Whatever John Fox and the coaching staff did in the job of keeping a slumping team from quitting, bottle it. The Bears were spiraling down after three losses, had played themselves out of the postseason, had nothing to play for big-picture, and were starting four rookies on defense in addition to another on offense (center Hroniss Grasu) in addition to several other starters who were ticketed for fill-in duty when this season started.
Instead the Bears halted their skid with play marked by some creativity mixed in with a style of urgent, physical play that has been missing too often.
“It was awesome,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee. “We’ve got talent all around the field and we have a lot of young guys that have talent and it showed today. The two inside linebackers played a lot, the two rookie safeties. We have some special young talent on this team.
“That’s what we need. When people lock in on older guys, we need the young guys to step up. And they did it all year. They answered the bell. It was fun out there today.”
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The roster youth also figured into a number of schematic advances.
The Bears showed a two-back I-formation with Ka’Deem Carey lined up as a fullback in front of Jeremy Langford, but with Carey bursting out left for a one-yard touchdown flip from Jay Cutler as Langford cut the nearest rusher to Carey. The play was executed precisely but also conceived with personnel that forced the Buccaneers into bigger personnel in a goal-to-go situation, against which Carey had a decided speed advantage.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase use of three running backs in their myriad looks and packages kept a good Tampa Bay defense off balance, with Langford working as a blocker and Carey used in goal-line situations despite a smallish stature (5-10, 208 pounds).
“’Jerm’ [Langford] hit the dive with it against Detroit for his first touchdown,” Carey said. “So we put it back in the playbook and Jerm had a little success, so we put him in the backfield for the defense to get a little trickery, and then I just slide in there.”
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Special teams had a breakdown in punt protection but generally bottled up the Tampa Bay return game. The defense was hit for 142 yards in the fourth quarter but 80 of those came on a final drive with the Bears comfortably up by two scores.
Run fits against Doug Martin and the Tampa Bay run game were generally effective, holding the Bucs to their second-lowest rushing total (104) in the last 11 games. The three takeaways, all three by rookies, were the most since the three against the Detroit Lions in game six.
“[Takeaways are] one of the more critical statistics other than winning or losing,” Fox said. “I think we were plus-three on the day. I think all of them were rookies. Jonathan Anderson was responsible for one, [John] Timu recovered [two] and then Harold Jones-Quartey had the one interception that was key. That was down in minus-territory [in the Bears end zone]. Those are always big, to be on that side of the turnover margin and that helped us win today.”
Moon's Grade: A