- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Stop us when it starts sounding familiar. Bears defense and special teams lead the charge while Robbie Gould comes through with three field goals and the offense ekes out just two drives longer than 37 yards and one 3-yard touchdown run.
The well-worn formula was good enough for a 23-6 Bears victory against a decent St. Louis Rams team Sunday at Soldier Field, and for the defense, it was a satisfying one at that. But those expecting the Bears' offense under Mike Tice, with new weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush, to be leading the league by now, instead got the second straight week of rickety, old-school.
If you listened to Lovie Smith, that was the plan.
Asked if he expected more out of the offense Sunday, the Bears coach replied: "I expect the offense to do what is required of them on that day. Some days we may have to score 41 points to win. Other days it may be about ball security and making plays when we have to. For our team to put up over 20 points, the offense has to be in position to do some good things and they were."
That's one way of looking at it.
They were in position on Gould's first field goal from 54 yards -- the longest in Soldier Field history -- thanks in part to a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the Rams' Adam Podlesh.
They were in position again on their next possession with a first-and-10 at the St. Louis 30-yard line when Jay Cutler threw an interception on an 8-yard pass intended for Brandon Marshall.
They were in position on their third series, as well, an eventual 12-play, 81-yard scoring drive that chewed up seven minutes and was saved by a roughing-the-passer call on the Rams on third-and-8 from the St. Louis 45, a penalty that gave the Bears a first-and-10 at the St. Louis 30.
The Bears were not in any kind of position in the third quarter, when they had two three-and-outs and four net yards on offense. But overall they could not complain, only once beginning a drive behind their 20 and six times getting it at the 33 or better.
"We didn't play a perfect game," Cutler said. "It's hard to play a perfect game."
We're getting that idea. And it's harder sure, against an aggressive young Rams defense and without Matt Forte, who is expected to return next week after spraining his ankle against the Packers 10 days ago, though Michael Bush performed ably with 55 yards on 18 carries.
But when Cutler described his performance as "hit and miss," he wasn't kidding. He missed on eight of his first 12 passes. And he continued to force the ball into Marshall, who was targeted 11 times and caught five passes (for 71 yards), and is still throwing behind (twice to Earl Bennett), high (Devin Hester, Kellen Davis) and short (to Marshall on the interception) more than we expected at this point.
And let's talk about Hester for a moment.
He runs a nice end-around for 8 yards early in the second quarter. And he has two balls thrown to him, both incompletions, the second coming on a fade route in the end zone early in the fourth that he leapt for but had go through his hands.
Now maybe Hester could have timed his jump better. Maybe Cutler sailed it. But how annoying was it that the Bears finally have two NFL-sized receivers and 5-11 Hester gets the fade route in the end zone? There has to be a better way to use him than that.
"It's frustrating," Cutler said of the few drops on the day and surely referring to Hester. "We want to catch all the balls. I missed a few throws too though, so it's part of the game. It's going to happen. We can't let it affect us That said, I have to make the throws and they have to make the catches."
Cutler's final numbers Sunday -- 17-of-31 with one interception and a quarterback rating of 58.9 -- were not exactly the stuff of most playoff-winning quarterbacks.
"At the end of the day, we won the game," Cutler said, repeating the company line. "Offensively, there were some things we could do better but the idea is to win. It's not a solo tennis match out there though you guys want to make it like it is."
Actually, who wouldn't love to see Cutler on a tennis court? He's already developing a reputation as another Anna Kournikova, achieving fame despite never winning a single title.
Cutler did credit the offensive line Sunday, which was in max max-protect mode and gave up only two sacks, both of which could be blamed on Bears running backs. Cutler also absolved new starting left guard Chilo Rachal of two false starts, saying they weren't his fault.
"I think Chilo brings that edge to the offensive line and he doesn't take a lot of grief in there," Cutler said. "He's a big guy, a mauler. I feel comfortable with him."
Rachal may just be what the Bears are looking for on the left side and likes the "mauler" label.
"We have to be nasty and physical," he said. "Every line should have an attitude."
And every Bears fan and media member should relax, according to Cutler.
"Not every game is going to be 41-21," he said, referring to the final score in the season-opening victory against the Colts. "We're not going to come out there every game and blow the doors off offensively, defensively and on special teams. This is a normal NFL football game. This is what it's going to be like more than likely, week in and week out."
Why doesn't that sound reassuring?