Bearing it All: Reign Over?
Speaking after the game, Tim Jennings repeated a mantra of the Lovie Smith regime: turnovers. "That's why we preach so much about winning the turnover game. Any time you win the turnover battle, it's going to give you a better chance of winning. Obviously they beat us in that area, and you saw the outcome of the game." The Texans forced two fumbles and intercepted two Cutler passes, to the Bears two interceptions, both by Jennings. All season, the Bears defense has been relied upon heavily for scoring, with 7 interceptions for touchdowns. "If I had a couple more opportunities, I should have helped the team win. It was a good football team we played out there," said Jennings.
Jennings has had a stellar season, personally racking up eight interceptions, in nine games, more this season than in his past six seasons combined (7). The September Defensive Player of the Month attributes his interception success to offseason training. "I worked hard on catching the ball. Put in a little more work on JUGS (football passing machine)."
Unfortunately, the Bears only made 3 points off Jennings' interceptions as the offense struggled to produce. Jennings initial interception in the first quarter was squandered, when, on the Bears' third down, Jay Cutler's pass to Kellen Davis was intercepted by ex-Bear safety Danieal Manning. A tough Texan Defense forced the Bears to settle for a field goal after Jennings' second interception of Texan quarterback Matt Schaub.
The offensive woes that began early in game did not let up. On the first play of the Bears' opening drive, Davis fumbled the Cutler's pass, which was recovered by Tim Dobbins of the Texans. A generally sturdy and reliable Michael Bush also wound up fumbling and turning over the ball in the first quarter. The Bears had only 4 first downs, 40 net yards passing and 59 net yards rushing.
As the first half came to a close, the struggles on offense came to a head. In what was ruled an illegal forward pass, Cutler threw the ball to Hester and, as he released, was leveled in a head to head hit by Dobbins. Dobbins' hit was called for unnecessary roughness, but Cutler's penalty offset Dobbins'. Cutler immediately grabbed at his helmet, while still on the ground. After the impact, Cutler should have sat out a play or two. He remained on the field, rushing for his own 11 yards and passing to Forte for no gain, on the next two plays. His third play, post hit, was a pass that was intercepted by Kareem Jackson, a crushing close to the half. When the players returned for the third quarter, it was announced that Cutler would be out for the rest of the game with a concussion.
No one but Jay will ever really know if he was presenting concussion symptoms after that hit. One thing people can't really question is Cutler's toughness, or perhaps stubbornness. Adrenaline might have masked his dizziness. He may have known he was concussed and decided to do all he could to hide it, hoping to play it safe by running the ball himself. In the end, all that matters is that he should tread with caution over the next few weeks, displeasing as this might sound to Bears' fans. This is Cutler's second (publicly known) concussion with the Bears, and each subsequent trauma to the head presents even greater potential for long-term damage and requires longer recovery. At minimum, he should be asymptomatic for a week before stepping out on the field, time for which the season's schedule is unforgiving.
Beyond the human concern for Cutler's brain, what's disappointing to sports fans is that this was supposed to the test of what teams are materializing as the Super Bowl contenders. Two 7-1 teams duking it out. That competition really didn't get a fair chance. Though the Bears went in with just one loss, the first part of their season has been played against some pretty mediocre teams. It was difficult to tell if the Bears have post season potential. Cutler has the best fourth quarter quarterback rating in the entire league. Football fans didn't have the chance to see a fourth quarter Cutler against the Texans.
What's more, if Cutler is out next week, which he should be for the sake of his long-term health, fans will miss another chance to see how the Bears truly rate against a top team. Oddly enough, their next opponent, the now 6-2-1 San Francisco 49ers, also lost their quarterback to concussion in their game Sunday against the Rams. What could be a possible post-season, conference matchup, may now be a fluke game if neither team fields a starting quarterback.
For his part, backup quarterback Jason Campbell was not awful in filling Cutler's shoes. He hit Brandon Marshall for 45 yards in the third quarter, Marshall's longest catch of the game. Campbell passed for 94 yards, more than double what Cutler threw in first half. But during his post-game press conference, Campbell admitted that coming off the bench is difficult, even for a 8th season veteran. "Tonight was my first reps since the season started." Backups don't get much work in practice. He stated that practice for him was about "a lot of mental reps." Again, for Cutler's sake, I would hope we see Campbell for at least one more game, if not two. Campbell's mental reps made him serviceable for the last half of this game. Perhaps clearer conditions and a week of physical practice will raise his confidence and execution next Monday. Defensive end Shea McClellin also left Sunday's game due to concussion.
On a brighter note, the Bears did honor the nation's military service with vouchers for free food and drink for veterans and active duty servicemen and women, mini American flag handouts, and a giant flag procession with fireworks in commemoration of Veterans Day.
Though Charles "Peanut" Tillman had six tackles, he did not manage to force any fumbles, after forcing 4 last week. Fans can rally for more ball punching in the second half of the season, with the new shirt by The Heckler, available here. Bears play the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday Night Football November 19 at 7:30pm, broadcast on ESPN.