Bears, Hester regain that Super look
Special teams, unpredictable quarterback elicit memories of '06 NFC champs
CHICAGO -- It was a throwback kind of game for the Chicago Bears, and I'm not talking about the 1940s "Monsters of the Midway" jerseys on their backs.
The nationally televised game was like a tribute to the 2006 team that rode defense and special teams all the way to the Super Bowl, while surviving the Good Rex/Bad Rex situation at quarterback.
In the Bears' 20-17 win over Green Bay on Monday night, Devin Hester ran back a punt for a touchdown; the offense did just enough to win, or to not lose; and the defense played vintage Lovie Smith Cover-2, giving up the short passes but ultimately coming away with a well-timed turnover.
Just like that, the Bears, with a favorable schedule ahead of them, are 3-0 and the only undefeated team in an underwhelming conference.
Chicago didn't dominate in any facet of the game, and the Packers' 18 penalties were huge, especially the pair that came on Jay Cutler interceptions in the fourth quarter. But sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
The play of the game was Hester's 62-yard punt return to start the fourth quarter. It broke an epic drought -- two full seasons -- for the electric return-man-turned-receiver, whose return skills were questioned this week by general manager Jerry Angelo in a radio interview. He now has 12 kick returns for touchdowns in his career.
"My first two years, we were knocking them out of the park once or twice every three weeks," Hester said. "It's been a long time, but I'm happy with what happened today. I'm glad I built confidence in my teammates and let them know I'm still capable of taking it to the distance. That was my biggest goal, not to let them doubt me and second-guess me. I hope I proved I'm capable of still doing that and continue doing it rest of the season."
Hester nearly took one back in the second quarter, getting a 28-yard return before Green Bay punter Tim Masthay dragged him down.
Hester hurdled Masthay near the goal line on his score.
"I was very upset," Hester said about his near-score. "I had a chance to go to the house, and I got tackled by the punter. I didn't want to give him a chance the second time."
Cover Who: Aaron Rodgers nearly beat the Bears at their own game, taking every check-down and quick-hitter while marching the Packers down the field.
With little running game to speak of, he took what the Cover 2 giveth: the short- and medium-range pass. He completed 34 of 45 passes for 316 yards, but only four were for big gains, three of which went to freakishly athletic tight end Jermichael Finley.
The Packers had three long drives comprised of 38 plays that took a combined 24:01 off the clock. In the final three quarters, they held the ball for 30:15, compared to 14:05 for the Bears. Green Bay converted only 4 of 10 third downs, but it converted a whole bunch of second downs.
Those long drives resulted in a field goal, a missed field goal and a touchdown, in that order. Rodgers completed only two passes of more than 10 yards in that span, and ran in the only score from 3 yards out in the fourth quarter.
But despite spending most of the game on the field, the Bears' defense came up with the game-changing turnover on Green Bay's final possession. It was Lovie 101, minus a consistent pass rush and Tommie Harris, who was benched.
With the game tied late in the fourth, James Jones broke Tim Jennings' tackle on a short pass, but as he raced up the sidelines Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs caught up to him and Urlacher popped the ball out as Briggs hit him. Jennings, who replaced starting cornerback Zack Bowman in the first half, did a tremendous job of picking up the ball and staying in bounds.
The Bears won on a Robbie Gould field goal on the ensuing drive with less than a minute to play.
"That's just how the defense is designed, bend but don't break," Jennings said. "We don't want to give up the big plays. As long as we've got them checking down and everything, we're bound to get the ball out. Check it down, but we're going to keep hitting them. They're going to be afraid to catch them sometimes, maybe short-arm some balls. One thing about this defense, we'll be punching the ball out and going for the strips and getting fumbles."
Or as the always verbally economical Smith put it: "We kept the ball in front of us for the most part and came through with the big take-away at the end."
Forget those two -- Urlacher said it best: "They had a lot of yards. Yards don't mean crap. Points do."
Good Jay/Bad Jay: Cutler wasn't thrilled with his performance. The top-rated quarterback after the first two games, Cutler completed 16 of 27 passes for 221 yards, throwing a touchdown pass and one interception that counted.
He had some success finding Johnny Knox and Greg Olsen deep down field. Olsen caught the only score, a low rocket near the goal line at the end of the first half. Olsen was able to roll in for the score.
"I didn't play that well," Cutler said. "I missed some throws that I should have made. I thought the defense did a great job keeping us in there and getting some turnovers when we had to. We needed to make some plays and we didn't make them."
Cutler summed up the win thusly: "We didn't play our best game and we won. That's got to be a good sign."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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