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Suddenly, the Bears’ early-season schedule doesn’t look so daunting

Matt Ryan Julius Peppers Henry Melton

Matt Ryan, Julius Peppers, Henry Melton

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Updated: November 26, 2011 12:28AM



Suddenly, everything looks different, doesn’t it?

Just like that, the three-headed monster to start the season doesn’t look so scary, not with one of those heads lopped off.

One Falcon down, a Saint and a Packer to go.

OK, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. New Orleans presents more problems for the Bears in Week 2 than the Falcons did in Week 1. There’s a big difference between the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Falcons’ Matt Ryan. And the game will be played inside an unwelcoming Superdome, not a friendly Soldier Field.

But still.

The Bears looked so good in dismantling Atlanta on Sunday that all sorts of things look possible that only a few days before seemed silly to ponder. Why can’t the Bears win two of their first three games?

They rolled up 377 yards against the Falcons. They recovered two Atlanta fumbles. Defensive tackle Henry Melton had two sacks and seven quarterback hits. Just to be clear: That’s Henry Melton, not Julius Peppers. Who saw any of this coming?

Here’s the interesting part: it’s the things the Bears failed at Sunday that offer the most hope.

When Lovie Smith, Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher talked with the media after the game about the glitches in a 30-12 victory, they were talking like football coaches and football players do. You know the drill: We have a lot of loose ends to tie up; there’s always room for improvement; we left points on the board; watching the game tape won’t be fun, etc.

I don’t want to say these people are nitpickers in the film room, but they could watch “The Godfather” and say the cannoli looks like it could use some more ricotta.

Game wasn’t perfect

But it was more than coach-speak. There were loose ends. There is room for improvement. And you can bet Cutler was still wincing Monday after watching tape of a throw to Kellen Davis that landed about five yards beyond the tight end. That was a sure touchdown.

The defense allowed Atlanta’s Michael Turner to rush 10 times for 100 yards, including a 53-yard gain. It’s the kind of production the Bears would love to see from Matt Forte.

The offensive line needs to get better. There’s a reason most of Cutler’s throws were of the short or intermediate variety: He didn’t have time to air out many passes. The Falcons sacked him five times. Left tackle J’Marcus Webb struggled against John Abraham.

The positive view? Cutler remembered who he was after each of those sacks.

“The second half, we didn’t quite finish as strong as we could have, but I think we all got better,’’ center Roberto Garza said.

Cutler said the absence of long passes had to do with the Falcons’ determination to keep everything in front of them. They weren’t going to get beat deep. So it was death by 1,000 cuts and one Cutler.

“We’ve got a lot of speed out there,’’ he said. “I think defenses know that. We’ve got some guys who can flat-out run. If you want to come up and bump ’em, you better have some track guys too.’’

Any future opponent who watches the way Cutler picked apart Atlanta will have their defenders up on Bears’ receivers. That’s a guarantee. The Falcons’ defensive backs allowed so much room, you would have thought they had just seen “Contagion.’’ It’s another reason the offensive line will have to step up and give Cutler more time.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called an end-around by rookie wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher in the first quarter that went for a four-yard loss. Forget the element of surprise, Mike, and give the ball to your fastest players. Or, better yet, stop calling that play. It last worked in the Paleozoic Era.

See? The Bears didn’t play a perfect game. There is room for improvement. More film work is necessary. The coaches win!

Pluses outweigh minuses

Just so we don’t lose context here, there were many more pluses than minuses Sunday. The offensive line that didn’t give Cutler enough time to throw? He didn’t have to scramble once against the Falcons. Amazing, given what we saw last season. Amazing, given the questions about the line since camp opened.

“They got better every single day, and I mean that,’’ tight end Matt Spaeth said. “Obviously Gabe [Carimi, the right tackle] is a rookie, there’s an adjustment period. They just got better and better and better. Him individually and the line as a whole got so much better. Still they’re getting better.’’

You figure Lance Briggs will play better than the way he did Sunday, when he finished with three tackles.

I’m going to leave cornerback Charles Tillman alone. He misses tackle after tackle, and then forces a fumble. It’s what he does, and the Bears are better for it.

The three-headed monster is now a two-headed monster, and even though it still has sharp teeth in desperate need of a whitening agent, it doesn’t look quite as daunting. It looks .  .  . slightly vulnerable.



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