Some of the late-game clock management seemed curious as the Bears allowed time to run down late in the fourth quarter rather than run (risk?) another play to give Robbie Gould something less than the 49-yard field goal he needed to provide the game winner.
But for the third time in four games the Bears outgained their opponent, this time with the number of mistakes reduced enough to take away a victory.
“Anytime you work as hard as all those guys work – coaches, players, staff members – obviously it’s a lot more gratifying when you win and that was our first opportunity,” said coach John Fox. “I was really, really happy to see smiles in there. And I’m really happy for our fans, because we haven’t exactly lit it up here in our first two home games."
Perhaps as an indicator of some of the creativity to come, certainly on offense, within the first three plays, using three tight ends, the Bears used a straight Matt Forte run, a Jay Cutler pass to Martellus Bennett, and a wildcat formation with a shotgun snap to Forte, Jaquizz Rodgers as his lead back and Cutler split far left as a receiver.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Coordinator Adam Gase was forced to work around a depleted receiver group in addition to being without injured left tackle Jermon Bushrod (inactive), then losing center Will Montgomery (broken leg) and needing to work with new players at three of the five offensive-line positions.
“There were a lot of challenges,” Fox said, “a bunch of them.”
Play design in the second quarter produced a wide-open touchdown pass, using tight end Zach Miller as the inside decoy, left Bennett unattended in the end zone for a much-needed five-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Oakland was among the worst in the NFL at defending tight-end throws and the Bears went at the Raiders with heavy doses of Bennett in particular.
Gase, who was calling just the second two-minute drive of his career as a coordinator, had acknowledged that he’d needed to open the game up a little more in Oakland with Jimmy Clausen and he did so against the Raiders but within the context of a balanced game plan. The Bears ran 22 pass plays in the first half to 17 running plays, a 56:44 ratio against a team whose weakest area is its secondary. Through three quarters of a 17-16 game Gase operated at 55:45 pass-run, tilting toward pass as Oakland tightened up front to limit Matt Forte’s effectiveness.
Credit coaches with using Rodgers and Jeremy Langford in relief of Forte early, keeping Forte fresh through the entire first half, during which Forte ran 14 times for 69 yards and caught two passes for another 48.
The defense held its first opponent to under 21 points and fewer than 300 total yards, but that effort has been generally consistent, with 322 to Green Bay, 300 to Arizona and Oakland’s 243. For the second week in a row the defense held an opponent to two touchdowns, this time both in the second quarter and then just two field goals in the second half.
With only four healthy down-linemen, the defense as a whole controlled one of the AFC’s top rushers (Latavius Murray) while dealing with an Oakland passing game built around rookie receiver Amari Cooper and holding that unit to fewer than 200 yards.
Special teams turned in a generally difficult week, with penalties and other mistakes. Coaches appeared to give in to coverage concerns by having Gould go with pooch kickoffs as preferable to the risk of more long returns.