In an old-fashioned slugfest at Soldier Field Week 11, the Chicago Bears defeated the Baltimore Ravens in overtime, 23-20, to move back into a tie for first place in the NFC North. Because of rain and swirling winds, the game was largely fought on the ground—67 rushing attempts for 278 yards combined. But in the end it was won through the air—a 43-yard toss to Martellus Bennett in the extra session. In the following slideshow, check out grades for Bennett as well as Chicago's other positional units.
Backup quarterback Josh McCown is making a strong case to be Chicago’s MVP. In conditions where no quarterback finds success, against a defense that doesn’t treat quarterbacks well, McCown connected on 61 percent of his passes for 216 yards a touchdown and no interceptions.
In the rain and mud, through the gusts of wind, he was gritty and tough-nosed. He found yards when he needed to. He made throws when it mattered most.
At this point, his stellar performances are looking less and less fluky. In fact, if he’s looked better than Jay Cutler, it’s because that’s exactly what he’s been. Per ESPN, his 81.3 QBR, if it qualified, would be second only to Peyton Manning. Cutler has been no slouch, ranking in the top 10 all year, but McCown has been otherworldly.
At 4.6 yards per carry, Matt Forte provided the consistent running game against Baltimore that was woefully lacking against the Detroit Lions in Week 10. Forte’s one-cut, balanced style of running was perfect for the weather conditions. He seemed adept at managing the terrain where others were losing their footing, and it helped him reel off positive chunks of yardage on nearly every play.
Forte was just as much a factor in the passing game. His five catches for 42 yards out of the backfield were huge on a day when downfield passing was a gamble.
The wide receivers, usually reliable, were less than perfect against the Ravens. Jeffery fumbled once—luckily he recovered it. Another time it appeared he fumbled, but a booth review deemed it an incomplete pass. Either mistakes could have potentially cost the Bears the game.
Marshall was no Superman either. He had a drive-killing drop on a 3rd-and-10 pass in the second quarter. Later in the quarter, on several goal-line plays, he was bested by Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith.
On the positive side, both Marshall and Jeffery had big catches—Marshall, a 16-yard highlight-reel grab along the left sideline and Jeffery, a key 3rd-and-9 catch in overtime.
On one hand, Martellus Bennett reeled in what was essentially the game-winning catch. In overtime, he went over the top of a Baltimore defender and reeled in McCown’s throw for a 43-yard completion. On the other hand, his two false start penalties set back the offense.
In addition, he was only targeted twice, which speaks to his inability to get open in the center of the field. Overall, it was not Bennett's best game, though he did make a huge play when the game was on the line.
Against one of the best front sevens in football, the Bears offensive line had one of its most impressive games of the season. Under the conditions, if they wanted any chance of winning, the Bears needed to be able to run the ball. That’s where the O-line stepped up. They gave Forte a chance on each play—in fact, Forte was rarely stopped for less than two yards throughout the game.
They also gave McCown a chance. He was pressured 11 times, but against a strong Baltimore pass rush, those are numbers Bears fans can live with, especially considering how well McCown has handled pressure this year.
Julius Peppers came alive against Baltimore. With two sacks, a hit, a hurry, nine stops and nine total tackles—per Pro Football Focus—he was a disruptive force throughout the game. Backup David Bass may have been the D-line’s biggest hero though. His interception and 24-yard return for a touchdown brought the Bears back into the game in the second quarter.
The efforts of those two would earn the defensive line an A+. However, there’s more to the story. As a unit, the team didn’t perform as well as many expected them to. Facing a subpar offensive line and the worst rushing attack in football, the defense allowed Ray Rice (averaging 2.5 YPC coming into the contest) to rush for 131 yards on 25 carries—a 5.2 average.
All that in a game where rushing the ball meant everything.
Against the pass, the D-line was a little better. They had three big sacks on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and pressured him seven other times.
In his third game starting, middle linebacker Jon Bostic had a solid game. Against the run he was OK—he still struggles to shed blocks as quickly as you’d like your middle linebacker to do so, but there were times when he came flying into the picture with some solid solo tackles. Against the pass, he looked impressive, especially with his leaping interception late in the second quarter.
Of the three linebackers, outside linebacker James Anderson struggled the most against the run. His inability to disengage from blocks contributed to most of Rice’s big runs, most notably his 47-yard run in the first quarter.
Khaseem Greene only saw the field for 18 snaps, 16 against the run, and for the most part he looked good. Actually, he helped his counterparts look good too. On a huge tackle for loss Bostic made on Rice in the third quarter, it was actually Greene who sprung the play by plowing right through the lead blocker.
The linebacking unit played at a respectable level, and their efforts on the goal line at the end of the game were crucial. But you can’t ignore Baltimore’s 174 rushing yards, especially the runs of 13, six and 11 that Rice had on the Ravens’ final drive of the fourth quarter.
The weather conditions may have benefited Chicago’s safeties more than any other positional unit. The slick, torn-up turf slowed the game down, and with passing downfield a risky endeavor, the game became a little easier for Major Wright and Chris Conte. Neither Wright nor Conte gave up a big pass play all day, and, in fact, both looked like lock-down cover men at times.
In the running game, both safeties made some key tackles. Between the two, they had 9 tackles and, just as important, they didn’t miss a single tackle. They also were successful in derailing a couple of the Ravens’ outside running attempts. They didn’t lock down the running game by any means—they were part of a defense that allowed far too many rushing yards. But for a tandem that looked like one of the worst in the league just a few weeks ago, this game was serious progress.
If the Bears’ pass rush looked acceptable on Sunday, it was largely due to the efforts of Tim Jennings, Zackary Bowman and Isaiah Frey. The trio, especially Jennings, played tight coverage all game, and they, along with the weather, made Baltimore’s passing game almost a non-factor. The Ravens averaged just 4.6 yards per passing attempt. Flacco’s 37.6 QBR was indicative of how little he was able to do through the air.
Perhaps what was most impressive from this unit was Bowman’s tackling. On several occasions he made spectacular tackles to thwart potentially big gains. Least impressive, though, was also Bowman. He was called for five penalties—four of which were accepted and one, a pass interference, which was declined because the play resulted in a touchdown anyway. The 15-yard horse-collar penalty on a 3rd-and-10 play in the fourth quarter was especially brutal, as it kept the Ravens’ drive alive.
Robbie Gould is clutch. Swirling winds? No problem. High pressure situation? Please. The man just makes it, pure and simple.
The rest of the special teams unit played well enough. Punter Adam Podlesh struggled with the winds, but you can’t expect perfection in those conditions. He did land two punts inside the opponents’ 20.
The real killer for the Bears was the offsides penalty on the overtime kickoff. Gould had booted the opening kick out of the end-zone, but on the re-kick, from five yards farther back, his kick was returned to the 36 yard line. That penalty, coming just weeks after the same penalty cost the Bears an onside kick recovery, is just unacceptable.
After the delay, it was the Bears that came out looking like a team that had made adjustments. Trailing 10-0 going into the break, the Bears outscored Baltimore 23-10 the rest of the way, and the defense, which gave up a 47-yard run to Rice in the first quarter, didn’t give up any more huge gains the rest of the game.
A key coaching moment occurred midway through the fourth quarter. A 3rd-and-7 completion to Jeffery landed the Bears at the 44 yard line, just a foot short of the first down marker. With five minutes remaining in the game and a three-point lead, Marc Trestman opted to punt the ball. Assessing the risk-reward ratio of going for it—punting here was definitely the right move. A failed conversation attempt would have given Baltimore a short field. In fact, they would have only needed about 15 yards to get into field goal range.
Trestman didn’t play the odds later in the game, though. Baltimore entered the Chicago red zone with under two minutes remaining in the game. A touchdown would put the Ravens up by four, and a field goal would tie it. As the Ravens neared Chicago’s goal line, Trestman chose not to stop the clock. He had three timeouts in his pocket. All three. And he decided that if Baltimore should punch it into the end zone, they should just take the win, as opposed to giving his offense one last chance. The fact that the situation worked out for the Bears this time around doesn’t excuse his huge error in judgment.