FINAL SCORE: Bears 23, Panthers 6
In NFL you have to take wins, especially wins on the road, however you can get them. Was this an ugly win? Sure it was. Their running game looked great in the first quarter, but after Collins threw a horrible interception at the goal line, their offense couldn't do much. Matt Forte had a big game, which the Bears desperately needed. He is an amazing open field runner. Once he gets past the first level, he is a threat to take it the distance every time. I wish he could make more people miss on the first level, though. I doubt Martz will call as many run plays once Cutler comes back, but I think the Bears demonstrated that they CAN be effective running the ball if they commit to it.
Todd Collins should be cut immediately. He simply cannot make the throws necessary to play quarterback in the NFL. He threw four awful interceptions. The protection wasn't great on one of them, but on the other three he simply overthrew, underthrew or didn't see big fat guys right in front of him. Martz ticked me off a few times with his play calling, but Collins simply showed that he can't get it done. I can't think of any other team in the NFL that the Bears would've beaten with that kind of play from their quarterback position. Caleb Hanie lacks experience, but he is mobile, has a stronger arm, and plays with confidence. I am more than comfortable with Hanie as the backup for the rest of the year than Collins. Even if Cutler can't make it back next week, I'd rather have Hanie start. In fact, I'm a little perplexed that Collins remained as the #2 quarterback once Hanie got healthy.
The Bears defense was crazy good. I knew they'd take advantage of Clausen's inexperience, but I thought they'd struggle stopping the run. Outside of the first drive when the Panthers drove down the field calling only run plays, the Bears run defense was stout. They stayed in their gaps and attacked the ball carriers. Very impressive. The five sacks were a welcome sight, too. Peppers interception was ridiculous. I also liked the blitzes that Marinelli was calling. He mixed it up a little bit. He must've felt comfortable going after a rookie. I doubt he'll blitz that much against Hasselbeck next week, but it might not be a bad idea.
Hester and Manning were fantastic returning kicks and punts. They gave the offense great field position all day, which really helped overcome their inept passing game. This unit looks like it's really coming together.
If Cutler comes back next week, the Bears should be able to win two out of the next three games (Seattle, Washington, Buffalo). They need their offensive line to figure out pass protection sooner rather than later, but, even more importantly, Martz needs to put much more emphasis on the run game. They showed that they could run the ball without ANY passing game. If they find some balance, it will definitely help the pass protection.
The Bears are 4-1. No, they are not the most talented or complete team in the league, and I'm still not 100% convinced this is a playoff team. The offensive line will need to show that they can protect Cutler, and Martz will need to demonstrate his willingness to run the ball consistently. But, they have won a few games no one thought they could, and they have beaten teams that they should beat. That can be a formula for success.
I'll be anxiously awaiting to hear who will start at quarterback for the Bears this week because I cannot take another game where the forward pass appears to be against the rules.