The Chicago Bears bounced back on Sunday Night Football in Week 6 with a dominant win over the Minnesota Vikings 39-10. Minnesota threatened to get back into the game shortly after halftime with a Jared Allen sack, which caused a Jay Cutler fumble. The ensuing Adrian Peterson touchdown made the score 26-10. Devin Hester quickly ended any idea of a Minnesota comeback.
With new starters at safety lining up for the Bears and Julius Peppers starting after missing practice all week, the Bears' struggling defense turned in a dominant performance Sunday night.
The offensive line also came together finally, with Lance Louis playing beside Chris Spencer on the right side. Jay Cutler was only sacked once by Allen, who broke through a double-team. Allen was blanketed all night by at least two Bears and was largely ineffective aside from the turnover he forced.
The Bears are back on the right track, so let's take a look at one report card the Bears won't want to hide from Mom.
Jay Cutler built on his gutsy performance from Week 5, throwing well for the Bears in what resembled a 21st century NFL offense. His 115.9 QB rating, 267 yards passing performance was only blemished by his fumble after a Jared Allen sack. It was a relatively big turnover right after halftime, with Minnesota scoring a quick touchdown, but Cutler made smart decisions and great throws all night.
Cutler has shown in 2011 that when he has to scramble, he has the talent to make plays. On Sunday night, he showed that with time and protection, he can find open Bears' receivers as well as move the chains.
His touchdown to Devin Hester for 48 yards in the first quarter set the tone for the offense, enabling a balanced attack with Matt Forte rushing for 87 yards.
Matt Forte and the offensive line were in sync, as Forte racked up 87 yards at a 5.1 yards-per-carry clip. Forte also caught six catches for 36 yards. Marion Barber added 31 yards and a goal line score.
With a balanced attack on offense, the Bears seemed to keep Minnesota guessing all night. Forte benefited from this and put in another solid effort, adding to his league leading 785 total yards from scrimmage.
The Bears' wide receivers stepped up their efforts in Week 6, highlighted by Devin Hester, who had 91 receiving yards and one touchdown. Roy Williams showed up, making some key catches and totaling 50 receiving yards.
Johnny Knox was good for only two catches and tangled with Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook in the end zone on an incompletion, which almost was intercepted by Minnesota. If Knox wants to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL, he's got to be physical and make that play.
Cutler's time afforded him by the offensive line led to the Bears' receivers actually completing their routes. In their first game not under constant defensive pressure, the receivers put in a solid performance.
The Bears' offensive line in 2011 has been responsible for wearing out the F key on my laptop, for reasons beyond just report cards. With right tackle Frank Omiyale safely on the bench for the Bears Sunday night, Lance Louis and Chris Spencer protected Jay Cutler on the strong side, while Chris Williams and every tight end the Bears could produce shut down Jared Allen, except for Allen's sack, which caused jay Cutler's fumble.
The protection the offensive line gave Jay Cutler was truly a welcome sight. It means that Cutler won't curse Chicago in his sleep this week, and the Bears may have found an effective offensive line combination, with added depth when first round pick Gabe Carimi returns from injury.
Julius Peppers had been doubtful going into Sunday night's game with the Vikings. Fortunately for the Bears, he was good to go at game time. He may have been ready to go all along with his knee injury, but his presence was a welcome sight; just not for Donovan McNabb.
Peppers had two sacks and put constant pressure on all Minnesota quarterbacks Sunday night. Rookie Stephen Paea, a defensive tackle out of Oregon State, got some playing time and made the most out of it. Paea wrapped up McNabb in his end zone for a first quarter safety.
The line helped limit Vikings stud running back Adrian Peterson to only 39 yards, most of which were from small gains.
The defensive line proved that the key to a successful cover 2 defense is constant pressure on the quarterback. With Peppers back to form and the rest of the line following suit, the Bears' defense held the Vikings to just 286 total yards, a huge improvement over the last few weeks.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher handled the questions all week about what has happened to the Bears' defense. He was as stunned as the rest of us at how inept the Bears' defense has been in 2011, giving up several big plays.
Sunday night, Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach helped contain the Vikings' running game early on, forcing Donovan McNabb to try and beat the Bears through the air. Urlacher was in on the safety with Stephen Paea in the first quarter and had five tackles on the night.
With Chris Conte and Major Wright starting against Minnesota at free and strong safety, the Bears were looking to mix things up on a struggling defense that had been giving up yards at an astonishing rate in 2011.
Conte and Wright tackled soundly and kept the Vikings' receivers in front of them, putting in a solid performance. D.J. Moore almost had an interception for a touchdown, stepping in front of a McNabb pass in the first half.
Just when you thought the other shoe was going to drop after Jay Cutler's fumble and Adrian Peterson's quick score for the Vikings, Devin Hester added to his legend.
Hester sliced through the Vikings' kick coverage, and faster than you can say Soulja Boy, Hester was trotting around the end zone like it was 2006. Hester's 98-yard touchdown brought the Bears' lead back up to 23 points, killing any ideas of a Vikings' second half rally.
He almost brought a punt back shortly after, returning it for 27 yards before being forced out of bounds.
The Bears looked solid in their return coverage, with Sam Hurd standing out, making two tackles.
The Bears' special teams showed once again why they're an elite game-changing unit.
Mike Martz's 2011 genius-level teeter-totter crept upwards during Sunday night's Bears' victory. The Bears attacked Minnesota with balance and kept the Vikings guessing all night.
Lovie Smith's decision to make changes on both sides of the ball seemed to pay off.
The Bears did burn a quick timeout on the second play of the game, as there was some confusion the way Minnesota was lined up on offense. Hopefully, Brian Urlacher's earpiece wasn't malfunctioning.
The penalties were way down from Week 5, even with some false start penalties adding to the Bears' league lead in that category.
Smith and the Bears' staff should be proud, though. Sunday night's performance was probably the Bears' best game of 2011, alongside their win on opening day, against Atlanta. It was one to build on.