Chicago Bear Lance Briggs celebrate with the defense during the home opener at Soldier Field, September 8, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times
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Updated: September 9, 2013 9:14PM
Would the Bears have won their opener with Lovie Smith as head coach?
Marvin Lewis’ Bengals were just begging to get beat Sunday, so anything’s possible. But Marc Trestman’s impact on essentially Lovie’s Bears made the difference in the end.
Lovie’s teams dominated second halves. They converted fourth-and-ones. They scored fourth-quarter touchdowns to win. They let the other team beat itself. They ran out the clock to win. But rarely if ever did they do all of those in the same game as Trestman’s team did in his very first game as the Bears’ head coach.
And no false starts and no sacks in the same game? First time that’s ever happened with Jay Cutler as quarterback of the Bears. Hmmmm....
Here are 10 observations from the Bears’ 24-21 victory over the Bengals at Soldier Field on Sunday:
1. The strong finish after a shaky start bodes well for long-term success in 2013.
The Bears were very much a Lovie Smith team for most of the day — from Martellus Bennett’s drop on the first offensive play of the season to the three Lovie-esque takeaways by cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
But rarely did the Bears finish as strong against a playoff-caliber opponent as they did against the Bengals. They outgained the Bengals 226-39 in the final 22:52 of the game. Most importantly, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall came through in the clutch — that’s what they were brought here to do.
2. Trestman’s decision to go for the first down on fourth-and-one was bold, but the execution was even better. Rookie Kyle Long even missed his block on the play, but blocks by fullbacks Tony Fiammetta and Martellus Bennett helped clear the way for Matt Forte to bounce the play outside for an eight-yard gain.
In the previous three seasons, the Bears converted 6-of-12 fourth-and-one plays — 29th in the NFL. On Sunday they ran one fourth-and-one play behind two rookies and made it. Small sample size for sure. But a sign of progress nonetheless.
3. Speaking of the rookie linemen, right tackle Jordan Mills was the Bears’ most efficient offensive linemen in the game (+3.4) according to ProFootballFocus.com, which charts just about everything that goes on in an NFL game. Left guard Matt Slauson was the only other Bears linemen with a positive grade by PFF (+2.3). He was followed by center Roberto Garza (-0.9), Long (-1.7) and left tackle Jermon Bushrod (-2.1).
4. Remember the 2010 opener against the Lions when the Bears had five shots from the Lions 1-yard line and failed to score on any of them? On Sunday the Bears had one shot and scored when Matt Forte went up the middle on second-and-goal from the 1 to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive (in response to the Bengals’ 12-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half) and cut the Cincinnati lead to 21-17 in the third quarter.
Again, a small sample size obviously. But in the previous four seasons with Cutler at quaterback, the Bears scored on 18-of-44 attempts (40.9 percent) from their opponents’ 1-yard line — ranking 27th in the NFL.
5. The Bears might have underestimated the amount of rust on D.J. Williams. They went out of their way to give the veteran the start at middle linebacker in the opener and he had three tackles, only one a real solo tackle, in 44 snaps against the Bengals. If the Bears are going to stick with Williams, he deserves time to get back into the swing of things after missing most of training camp and the preseason. But it’s hard to believe rookie Jon Bostic would not have been better against the Bengals.
6. The last time a Bears middle linebacker had three tackles in a game? Brian Urlacher against the Jaguars in Week 5 — when he was on the field for just 50 snaps because the Jaguars only ran 53 plays in the game. Urlacher also had two tackles in the opener against the Colts, but only played 29 snaps because he had missed most of camp and all of the preseason. Urlacher did improve from there — the best argument for keeping him in the middle after such minimal production in Week 1.
6. The Bears need to tackle better if they’re going to keep Adrian Peterson under 300 yards this week. They missed at least seven tackles against the Bengals, led by Lance Briggs and Major Wright with two each. It didn’t cost them against the Bengals, who rushed for 63 yards on 21 carries (3.0 yards per carry) Sunday. Peterson had two big games per usual against the Bears last year — at Soldier Field (18-108, 0 TDs) and at the Metrodome (31-154, 2 TDs).
7. Pro Bowl cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings deserve more credit than scorn after Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green torched the Bears on Sunday, wth nine receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Green is only the third player to have more than 160 yards receiving against the Bears in the last 10 years (though the Panthers’ Steve Smith has done it three times — for 218, 181 and 169).
On the other hand, Green isn’t always that good Sunday’s performance was the second-most prolific game of Green’s career. Even in making the Pro Bowl for the second time in as many years in the NFL last season, Green averaged 84.1 yards a game last year. Neither Tillman nor Jennings will make the Pro Bowl this season if the Bears don’t generate a better pass rush than they did against the Bengals.
8. The Bears and Cutler did a better job of overcoming adversity Sunday. Last year, negative plays ruined them. On Sunday they had more than 10 yards to go for a first down four times and had good results on three of them — two touchdowns and running out the clock in the fourth quarter. They punted only once and had no turnovers.
Last year the Bears had an NFL-leading 17 sacks and five turnovers on third-and-extra-long plays (11-plus yards to go). Against the Bengals they had no sacks and no turnovers on 20 plays of third-and-11 or longer.
9. The Bears might want to re-think their decision to turn down Robbie Gould’s request for a contract extension.
Gould’s 58-yard field goal was a Bears record, a Soldier Field record and his 11th consecutive successful attempt from 50 yards or longer. Gould, who had only two attempts from 50 or longer in his first four seasons (and missed from 53 and 52 in 2007), is 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) from 50 or longer in the past five seasons. Some teams can replace kickers easily, but finding guys who can kick even close to Gould’s consistency at Soldier Field aren’t that common.
10. The Cincinnati Bengals sure make it tough to evaluate a victory over them. The Bears caught a break last year when they faced the Colts in Andrew Luck’s first NFL game and took advantage. It is unlikely they would have beaten the Colts had they played them in the second half.
The Bengals were expected to be a better measurement of where the Bears are — and they look like a playoff contender in the AFC North. But after they discombobulated at several key moments, it’s hard to tell. Almost every one of their eight penalties was devastating, from the personal foul on Dre Kirkpatrick that gave the Bears room for Gould’s 58-yard field goal to Cedric Peerman’s illegal block that wiped out a 50-yard punt return to Rey Maualuga’s unnecessary roughness penalty against Mills that clinched the game.
The Bengals did everything they could to lose. Orson Charles’ holding penalty was lost in the shuffle, but nullified Giovani Bernard’s 14-yard run for a first down right after the Bears had scored in the third quarter and led to a punt. When they needed a stop for a final shot to win the game, the Bengals had to call time outs because they had 10 and 12 men on the field in a span of three plays. We would be torching Lovie for that. But while the Bears had their problems in Marc Trestman’s opener, the most telltale signs were all good. So far.