The opening drive of the 2012 season for the Chicago Bears was an all too familiar scene for many Chicago fans.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked on the first play of the game, followed by an offsides penalty setting the offense back another five yards for a 3rd and 27, and it came as no surprise when there was no third down conversion.
It felt like all the hope generated in the preseason was dashed in the first minute of the season opener.
Though it seemed it could have not gotten much worse for Cutler, it did in the second possession when he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
Soldier Field was filled with the sound of a booing crowd, displeased with their quarterback, as it had been so many times before.
Despite wavering fan support, Cutler somehow managed a huge turn-around and, for the rest of the game, played up to everyone’s expectations, ultimately throwing for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The connection between Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall that so excited fans and critics alike during the preseason had proved to be a solid one. Marshall was the leading receiver with 9 receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown, while Matt Forte added to offensive play with 80 yards rushing, one touchdown and 40 receiving yards of his own.
The offensive playbook designed by the Bears’ new offensive coordinator Mike Tice may be just what the team needed for a more consistently productive offense.
Luckily, the Bears defense came ready to play from the first opposing snap.
The squad was anchored by veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher who, to the surprise of almost everyone, started the season opener on just one week’s practice in the wake of a recent knee surgery. He had two tackles and was pulled from the game by Head Coach Lovie Smith in the 3rd quarter when it was obvious Chicago was in control.
Despite his desire to stay in for the duration of the game, it was clearly more important for him to rest, as he will need to be as healthy as possible when the Bears take on the division rival Packers (0-1) at Lambeau Field on September 13.
Unfortunately, Charles Tillman left the game early in the 1st quarter with what Lovie Smith described as a lower leg injury and did not return to the playing field.
Smith expects Tillman to be back on the field for practice this week, but at this time his status for Thursday’s game is unknown. Though Tillman is an integral part of the defense, the Bears seemed to fare just fine without him, which is encouraging should he have to sit out against the Packers.
The defense held the Colts to 14 offensive points (7 coming from the interception) and sacked #1 draft pick Andrew Luck three times, intercepted him three times, and forced a fumble. Though the Colts were able to pull within three points late in the second quarter, they were never able to completely close the gap.
Though this game got off to a very rough start that had Bears fans preparing for another disappointing season, they finished strong with 428 total yards and Cutler did not turn the ball over after the first quarter interception.
If the Bears can avoid the detrimental injuries that plagued the team at the end of last season, the offense can play with consistency, and the defense can pressure the quarterback and force turnovers like they did this past Sunday, they have definite potential to make a playoff run this season and contend for the NFC North championship.