Sunday’s season opener was supposed to signal a new era for the Bears.
A new head coach with a big offensive portfolio. A new offense built to maximize the myriad talents the Bears have amassed. Some new, important players, young and experienced.
And for a moment, it looked new, although not on the first possession, of course. Must be a rule or something. Cutler was hit twice, a tight end dropped a pass, and the Bears had to waste a timeout.
Come out of there, Mike Tice, we know that was you.
But after Charles Tillman showed he was still Charles Tillman, the Bears turned his first interception into a 7-0 lead. Brandon Marshall caught an 18-yard pass on third-and-17, and that’s how he fits into the offense, in case he’s still wondering. Then Martellus Bennett leaped to squeeze a Cutler throw in the back of the end zone, holding on as he was thumped out of bounds.
This wasn’t Tice or Kellen Davis or anything from the last couple seasons.
And then it was.
For the rest of the first half, it was. Five possessions, 21 yards combined. One-for-6 on third down. And another wasted timeout and a wasted takeaway.
The Bears were losing both lines of scrimmage. While they managed a mere 97 yards in the first half, the Bengals did that on one drive. They also had another TD drive covering 93 yards. Who goes 90-plus yards against a Bears defense twice in a half?
The Bears defensive line, rumored to include Julius Peppers, managed no pressure. Andy Dalton had whatever time he needed. Like that, the Bengals pounded the Bears for 245 yards in the first half.
By the second half, the Bears were failing with blitzes, too. Dalton still faced little pressure. Witness Tillman’s pass interference on a bomb in the end zone.
Worse, the Bears were getting beaten by the middle of the Cincinnati offensive line. Witness BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 5-yard blast to make it 21-10.
Then the Bears put together a drive in the second half, going 80 yards on nine plays, keyed by Cutler’s elusiveness to hit Bennett for a 30-yard gain.
But could they do it more than once per half?
And could they hold the Bengals more than once per half?
And could they stop wasting timeouts?
Yes, yes and no. Two out of three ain’t bad.
The offense got better in one half, and the better became stunning.
The Bears converted third downs and made big plays otherwise. Matt Forte made good on Marc Trestman’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches. The rookie right side of the offensive line was better than the Bengals’ much-heralded defensive line when it mattered. A tight end made a big catch. I know I mentioned that earlier, but I’m still not used to it.
With Cutler leading like a guy in a contract year, the Bears answered a Bengals TD drive with a big one of their own in the third quarter and then the Bears owned the fourth. Just owned it. Offensively and defensively.
The Bears ran 20 plays in the fourth quarter while allowing the Bengals just six. Two possessions. That was it. They even sacked Dalton after much ineptitude and made A.J. Green disappear after he had a Steve Smith-style playoff game in the first half alone.
Cutler directed an 80-yard TD drive in the third quarter and then an 81-yarder in the fourth to take a 24-21 lead off a Tim Jennings forced fumble. And when the Bears needed a six-minute drive, they put together a soul-killing possession to end the game.
The Bengals’ impossibly stupid and undisciplined play helped, sure, but the Bears put them in that position. That’s a big thing. The Bears were opportunistic and smart. You can’t be stupid and get better on both sides of the ball the way the Bears did if you aren’t smart. They were professional and big when they needed to be. That’s the hope that was supposed to come with this new era.