Bears win a game the John Fox way, and it is good
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I don’t want to say it was a John Fox kind of a game, but I think I saw him in the grips of a religious experience Sunday.
Tough defense? Say it, brother!
A solid running game that dominates the clock? Can you give him an amen?
Short, safe passes? He was blind and now he can see!
A victory in the turnover battle? So much so that beams of dazzling, unearthly light were shooting from Fox’s standard-issue coach’s clothing.
The Bears beat Tampa Bay 26-21, raising their record to 6-9, or quite a bit short of heaven.
OK, I think I just killed Fox’s rapturous buzz. But put that record aside for a second (or longer) and concentrate on the way the Bears won. It can serve as a template for how Fox hopes to win lots of football games during his stay in Chicago.
The Bears had a wading-pool offense Sunday. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase, channeling Fox, stepped in like a cautious child, splashed once and was almost overcome with glee. He surely would have preferred to have a healthy Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) against the Buccaneers, but the absence of the Bears’ best receiver and only downfield threat meant a very secure, very controlled attack.
Jay Cutler was 20 of 27 for 156 yards, which works out to about six inches per completion. It was good enough. The Bears knew they weren’t going to get much downfield against Lovie Smith’s conservative Cover-2 defense, and they were prepared for the possible consequences of it. Such as narcolepsy.
“Not getting greedy at all, just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to get methodical,’ ” Cutler said. “If it gets boring, it boring.’’
Praising Cutler after such a low-wattage game might seem like a bit much but only if you hadn’t seen the messiness of his previous six seasons with the Bears. Anytime he comes out of a game with a passer rating of 100.2, as he did Sunday in Tampa Bay, it’s almost cause for a parade. And he ran well when he had to.
The Bucs also couldn’t stop the vaunted running attack of Matt Forte, Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey.
Ka’Deem Carey? Ka’Deem Carey.
He scored the Bears’ two touchdowns, one running and one receiving. Langford ran 19 times for 83 yards. Forte averaged 4.9 yards on 11 carries.
Three backs and a cloud of dust.
Who needs first-round pick Kevin White? The Bears do. As much as Fox prefers the buttoned-down approach, he could use a fast receiver like White, who is out for the season with a shin injury. Tight end Zach Miller was the Bears’ leading receiver Sunday with seven catches for 69 yards, which is nice, but to win in this league, you have to be able to stretch the field at least a little.
Even with an offense depleted by sickness and injury, it was enough against a staid Tampa Bay team.
“It’s kind of a tribute to our players,’’ Fox said. “They don’t look for excuses.’’
Then there was the Bears’ defense, which both created its success and took advantage of some Tampa Bay gifts. If you’re searching for hope, three rookies made big plays Sunday. Harold Jones-Quartey, a safety, had a forced fumble and a goal-line interception. John Timu had two fumble recoveries, and fellow linebacker Jonathan Anderson forced a fumble.
With the victory, the Bears ended a three-game losing streak. What does it all mean? That they beat another team struggling to find itself. That they bounced back after a bad loss to Minnesota. Beyond that, it’s hard to find any deeper meaning.
They held Doug Martin to 49 yards on 17 carries. He came into Sunday averaging 89.7 yards a game.
They had the ball for 37 minutes, three seconds, compared with the Bucs’ 22:57.
Robbie Gould made his field goals.
Maybe the deeper meaning is this: The season, blessedly, is almost over. Soon the Bears will move on to the offseason, and general manager Ryan Pace can start altering and, optimally, improving the roster.
It would be nice to see how well Fox’s controlled-burn approach works with a more-talented team. For now, all we have to go on are games like Sunday’s. Run the ball. Stuff the hotshot opposing running back. Perhaps let the quarterback breathe a little more but keep him on a leash.
Go ahead and tell Fox you want to see more of that. He’ll tell you you’re preaching to the choir.