In perhaps the Chicago Bears' most complete game since the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, they handled the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 on Monday Night Football to move to a tie, at 7-6, atop the NFC North.
Josh McCown scored five touchdowns. Alshon Jeffery added to his archive of highlight reels. And the defense? Well, it did enough. Check out grades for all the positional units in the following slideshow.
McCown put together another career game, in the frigid cold no less. With 348 yards, four touchdowns, no picks and a rushing touchdown, statistically it may have been his best game yet.
The Bears offense moved early, often and with impressive consistency, as McCown led scoring drives in all eight of Chicago’s possessions. His downfield throws, with a few exceptions, were frozen darts, almost always finding the hands of Jeffery or Brandon Marshall. His screen passes to Matt Forte and Michael Bush were on the money.
Forte and Bush combined for 140 yards on 28 attempts, a 5.0 average. Behind solid blocking, this duo found positive chunks of yards all game. Forte broke several gains of 10 yards or more, and he was a couple of shoe-string tackles away from even bigger pickups.
The coaching staff did a nice job of getting Bush involved, and not just on goal-line situations. In eight carries, Bush delivered five gains of five yards or more and added a 17-yard catch for a touchdown.
At this point, the debate may no longer be whether the Bears have the best receiving tandem in the league, but which of Chicago’s dynamic wide receivers is better. Marshall and Jeffery both had huge games, finishing with 100 and 84 yards, respectively.
Marshall caught some tough passes in traffic, and he did a nice job of hanging onto the ball. (One pass was intercepted after it hit Marshall in the chest, but the play was called back on a penalty.)
Jeffery, however, stole the show with several highlight-reel catches, like a leaping catch along the sideline and an improbable touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone near the end of the first half. Earl Bennett also added some key catches, including a four-yard touchdown. He finished with two catches for 18 yards.
Martellus Bennett was more active in the passing game against Dallas than he has been in the past few weeks. McCown targeted him six times, connecting five times for 43 yards. Against the team that drafted him, Bennett showed why he’s one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league.
His counterpart, Dante Rosario, also added a 13-yard catch.
Against an ailing Dallas defensive line, the Bears’ front five put together a pretty dominating night. They kept McCown off the turf; on the few occasions he was rushed, he still had enough room to slide into space within or outside the pocket. The only hits that Dallas’ front seven recorded against McCown turned into 15-yard roughing the passer penalties.
Just as impressive was the line’s work in the running game. It gave Forte and Bush running lanes all night; the two finished with 5.1 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively.
Against one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, the Bears’ front line couldn’t get much going. Jeremiah Ratliff did record a sack, but that was about the extent of the pressure they were able to put on Tony Romo. Julius Peppers was mostly neutralized by Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith.
The defensive line did little to slow down the Cowboys’ rushing attack at the point of attack. Too often DeMarco Murray reached the second level with a full head of steam. As a team, the Cowboys averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
ESPN Announcer Jon Gruden may have said it best during Monday night’s broadcast. "The Bears need to find a way to get off blocks," he said, early in the first quarter as Murray found big chunks of yardage on his first handful of carries. Not much changed the rest of the game. Murray and Joseph Randle combined for 199 yards on 27 carries, a 7.4 average, and at the heart of those yards were linebackers who struggled to disrupt plays.
James Anderson did add some productivity in the pass rush. He tallied a sack and added substantial pressure on another rush.
With limited help from their safeties, Tim Jennings, Zach Bowman and Isaiah Frey restricted Dallas’ passing attack to just 5.8 yards per attempt.
Jennings, aside from allowing a first-quarter TD, did a remarkable job covering Dez Bryant. The Cowboys’ superstar, targeted four times, finished with just two catches for 12 yards. On the other side, Bowman avoided penalties that had plagued him in previous weeks, and he compiled seven tackles and a pass deflection.
The Bears weren’t torched for any gains of more than 25 yards, and part of that had to do with improved play from Chris Conte and Major Wright. Conte tallied nine tackles, seven solo, leading the team in both categories. Wright appeared in better position than in previous weeks, though his tackling remains suspect.
The duo still has room for improvement across the board, especially in the running game, where they failed to slow down Murray or Randle.
Robbie Gould shook off a forgettable Week 13 performance by knocking in all three of his field-goal attempts. The cold weather affected his kickoff attempts; his third-quarter kickoff following one of his field goals lofted well short of the goal line, and poor coverage allowed Dallas return man Dwayne Harris to return it all the way to the Chicago 47. Gould actually provided nice defense to prevent a touchdown.
Devin Hester had a decent game, averaging 26.0 yards on two kick returns and taking back his sole returnable punt 19 yards.
Adam Podlesh only saw the field to hold for Gould’s attempts. The Bears, scoring on each of their eight drives, didn’t need to punt.
While Mel Tucker’s defense didn’t slow down Dallas’ rushing attack, it did hold the Cowboys offense to 328 total yards. Offensively, the Bears were on fire in the frosty Chicago weather. Behind Trestman’s play-calling they totaled 490 yards, and they scored on all eight of their drives.