The Bears should’ve handled the Chargers with a lot less worry.
Maybe that’s a reflection of how strong I think the Bears are playing. Maybe it’s a reflection of how bad the Chargers are. Maybe it’s a combination. Whatever, the Bears could’ve spared us the drama. They didn’t need to take that long to prove they were the better team and win their fifth in a row.
Credit the Bears for having the character to respond, but still, this 7-3 Bears team has more credibility than last year’s version. This Bears teams deserves to be 7-3. That’s why it felt so exasperating. Offensively, defensively, exasperating.
I don’t believe I was alone in that feeling. It looked like Jay Cutler and Mike Martz joined in the exasperation. It looked like they got fed up after the Chargers tied this blasted game at 17 early in the third quarter.
The Bears were having no success on the ground, so the quarterback and the offensive coordinator decided to put on a show.
On third-and-4 at the Bears’ 23, Cutler amazingly hit Roy Williams for 11 while his leg was being twisted off. Next, Cutler to Williams for 12. Next, Cutler to Williams for 11. Yes, THAT Roy Williams, the one who dropped a bomb on the first series.
Then Cutler got the kind of time that Philip Rivers inexplicably was getting --- more on that exasperation later --- and hit Johnny Knox down to the 1.
After the running game failed again, Cutler lunged over on a sneak to regain the lead. Enough of this balance nonsense, apparently. If the Bears’ defense wasn’t going to put down Rivers, then the Bears would play the same video game.
Finally, mercifully, the defense made a play. Charles Tillman, of course, forced a fumble. He punched out the ball the way he has made a career of doing, then recovered it. Good thing, too, because Tillman was getting torched most of the game.
All those nice things I wrote about Tillman when he shut down Calvin Johnson last week?
Forget it. On Sunday, he was making Vincent Jackson an All-Pro. He wasn’t getting much help from the inexperienced safeties, but still. Have a game, dude.
Same goes for the Bears defensive line. The Bears pass rush was neutered by a Chargers offensive line that should’ve been staggering with three new starters. Rivers shouldn’t have had time to say “Hut,’’ but he had whatever he needed and exactly what Cutler longed for. And when the Chargers did keep extra blockers in, the Bears’ inexperience at safety stung them in a big way. Anybody home? Hel-LO.
And then Tillman turned everything. And then the Bears got home.
They needed just 39 seconds to turn the fumble recovery into a 31-17 lead as Cutler scrambled before lofting a pass that Knox spun around to catch in the back of the end zone. Great elusiveness, and a better catch. Clutch and athletic all the way around.
‘Bout time. The Martz offense aired it out, Cutler showed guts and greatness, and Williams revisited his Detroit days while Knox revisted last year.
No. Wait. More exasperation to follow.
The Bears were moving the ball until Cutler was picked off after Knox fell on his route. The Bears were driving for a killer score, but Antoine Cason returned it 64 yards. He might’ve gone all the way if Cutler hadn’t fought off blockers to give Matt Forte time to stop Cason before he scored.
Big play defensively by big offensive pieces. They don’t get paid for that, but then, the guys who are getting paid to defend weren’t earning much of their paychecks Sunday.
And then Major Wright picked off Rivers in the end zone, his third interception in the last three games. But even that was exasperating because the Bears got flagged for excessive celebration for a couple guys dancing in the end zone.
Right down to the end, the Bears were exasperating. With the ball at the San Diego 45 and the Chargers out of timeouts with two minutes to go, the Bears tried a fake punt. Adam Podlesh’s pass to Craig Steltz fell incomplete. The Bears were up two scores and Steltz was open, but still, just punt the ball and make the Chargers go the length of the field.
I mean, Rivers had been getting time and Jackson had been getting the ball deep. What were the Bears messing with at this point? What part of “punt’’ doesn’t Lovie Smith understand?
Mercifully, Corey Graham made yet another great play, picking off Rivers. At last, an end to the exasperation.
It might be like this the rest of the way. If this were last season, it would be understandable. Last season was a lot of good defense, good special teams and good luck. This season has been a lot of good play lately. They have raised expectations this season. They should be able to put away lesser teams early. It wasn’t all there Sunday, but they won.
Maybe that’s both the reason for and the upside of exasperation.