Former Vanderbilt Players Shine in Chicago Victory Over Vikings
Quarterback Jay Cutler had spent much of the 2009 season steadily losing the support and confidence of the famously fickle members of Bears Nation.
He did quite a bit to halt that trend Monday night.
The embattled former Commodore completed 20-35 passes for 273 yards and a season-high four touchdowns in a poised performance against a Minnesota team fighting for a first-round bye in the playoffs. His last pass was the best, finding Devin Aromashadu (a name we should hear a lot next season because this guy is a stud) behind the Vikings secondary for a 39-yard score with a perfectly thrown ball to win the game in overtime, 36-30.
For the last 10 weeks, the Bears had looked like a joke. They had lost eight times, four by 20 points or more, and Cutler had been, to not put too fine a point on it, awful. He had thrown 20 picks and twice had been unable to lead the team to a single touchdown in a game. The only wins Chicago had mustered in that time were over the Rams and the Browns, who sport a remarkable combined record of 5-25.
It was a welcome change to see Cutler make big plays and take good care of the football, although his one interception thrown tonight was another head-scratcher, and increased his league-leading total to 26 on the year. But for one night, in a game where the Bears were playing for nothing but pride, Cutler looked like the stud that Chicago banked so much on in its off-season trade in April.
As mind-numbing as Cutler's performances had been this season, I knew he could be the star the Bears envisioned, given the kinds of throws that only he and a few other people in the nation can make. One game a star does not make, especially not after the eggs he's laid this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Other former Commodores were heroes in this game for the Bears as well, none bigger than linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.
After the Vikings forced a three-and-out on Chicago's second possession of overtime, Adrian Peterson caught a swing pass from Brett Favre and turned upfield for a big gain, but Hillenmeyer caught him from behind and punched it loose just before Peterson's knee hit the ground, where it was recovered by the Bears at the Minnesota 39. The very next play, Cutler threw the game-winner. Hillenmeyer not only deserves props for the forced fumble, but also for not giving up on the play after the nimble Peterson beat him around the edge.
Receiver Earl Bennett caught a 20-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, the first time Chicago had scored in the final stanza in seven games, and Chris Williams did a terrific job at left tackle against the menacing Vikings pass rush. Cutler looked comfortable in the pocket all night, a testament to a solid performance by an offensive line that had been like Swiss cheese during Chicago's prolonged slump.
Giving up 30 second-half points and blowing a 17-point lead were indicators that this is still a team with a lot of problems. Great kick-off returns by Danieal Manning to give the Bears good second-half field position and a blocked extra point were major factors in the victory.
Honestly, tonight, I couldn't care less though.
To see the Bears, and Vanderbilt alumni, win on a national stage against a heavily favored opponent was a welcome change from the previous 10 weeks of misery to which we Chicago fans had grown accustomed.
Maybe next year, they can be accustomed to seeing star performances from the Commobears on a week-to-week basis. With Vanderbilt alumni at four key positions on the roster, their fates are fairly entangled.
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