (always a fun combination) winning 45-28 and moving into a tie with Detroit atop the NFC North. Josh McCown played a very strong game, finishing 27/36 for 348 yards, 4 touchdowns passing, and 1 touchdown rushing. He didn’t throw a pick, but three separate passes should have been intercepted; two were dropped by Cowboy defenders, and a third was intercepted, but wiped out by a defensive holding call. Matt Forte ran for 102 yards, while also catching 7 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both had big games. Marshall had 6 catches for 100 yards, including a few huge third-down conversions to keep scoring drives alive. Jeffery had 5 catches for 84 yards and another ridiculous, highlight-reel grab (as GIFd here.) He also made an amazing grab down the left sideline. The Bears never punted, finishing the game 8-11 on third down conversions, and they scored on every drive save for a final kneeldown to close out the game.
It wasn’t all rosy for the Bears. As we’ve come to expect, the defense was porous, especially against the run. They tied an NFL record when they allowed DeMarco Murray to crack the 100-yard barrier, becoming only the second team to allow a 100-yard rusher in 6 consecutive games. In total they allowed 198 yards on the ground, which is obviously an issue. They made up for it by sacking Tony Romo twice while holding Dallas to just 144 yards passing.
The Bears played a much cleaner game than they had in recent weeks; they were turnover free (despite McCown’s three near-picks) and were only whistled for two penalties. Dallas didn’t turn the ball over either, but their defense literally could not get off the field without allowing points. As I noted in my “Three Things” post, those stops became key, as the Cowboys offense had zero margin for error thanks to their defensive woes. (Here I’ll note that my other two keys, involving taking the over (line was 48 points) and both Forte and Murray would rush for 100 yards (102/145 respectively) came to fruition. I’m wrong so often, I hope you won’t begrudge me this slight moment of self-satisfaction.)
Some other notes on the win:
- Marc Trestman had an outstanding game. Aside from a stretch in the third quarter when the Bears got a bit pass happy, the playcalling was on point throughout. Two of the three near-interceptions happened on that drive, and following the second close call Trestman called for runs on 8 of the next 11 plays as the offense marched down the field for a touchdown.
- That amazing play by Jeffery was set up by a refreshingly aggressive decision from Trestman. Leading 17-14, they forced a Dallas punt. The Bears took over at their own 40 with 47 seconds left and all 3 timeouts remaining. They were slated to get the ball again following halftime, but Trestman decided to step on the gas; that led to two first downs as the Bears reached the Dallas 25. From there, they took a shot at the end zone, and Alshon was able to haul in yet another ridiculously awesome catch. Following halftime, they drove for a field-goal, taking full advantage of their back-to-back possessions to extend their lead by ten. Some great clock and game management from Trestman, after a week of being raked over the coals for his decision-making. As I said last week, the good has far outweighed the bad for Trestman’s first season in Chicago; the play of Josh McCown being the most visible example.
- The offensive line had a very good game, allowing just one sack and opening numerous holes for Matt Forte and a surprisingly resurgent Michael Bush (who ran for 38 yards on just 8 carries.) Kyle Long and Jordan Mills reached the second level on multiple plays to deliver blocks that sprang ball-carriers for extra yards.
- I thought Mel Tucker had a decent game as well; the run defense is what it is due to injury-ravaged personnel, so Tucker has been forced to try some different things. The Bears ran some fairly exotic blitzes (a few zone blitz schemes that were rare under Lovie) and they pressured Romo often. The biggest came as the Cowboys were attempting to convert 4th and 9, down three scores in the third quarter. It was still a game at that point, and Dallas was in Bear territory, but James Anderson came free on a blitz and Romo was forced to throw it into the ground, resulting in a turnover on downs. The Bears scored a touchdown three plays later, extending the lead to 28 points and putting the game effectively out of reach. (No idea why Romo threw it into the ground on 4th and 9, though. If you’re ever going to toss one up for grabs, that’s the play. Credit the pressure.)
- Recent signing Jeremiah Ratliff started at defensive tackle, and recorded one of the two Bears sacks.
- Despite the frigid, windy conditions, Robbie Gould was 3/3 on field goal attempts. That was good to see, as he seemed to take last week’s loss very hard. I wasn’t really worried about the effects lingering, but I’m happy he bounced back.
- The Bears gave the game ball to Mike Ditka, who was on hand to see his jersey retired. (He fired up the crowd with a solid halftime speech. I was ready to hit somebody in my basement.)
Thanks to everyone who joined me on Twitter, and to everyone who might be checking out the site for the first time. I’ll be back tomorrow with a closer look at the NFC North playoff picture with three weeks remaining. I also hope to look back at a few more key plays from tonight’s game at some point this week.
The Bears are back atop the division, and they have a very real shot at the playoffs.
That’s pretty cool.