The Bears started out the 2011 season slow, losing three of their first five games while Jay Cutler was continually harassed by opposing defenses.
The Chargers started out the 2011 season fast, winning four of their first five games with their only loss coming in New England.
Since then, the Bears haven’t lost, while the Chargers haven’t won.
The two collided in Chicago Sunday, with a predictable result. But what we couldn’t have predicted was that the Bears would beat the desperate Chargers despite their best player, Matt Forte, struggling to run productively. Forte had just 59 yards on 21 carries. San Diego sold out to stop Chicago’s most dangerous weapon, daring Jay Cutler to beat them.
And he did.
Cutler threw two touchdown passes while sneaking for a third. His third-quarter touchdown strike to Johnny Knox, which put the Bears in full control with a two-score lead, was a thing of beauty.
But Chicago might not have won without Philip Rivers doing what he does best: throwing the ball to the other team. Rivers threw two more interceptions — both in the fourth quarter — to increase his league-leading total to 17. His end-zone pass intercepted by Chicago’s Major Wright was a back-breaker — he had no business attempting that throw, and the pick killed the momentum San Diego had acquired when the defense intercepted Cutler three plays prior.
The Bolts ran four plays in the fourth quarter — two interceptions and two incomplete passes. They also had a fumble in the third quarter that directly led to that Cutler-to-Knox touchdown. That was the turning point of this game, as costly mistakes once again killed a Chargers team that has an NFL-high 23 turnovers. (Unsurprisingly, the Bears are near the top of the league with 23 takeaways.)
What’s also amazing is that San Diego continues to get dominated at the line of scrimmage. While the banged-up offensive line held up against pressure, it wasn’t able to open up holes for Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, and thus the Chargers where one-dimensional against a ball-hawking defense.
And the front seven, which has recorded just 18 sacks through 10 games, wasn’t able to sack Cutler once. The Bears didn’t miss fallen guard Chris Williams. After giving up 18 sacks and a flurry of hits in the first five weeks (and 11 sacks in the first two weeks alone), Cutler’s been sacked just five times during Chicago’s five-game winning streak.
If Cutler can stay upright, Forte can stay hot after a small speed bump and the defense can keep making plays, this Chicago team has the look of one that might be on track to play in an NFC championship game rematch with Green Bay on Jan. 22.