Ten thoughts after the Chicago Bears demolished the Dallas Cowboys 45-28 Monday night at Soldier Field to improve to 7-6 and remain in the thick of NFC North race.
1. Marc Trestman left no gray area regarding the team’s quarterback situation for the stretch run.
Jay Cutler is the starter and he will be back on the field as soon as he is medically cleared.
Josh McCown was brilliant against a lousy Cowboys defense that didn’t look like it had any interest in competing in the frigid conditions. He threw four touchdowns passes, ran for a fifth score and the Bears did not punt for the first time since Oct. 1, 1972 against the Lions. McCown became the first quarterback in Bears history to pass for 300 yards in three consecutive games. This will be a DVD McCown will throw in for the grandchildren one day. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards, posting a passer rating of 141.9. That boosted his rating for the season to 109.8. Only Philadelphia’s Nick Foles (120.0) and Denver’s Peyton Manning (114.5) are ahead of him. McCown has thrown 13 touchdown passes and been intercepted only once. He threw the ball downfield well. According to ESPN, McCown completed 10 of 16 passes that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, piling up 182 yards.
“There is no change in the plan,” Trestman said. “We’ll see where Jay is this week. He’ll have to be released by the doctors. When Jay is ready to play, he’ll be playing.”
The Bears are on a short week preparing for Sunday’s game at Cleveland. It’s expected the team will not return to the practice field until Thursday in order to give the players ample time to rest. Cutler was limited in two practices last week and then sat out on Saturday as a precaution. It’s possible the Bears don’t deem him to be medically ready to return from his high-ankle sprain in time to play against the Browns. But judging by Cutler’s comments during appearances last week on WMVP-AM 1000, it has sounded like he figures he’ll be ready.
In the locker room, there was no ambiguity.
“Jay Cutler is our quarterback,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said.
“I don’t think there is a quarterback controversy,” wide receiver Earl Bennett said.
“We have a starting quarterback and that is Jay Cutler,” center Roberto Garza said. “Has Josh played at an extremely high level? Yes. You can’t take anything away from the way Josh has led us and his level of play.”
McCown dismissed the suggestion that he has played well enough to create a discussion about what is best for the Bears as they close out the season with road trips to Cleveland and Philadelphia before hosting Green Bay.
“I think the team knows who the starting quarterback is and like I said before, I know my job as the backup,” McCown said. “I want to play efficient football, play winning football and keep us in contention while the starter is not healthy. As long as Jay is healthy and ready to go, I don’t think that is any question. I just want to do my part in that. We’ll see what happens moving forward but I don’t look at it that way.”
Now, we have to wait to see what the doctors tell the Bears.
2. Injuries have forced the Cowboys to use 18 defensive linemen this season and as far as Jerry Jones is concerned, Jay Ratliff should be No. 19.
The Dallas owner told KRLD-FM last week that he thought Ratliff, who was a four-time Pro Bowl performer for the Cowboys, should still be wearing a blue star on the side of his helmet. That came as a surprise to Ratliff when I broached the subject with him after the game.
“I don’t know what the guy said,” Ratliff said. “I don’t listen to the media. I don’t read, I don’t even watch the news. I don’t watch ESPN for that matter. What’s said and all that stuff, I really don’t know. You are saying he said what?”
That is when I repeated that Jones told the radio station" Ratliff should be with the Cowboys right now, not suiting up for the Bears.
“I am going to leave you with this then: He said I should be playing there?” Ratliff said. “Who calls the shots there for players’ futures with the Cowboys?”
Obviously, Jones serves as his own general manager.
“All right then,” Ratliff said. “You do what you want with that.”
The Cowboys released Ratliff Oct. 16 after he spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform list. He had serious groin surgery last year and failed the team’s condition test prior to training camp when he injured a hamstring. At the time of his release, reports were Ratliff would not be able to play this season. The Bears agreed to terms with him on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum on Nov. 2 and he appeared in his first game last week at Minnesota. He started against the Cowboys and had a sack to go with three tackles, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
“Well, Ratliff ought to be, in my opinion, right out here with the Cowboys right now,” Jones said on KRLD-FM. “And that has a lot of reasons why that’s where he should be. I’m surprised he’s playing football up there, relative to his doctors and relative to his opinion of how his health was when he left here.”
Ratliff remained consistent with what he’s said all along, that facing the Cowboys didn’t have any extra significance for him.
“It meant something to be on the field again,” Ratliff said. “That is what meant the most to me, to be out on the field and come out here and contribute and help the team. I am really, really thankful for that because I could still be on the street and hoping for something. I am here and that is what I am thankful for and being able to come back and play more reps and still hold up. To be honest with you, I haven’t really said anything but I was a little worried about that. But everything worked out and I am really thankful.”
But if Ratliff was on the street, he’d still be in a place where he had earned enough money that he’d be able to support his family for the remainder of his life?
“Well, you could say that … how do I say this without trying to make any crazy headlines?” he said. “With the way … I just better leave that one alone.”
I asked if it was therefore important for him to return to action because of the way things unfolded before he departed the Cowboys?
“The way it ended?” he said. “I’ll leave that alone.”
3. Let’s leave it to a man who blocks for a living in the trenches to best appreciate the block wide receiver Brandon Marshall threw on Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee in the second quarter. Before Josh McCown scored on a seven-yard run, he gained 10 yards by tucking and running on a second-and-7 from the Dallas 20-yard line. He wouldn’t have moved the chains had Marshall not picked off Lee with a clean and devastating block.
“I was running downfield because I was going to go help and I saw Brandon come off his route and start coming back,” left guard Matt Slauson said. “I slowed down and I said, ‘Ohhhhhhh, this is gonna be awesome!’ I slowed down and then, ‘Boooooom!’ It was awesome.”
A lot of people have suggested the Bears have the best pair of wide receivers in the NFL with Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and they are probably the most physical blocking pair in the league when it comes to aiding the running game.
“It’s incredible the work ethic,” Slauson said. “Those are special guys. Our receiving corps may be the strongest in the league the way those two go up and get balls and they block on the perimeter. They are awesome. I don’t know how much you pay attention to protections but there are times they are split out a couple yards and they will come and whack a D-end. Before they go out and they hit them hard. It’s just great.”
4. The dominance of the offense was what finally slowed down Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. He rushed for 52 yards on the game’s opening drive and had 99 at halftime when the Bears led 24-14. After the Bears quickly pushed their lead to 27-14, it got Dallas away from the running game and Murray finished with 146 yards on 18 carries. It marked the sixth consecutive game the Bears have allowed a 100-yard rusher, tying an NFL record. Four other teams have the dubious distinction, most recently the 2007 Browns. The good news is the Bears play at Cleveland on Sunday and the Browns enter with the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing offense.
5. One of the biggest defensive plays of the game came late in the second quarter. The Bears led 17-14 and the Cowboys were trying to get some points before halftime. Facing third-and-10 on their own 39-yard line, quarterback Tony Romo looked for rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams on a comeback route but Zack kBowman got his right arm in to break up the pass and force a punt. That gave the Bears just enough time to score again with Josh McCown connecting with Alshon Jeffery on a 25-yard touchdown.
Romo’s passing game was nonexistent. He threw three touchdown passes but completed only 11 of 20 passes for 104 yards. His top target Dez Bryant made two catches for 12 yards, scoring on a 2-yard pass.
Cornerback Tim Jennings didn’t want to celebrate too much.
“When they were running the ball the way they were running it, I didn’t expect them to pass that much anyway,” Jennings said. “The opportunities (Bryant) did get, he scored one time, caught one for a hitch. He’s a competitor but what did you expect the way they were running it?”
Bowman was credited with a team-high eight tackles in press box statistics.
6. The fourth-coldest Bears home game since at least 1963 wasn’t so cold that Josh McCown needed gloves. It was 8 degrees at kickoff, the coldest game since the Dec. 22, 2008 meeting with Green Bay when it was 2. With wind chill, it was minus-9, the fourth-coldest wind chill for a home game since at least 1963.
But McCown threw 36 passes with his bare hands.
“I still can’t feel my toes,” he said. “That is about it for me. A little windy at times, but we did a good job. Friday and Saturday we got outside (for practice) which I think was a good choice for us and for me because I was flirting with the glove and maybe throwing with it. When we were able to get outside and I was able to throw without a glove it really gave me a lot of confidence and I think all of us a lot of confidence, ‘You know what, we can continue to execute our offense and do the things we want to do Monday night.’ We realized it would be a little bit more cold and more windy but it was pretty cold Friday and Saturday up at Halas so if we could go through those practices and feel good about it we would be OK tonight. We did that. It was a good test for us.”
Some quarterbacks wear a glove on their non-throwing hand and McCown explored using gloves in each hand. No. 3 quarterback Jordan Palmer is very comfortable playing with gloves on.
“Sometimes your hands get stiff, you catch that ball and the ball is cold, it is hard, it is not as tacky as it is when it is a little warmer,” said McCown, a native Texan. “Sometimes the glove gives you an edge and you feel the ball better but for me as I threw with it, it just didn’t give me enough of an advantage. It is different for everybody. But for me I never could get acclimated to it. But I am glad we spent the time outside and we put the time in. The equipment guys, we cycled through a few different gloves trying them to see what would work best and in the end it was just better to go barehanded.”
7. Some milestones were reached in the game as Matt Forte reached 1,000 yards rushing and Brandon Marshall achieved 1,000 yards receiving. With three games remaining, it will be interesting to see how far the Bears’ triplets can push things. Alshon Jeffery has 1,193 yards receiving. Marshall is at 1,090. Forte has 1,073 yards. It’s certainly possible all three could reach 1,300 yards and that would be quite an accomplishment. It’s also worth noting kicker Robbie Gould reached 1,000 points for his career. On a busy night with two field goals and five extra points, he reached 1,010. Kevin Butler leads the Bears with 1,116.
8. The halftime ceremony for Mike Ditka was well done. I received many emails and Twitter messages this past week about the possibility the Bears will one day retire No. 54 as a tribute to Brian Urlacher. I wouldn’t expect any movement on that front for a considerable period of time. Chairman George McCaskey has been clear in saying the team does not “intend” to retire any more numbers. One of the challenges facing the team is if they keep retiring jersey numbers, what player do they pick? Urlacher? Dan Hampton? Mike Singletary? Richard Dent? Those are just a few deserving greats from the Bears’ past.
Chairman George McCaskey said the team discussed the possibility of “unretiring” one or two of th3 14 numbers now retired to create some freedom for the team to make additional moves. But I don’t expect that to happen. McCaskey showed a sense of understanding how significant that would be by noting if they unretired a number, the first would have to be No. 7, the number retired for his grandfather George Halas. Of course, that was most recently worn in 1984 by Bob Avellini.
“We don’t want to disappoint Bob,” McCaskey quipped.
9. The Bears have not had a complete practice squad since Nov. 22 when defensive tackle Tracy Robertson was promoted to the 53-man roster for a week. Robertson traded places with safety Sean Cattouse the following week and the club still has seven players on the developmental squad. It’s a sign of how difficult it is to find a player that can fill not just the bottom of the roster, but the 61st spot in the locker room as a practice squad member. At this point in the year, even the street free agents that are practice squad eligible have been picked through. We’ll see if there is movement this week.
10. This is the prime time of the season when teams begin trying to poach practice squad players off the rosters of other clubs. Before you expect general manager Phil Emery to poach a player from another club in the next few days, keep in mind it is a hard addition to make. The Bears have had success going this route in the past. Former general manager Jerry Angelo added two players from other teams late in the 2007 season, getting linebacker Nick Roach from the Chargers and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina from the Bengals. Both became solid contributors quickly.
But convincing another player to jump ship is tricky. Players feel loyalty to the club they are with and often get promises, pay raises or both to remain in place. The key is finding a young player on the bottom of the roster with another team that can help. Emery would only add a player this way if he forecasted him being a contributor in 2014. But if a team has an injury, it can easily promote the player from its practice squad to its own 53-man roster by placing someone else on IR. We’ll see how much player movement there is this way in the coming week.
10 a. Here is a telling comment from Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher: “They schemed us well,” he said. “They knew what was coming most of the time. It’s no excuse, you’ve just got to execute better and play better. We got out-played.”
10 b. The Bears tied a franchise record with 33 first downs. They reached that total against the Packers on Dec. 7, 1980.
10 c. Unless there is a breakdown in the final three games, the Bears will set a yardage record for the season. The team has 5,067 yards, putting it on pace for 6,236. The 1985 Bears had a club record 5,837 yards.
10 d. How do you figure this? The Cowboys did not commit a turnover, had a running back rush for 146 yards and the quarterback threw for three touchdowns. Give someone those figures and they’re going to project a big win. Every time.
10 e. Tight end Dante Rosario made his first reception of the season, gaining 13 yards. I am still waiting for tackle eligible Eben Britton to surprise a defense. He’s been in the pattern at least twice that I recall this season.
10 f. As brutal as the Cowboys defense was in this game – and it was hideous – Dallas has surrendered 348 points this season. The Bears have allowed 360.
10 g. Mike Ditka at halftime was asked about the news conferences he used to conduct when he was head coach of the Bears.
“It was fun,” he said. “We had fun. I actually have to admit that we had fun in those days. I think anyone that covered those press conferences in those days – whether they liked me or didn’t like me – it was pretty much fun. They could write any kind of article they wanted when they came out of there.”
10 h. The Fox crew of Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick and Laura Okmin has been assigned to work the Bears-Browns game on Sunday in Cleveland.