1. Jay Cutler is back, and the offense was better for it
After completing his first pass to Zach Miller, Cutler started to look like a guy who hadn’t played in six weeks. He badly missed on a throw to Alshon Jeffery that could’ve been a pick-6, had a miscommunication with Jordan Howard in the red zone that partly killed a potential touchdown drive, and didn’t always throw the ball with the tight spiral we’re used to. But that same rocket arm was on display from his first snap, and as the game progressed, he started to look like he hadn’t missed a game. He played within Dowell Loggains’ play calling (more on that later), delivered his trademark bullet throws, and even did his best Brett Favre impression, shovel passing to Jordan Howard for 34 yards to beat a blitz. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/793261077647749120 And of course, he had to hit the requisite sideline fade to Jeffery because…that’s just what they do. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/793276714151317504 Jay even checked down nicely, taking wide open throws instead of forcing poor throws down the field. By the end of the game, Cutler was just dropping dimes in a way that we forgot a Bears quarterback could. It was such a strong performance that even the national broadcast was singing his praises. All in all, while he still has rust to knock off, he played a combination of the controlled, poised football that his head coach values and the exciting, play-making style that the Bears just didn’t have with either backup quarterback in the lineup. And the team responded well to it. Makes you wonder why exactly John Fox thought Brian Hoyer was a better option…but that is what it is.
2. The front 7 exploded on the Vikings
Wow. Which team was supposed to be the #1 defense in the league again? If you watched tonight without having seen all season, you’d have thought it was the Bears. It all started up front. Akiem Hicks was downright unstoppable, repeatedly destroying double-teams and pushing pockets. The 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and PBU don’ even tell the full story of how impossible it was to block this man tonight. Pernell McPhee re-gained another step, at one point absolutely annihilating Sam Bradford for his first sack of the year. And Leonard Floyd, who had a bit of a coming-out party against the Packers, racked up another sack, making that three takedowns in his last two games. https://twitter.com/FanSportsClips/status/793262719285669888 At one point, the two dynamic pass-rushers met at Sam Bradford to cause a pressure and bad throw. Boy am I looking forward to seeing a ton of that in the future. The secondary, which is now down to starting De’Vante Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc at corner, didn’t do much in this game, and they didn’t have to, thankfully. Sure, the Vikings have been struggling in general to protect Bradford lately, given that they now have to start a really slow, bad version of Jake Long at left tackle. But the Bears haven’t been able to take advantage bad offensive lines all season. That wasn’t a problem tonight. And judging by the way the Bears defense played in McPhee’s first extended action after returning from injury, the prospect should have Bears brass and fans salivating.
3. Dowell Loggains coached his best game of the season
Cutler’s talent at the quarterback position was obvious, but make no mistake: Loggains owned Mike Zimmer tonight. Though he still maintained his somewhat pass-happy trends, he did it in a way that maximized Cutler’s strengths, calling bootlegs off of play action that moved the pocket the way offensive coordinators have said they’d do for years but never have. He certainly made sure not to abandon the run, particularly in the red zone. Howard’s touchdown run in the second quarter had the defense expecting a left-side running play only to see a toss sweep go to the opposite direction. Mitch Unrein, who was in at fullback, didn’t even have anyone to block as Howard went in untouched. https://twitter.com/nflnetwork/status/793266430745600001 Then, on Cutler’s third quarter touchdown throw, Loggains took advantage of both Trae Waynes—in for a then-injured Xavier Rhodes—and All-Pro safety Harrison Smith. Smith bit on the zone-read fake, and Jeffery ran a delayed slant right behind him, beating Waynes for the score. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/793278211941552128 Loggains has struggled badly at times this year, but there’s no doubt that tonight was his absolute best night as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. Perhaps this is a performance that he can build on for the future, as it’s highly unlikely he goes anywhere immediately after this game.
4. Jordan Howard reasserted himself as the Bears’ top back
Jeremy Langford was finally back in the lineup and did get involved in tonight’s game a bit, as did Ka’Deem Carey. But this night was all about Howard. His 153 rushing yards were a career-high, giving him his third 100+-yard game of the season, and his 202 scrimmage yards were the most ever in Bears history for a player under 22 years old. He busted big plays all night on the Vikings all night long, including a 69-yard run on the first drive of the game that set up a field goal. And, as he has all year, he continued to catch the ball well out of the backfield, as seen above. https://twitter.com/Stuart_Jackson1/status/793255031491493888 While he played well against the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts, he had yet to prove he could do it against a top-flight defense. Tonight, he ran up, down, and all around arguably the best defensive unit in the league. And while we’re raving about Howard, let’s not forget about the job done by the offensive line. Eric Kush, starting for Josh Sitton, held down the fort nicely, including helping to spring Howard on his touchdown run with a great block. Cody Whitehair just continues to excel at center. If you hadn’t watched him play yet this year, you’d be hard pressed to recognize he was a rookie based on the tape.
5. Alshon Jeffery finally got on the board
It looked for a bit like Jeffery just wasn’t used to Cutler throwing him passes in game situations again. He missed two surefire touchdowns in which it seemed that he just didn’t get his hands up in time to catch either throw, possibly because he’s been used to balls coming at him with a lot less zip the last few weeks. They were so out of sync that Jeffery even took one of Cutler’s downfield fastballs right off the dome in what was, in a way, emblematic of the Bears’ season. https://twitter.com/NFLRT/status/793261033414615040 And then, Cutler and Jeffery hit their patented fade route, and it was on from there. And finally, after seven weeks, he got his first receiving touchdown of the year. He finished the game with four catches for 63 yards plus the TD. It’s been a long time coming for the Bears #1 receiver, who languished under the quarterbacking of Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. You just knew that when Cutler returned, he wasn’t going to shy away from his top target. And he didn’t. Here’s hoping for more of that for the rest of the season.
-Someone please find a replacement for LeBlanc as a punt returner. I’m not sure how much more I can handle of that nonsense. -Did the Bears learn nothing from 2013? When you see a ball lying on the ground without a whistle being blown, PICK UP THE BALL. It didn’t kill them the way it did vs. the Packers in their play-in game for the playoffs, but they still blew a chance to get a takeaway on a bonehead play. And that’s not even mentioning the awful penalty on Cornelisus Washington for walking onto the field, which cost the Bears a 15-yard penalty. The Bears ended up getting a stop and forcing a field goal, but those plays can’t happen going forward. That’s part of why they’re only 2-6.