In a contest that was punctuated by turnovers, inconsistent offenses, and opportunistic defenses the Atlanta Falcons held on to defeat the Chicago Bears 21-14 in a nationally televised Sunday Night Football tilt.
Neither team is likely to want to use this game as the trailer for their 2009 team highlight film.
The Falcons got off to a very rocky start offensively as they went three and out on their first three possessions. Michael Turner once again found yards hard to come by all night long. The stout Falcon ball carrier rushed for only 30 yards on 13 attempts.
The Bears first drive ended in frustration as Jay Cutler threw the first of his two interceptions to Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud. This first interception occurred at the Atlanta nine yard line.
Chicago shooting themselves in the foot in the red zone became a recurring theme for the night.
The Bears did draw first blood though. Jay Cutler hit wide receiver Johnny Knox on a 23-yard TD pass to put the Bears up 7-0 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter the Falcons offense finally started to click for two reasons:
1.) Switching to backup speedster running back Jerious Norwood made the Bears defense respect and defend the edges of the field. In only four rushing attempts Norwood gained 21 yards before having to leave the game with a hip flexor.
2.) Switching to a no-huddle offense, the Falcons put the play-calling and defensive recognition responsibilities in the hands of Matt Ryan. This was the portion of the game when Ryan was most effective.
It was in this productive second quarter that the Falcons gained momentary control of the game. The Falcons first score came on a Ryan short pass to Roddy White, who split Bears defenders for a 40-yard touchdown.
Near the end of the first half Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez on a 10-yard pass to give the Birds a 14-7 halftime lead.
In the third quarter two consecutive plays by Chicago running back Matt Forte on the Falcons goal line swung the momentum squarely back to Atlanta.
With a first down inside the one yard line Chicago was poised to punch it in and tie the game. Trying to fly over the pile, Forte was squarely met by Falcon middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and promptly fumbled the ball. Forte managed to grab the loose ball.
On second down Forte tried to run it in from the left side. Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux met Forte, and more importantly the ball, with his helmet and the ball came out again. This time Atlanta linebacker Coy Wire recovered the Forte miscue.
As the fourth quarter started the Falcons still led the game 14-7.
After Ryan's second interception, Cutler led the Bears on a 92-yard drive that knotted things up at 14. There was 6:14 left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff Falcon returner Eric Weems squashed whatever momentum had swung over to the Chicago sideline with a 62-yard return to the Bears 41.
Two pivotal Tony Gonzalez catches in the subsequent drive helped put Atlanta at the Chicago five-yard line. Michael Turner got his only score of the night with a five-yard burst that put Atlanta up 21-14.
3:06 remained in the game.
Cutler promptly led the Bears all the way down to the Atlanta 14, aided by Atlanta penalties and timely third down completions. Two Chicago penalties gave the Bears a 3rd-and-25 with less than a minute to go in the game.
Former Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett caught a Cutler throw of 24 yards right down the middle, giving the Bears a 4th-and-1 with a little over 30 seconds to go.
Summing up the Bears' night in the Falcons red zone, Bears left tackle Orlando Pace jumped, drawing a five-yard procedure penalty. This left the Bears with a 4th-and-6.
On the Bears last play of the night Cutler attempted to hit tight end Desmond Clark over the middle. Falcons defensive tackle Jamaal Anderson had peeled off of the line of scrimmage though and had drifted into Cutler's passing lane.
Both Anderson and Falcon safety Erik Coleman arrived at the ball at the same time.
The pass glanced off of Clark's arm with 29 seconds left. The Falcons took over and ran the clock out.
What was learned about both teams in this contest?
The bulk of the attention seems to go to the Atlanta Falcons offense. However their bend-but-don't-break defense seems to be starting to play with an aggressiveness and speed not seen in Atlanta in years.
As talented as Jay Cutler is he still needs some more offensive weapons for the Bears to take it to the next level. It also seems to be true that Cutler will give the ball over to the other team at inopportune times.
This writer opined last week that both of these teams might be accurately called understudies to the (still) undefeated teams that top their respective divisions.