By Nate Johnson
Any thoughts that the Bears had packed it in for the season were dashed on Sunday, as Chicago went into Tampa Bay and ended a three-game losing streak with a 26-21 win over the Buccaneers.
Despite being without the injured Alshon Jeffery for the sixth time this year, Jay Cutler managed another quality performance.
“He’s done it all season,” coach John Fox said Monday. “He missed the second half of the Arizona game and wasn’t able to play against Seattle. For six quarters when he wasn’t in there, you feel it. The rest of the games he gives you a chance.”
The quarterback turned in another interception-free performance while completing 20 of his 27 passes, one of which found third-string running back Ka’Deem Carey in the end zone for a touchdown.
“We had a play action to Ka’Deem that came off of it,” said Cutler, “so the more dynamic guys you have on the field, the better, so that’s just kind of what we’re trying to do.”
Carey also scored on a 1-yard run, which combined with four field goals from Robbie Gould for all of the points the team would need.
Cutler’s performance was notable in that it made him the only quarterback in the league with at least ten starts this year without a game throwing multiple interceptions. Considering this is the same man who led the NFL in turnovers a season ago, the effect of first-year offensive coordinator Adam Gase is fairly apparent, especially given the mix of targets he’s had to throw to.
“He’s had a variety of receivers,” Fox said. “It’s not an excuse; it’s just a reality and when you figure that in, he’s had a very good season.”
The running back-by-committee plan helped keep the clock running for the Bears, as Carey, Matt Forte and Langford combined for over 150 total yards on the ground, while Cutler added two dashes of his own.
“We definitely showed that three backs is definitely better than one,” said Carey. “Everybody did their job and we got the win.”
“We can’t afford to think about what back is in and what their style is,” guard Matt Slauson told chicagobears.com. “We’re just going to block the way we block and they’re running with their heads down and they’re trying to find contact and that’s great.”
An early special-teams disaster put Chicago in yet another first-quarter hole. After a three-and-out series on their second possession of the game, punter Patrick O’Donnell had his kick blocked deep in Bears territory, and Tampa capitalized with a four-yard scoring run by Doug Martin on the following play.
The Bears defense would cause the rest of the takeaways from there with undrafted rookies Jon Anderson and Harold Jones-Quartey each forcing big turnovers. Jones-Quartey intercepted Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and hit Martin for a fumble, and Anderson knocked Martin for a second fumble, this one essentially sealing the victory.
“They earn that,” said Fox. “Those guys did that. I didn’t do it. Their coach didn’t do it. They did it. This profession is about opportunity and when opportunity knocks, you bust the door down. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a first-round pick, a college free agent or a seventh-round pick. It’s just a matter of producing when you’re on the field.”
Tampa would draw the score closer with a last-season heave from Winston to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but the effort was for naught as time expired on the ensuing onside kick.
Injuries again hampered the Bears at key positions. Second-round draft pick Eddie Goldman, one of the season’s bright spots on defense, was taken from the field after an ankle injury, and Forte spent the bulk of the second half on the sideline getting treatment for a back injury. While Forte expects to play this Sunday’s season finale against Detroit, Goldman is questionable for the match.