Offense soars, but a truer test comes Thursday night
CHICAGO – The Bears’ new-look offense lived up to its hype Sunday.
Next comes a tougher challenge: Can the Bears repeat their season-opening success in three short days against the Green Bay Packers?
In front of 60,695 fans on a sunny afternoon, the Bears offense proved to be equally as pleasant in a 41-21 win against the Indianapolis Colts. Jay Cutler overcame a rocky start to oversee seven scoring drives, and the Bears scored more points than during any game in 2011.
Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall enjoyed his stellar debut (nine catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) far too much to let bad breath spoil his post-game interview. So he sneaked out of a media scrum, popped a mint and returned to his locker to gloat about the Bears’ potential.
“We’ve got the guys,” Marshall said. “We have the pieces.”
But it’s one thing to win a home game against the Colts, who went 2-14 last season and lost their best defensive player, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, to a sprained ankle in the first half. It’s another to visit Lambeau Field and sprint past the reigning NFC North champions, a team that will be hungry themselves after a 30-22 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Colts were not sure what to expect from a revamped Bears offense that offered few clues during a nondescript preseason. After Sunday, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has 60 minutes of film to break down as he searches for tendencies and weaknesses to exploit.
Cutler shrugged off the notion of future teams nullifying Marshall.
“You’ve got Alshon Jeffery catching touchdowns, Earl [Bennett] catching 60, 70 yards, Matt Forte, Devin Hester,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons. You’ve got to kind of pick what you’re going to do.
“I think, going forward, [teams will be] mixing it up on defense, giving us a lot of different coverages, different fronts, blitzing us – trying to keep us off-balance is probably what you’re going to see.”
Cutler threw 15 passes to Marshall, who could have broken Jim Keane’s single-game Bears’ record of 14 receptions (circa 1949) if he had caught every ball. No other player received half as many chances as Marshall, with Cutler targeting Forte six times, Jeffery five times and Bennett four times.
Maybe Keane’s single-game reception record will fall Thursday. Maybe it won’t.
Marshall said he – along with the Packers – could not be certain what to expect. That was the beauty of the Bears’ revitalized offense.
“In this league, it’s all about matchups,” Marshall said. “Today, it just happened to be a wheelbarrow for me, but next week it might be a shot glass. Alshon had a shot glass – it was just three catches, but he went for 80 [yards].”
None of that seemed possible after a woeful start.
The Bears’ first two drives on offense went something like this: Sack, false start, short run, incomplete pass, punt, interception.
Bears center Roberto Garza said everyone in the huddle remained calm despite the on-field ugliness.
“We just did our job, finally,” Garza said. “We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. We all took turns making mistakes, and once we just executed the plays that were called, we were able to go out there and make those big plays that we talked about all the time.”
Perhaps some early game adversity against the Colts will keep the Bears grounded heading into a prime-time matchup in Green Bay. The Bears have lost four consecutive games at Lambeau dating to 2008.
“[Adversity] is never a bad thing whenever you’re able to overcome it,” Cutler said. “If we weren’t able to overcome it, it’d be a really bad thing.
“It’s correctable stuff. There’s a lot of good that happened. There’s a lot of stuff we need to correct and clean up. Little details.”
The Bears have little time to get to work.
• Tom Musick is the Bears beat reporter at the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @bears_insider.