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Monday, September 29, 2008
Bears took control early


 
 Jerry Lai/US Pressswire
 Kyle Orton threw three touchdown passes Sunday night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

CHICAGO -- Walking to the Bears' locker room late Sunday night, I passed a tall, goofy and vaguely familiar guy heading the other way. He turned to the striking middle-aged woman on his arm and exclaimed: "Man, I can't believe that goal-line stand! Awesome!"

To which Demi Moore smiled with polite indifference, sagely humoring Ashton Kutcher and no doubt thinking about the flight back to Hollywood.

(Shameless name-dropping, I know. But Ashton and Demi really were at the Bears' 24-20 victory Sunday over Philadelphia, and -- yes -- their interaction illustrates my point).

(Which is...)

I'm with Demi on this one. Yes, the Bears stopped the Eagles on four consecutive running plays inside the 5-yard line, preventing another late collapse as the Bears evened their record at 2-2. But it didn't blow me away -- not when the Eagles were one Donovan McNabb rollout from taking the lead.

(Don't believe me? Here's what Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said: "I have to make sure I get the right plays called so we can punch that in.")

No, I was more intrigued with the way the Bears took early control of the game, an advantage which ended up carrying them through the game.

To the surprise of just about everyone at Soldier Field, the Bears opened in a no-huddle offense and threw on 13 of their first 19 plays. The strategy was aimed at neutralizing the notoriously exotic blitz packages the Eagles use under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

As Orton explained it, the Bears didn't intend to run a "hurry-up" offense as much as they wanted to get to the line of scrimmage quickly. Orton sometimes took the entire clock to signal the play, but the end result was it prevented the Eagles from substituting personnel and organizing their blitz packages. It also gave Orton extra time to change the play based on what he observed from the Eagles' alignment.

"They were certainly pretty base for them," Orton said. "It was a good idea ... to no-huddle them and see if you can get them in some pretty base looks."

Orton threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as the Bears took a 21-14 advantage. In the end, Chicago made that lead hold up despite three third-quarter turnovers from Orton and a total of 25 passing yards in the second half. The Bears stumbled and the Eagles made some adjustments, but it's always easier to hold a lead than it is to come back from a deficit.

The Bears might not have agreed with that maxim after their previous two games -- in which, yes, they gave up second-half leads and lost to Carolina and Tampa Bay. They seemed well on their way to doing it for a third consecutive game Sunday night as they stood at their 4-yard line with 5:40 remaining in the game.

Coach Lovie Smith ended every day of practice last week by speaking about the importance of finishing games. Smith repeated the message at halftime Sunday night, according to safety Mike Brown.

"We just said, 'We've got to finish this one out,'" Brown said. "It got kind of dicey there at the end, but we were able to come out on top."

Eagles running back Correll Buckhalter had already gained 31 yards on the key fourth-quarter drive, and so the Bears weren't surprised when the Eagles launched four consecutive running plays at them.

"With all the weapons they have, Donovan could have very easily kept it on a bootleg," said defensive end Alex Brown. "But you just figure they had six inches to go [on the fourth-down play]. They've got some big guys. We've got a small defensive line. So you've got to think they're going to run the ball."

On fourth down, however, Brown crashed the edge and stopped Buckhalter. By the way Brown jumped into the backfield, we're guessing the Bears would have been vulnerable to an outside run or pass-run option.

"I was tired," Brown said. "I'm not going to lie. I was just trying to make a play. That's what everyone was trying to do. It gave us a big win and it very well could be a turning point."

Indeed, what can we say now about a Bears team that is officially tied with Green Bay for first place in the NFC North? A team lucky not to have collapsed for a third consecutive game, falling to 1-3 in the process? Or, as Alex Brown asserted, are the Bears a few plays away from a 4-0 record?

"I've read and heard a lot that we haven't been a very good team," Brown said. "I don't know that I agree with that. We thought we had played well but hadn't finished some games. I don't think we were playing bad. We were just playing bad at the end of games. There were some points in those games where we pretty much dominated. We're sitting in good shape if you think we haven't played well."

The reality is the Bears have proved they will be competitive in a division of uncertain quality. Not everyone expected that.

Demi?

She knew it all along.