Bears in Other Bear's Clothing
Thursday night's heart-stopping, overtime Bears win over the New Orleans Saints featured players seemingly donning other players' ensembles.
Most notably, kick returner/safety Danieal Manning kicked off the first play of the game looking like he should be wearing the #23 jersey. Manning was Hester-esque wth an 83-yard kick return for the game's first touchdown. That put the Bears on the board 7-0 within the first 15 seconds of the game. Manning later returned another kick that put the Bears at the Saint's 41 yard line. Conversely, Devin Hester was unrecognizable as the '07 return phenom and actually ran backwards, losing 10 yards, on one of Thursday's punt returns.
The dress-up game didn't end there, with a generally confident and accurate Kyle Orton looking like he belonged in a #8 Rex Grossman jersey. Orton threw two interceptions directly into the hands of Saints defenders (okay, one with some help from butterfingers Rashied Davis), as if he thought they were Bears dressed as Saints. When running back Matt Forte had to leave the field temporarily to tend to a toe injury, Orton appeared uncharacteristically flustered, overthrowing passes to Hester and Greg Olsen. Orton even fumbled a snap on his own 1 yard line which was recovered by the Saints and easily run in for a Saints touchdown for their first points of the game. Until the last three minutes of regulation play (when Orton lead a drive which successfully took the team to field goal range, a tying field goal and then another field goal in overtime), Orton looked far more like the dreaded Rex of '07 than the valiant Orton of early '08, upon which Chicago hangs its hopes.
In fact the whole offense that "gets off the bus running" and has the number eight running back in the league in Matt Forte, must have decided they were going to masquerade as a passing team. Well, perhaps that's not so new a look (see Bearing it All archive). But the offense, who, yet again, seemed to abandon the run, left a lot of Chicago fans scratching their heads. Why did Orton throw at all in the last five minutes of the game when the Bears had a 4 point lead, had Forte back, Orton had been picked off and when the Bears are a running team?!
So who did suit up correctly? Simple: the Defense. The defense came out strong from the start with Mike Brown intercepting a Drew Brees ball on the Saints' first possession. Even Adewale Ogunleye got in on the turnover action when he blocked a ball that he also managed to intercept from Brees, Ogunleye's first interception as a Bear. The Bears defense held the Saints offense at bay, despite the stats indicating otherwise. Although Brees outpassed Orton with 232 yards to Orton's 172, the Bears defense denied the Saints offense point production in nearly every offensive possession. The Saint's three touchdowns were all a result of turnovers their defense made.
Who else showed up? Devin Hester. Only, not when he wore his returner cap, but when he modeled the receiver cap. Hester's best fit, now, is at wide receiver on deep balls. His speed gets him enough separation that when he gets down field, he can be assured of either catching the ball to move the chains or drawing a pass interference penalty that will have the same effect. The two penalties he drew on Thursday brought the Bears within the striking distance they needed to score. The second penalty got the Bears into field goal range for Robbie Gould to win the game. Hester may have lost the look of a returner, but the deep ball receiver look may just prove to flatter him equally well.
Tight end Greg Olsen and punter Brad Maynard also had consistent games. Olsen came up the charts right behind Hester with 45 yards in 8 receptions. Maynard 's punting pinned the Saints back tight to their own end zone. But even Maynard couldn't completely resist playing dress up, as he jumped into quarterback clothing with a punt fake cum pass to Adrian Peterson in the fourth quarter.
If Orton is cured of his Rexitis and Manning continues to fill Hester's return shoes, the playoff hopes that were kept alive with Thursday's win might be vital for another week. The defense has found its groove and are second in the league in takeaways. Any soreness Forte has in his toe has 11 days to rest until the Packers have to face the Bears on their own turf.
Photos by: Jamie Ramsay