Christmas came early for the Bears in Week 1 as the Cincinnati Bengals showered them with gifts and the Bears weren’t too proud to accept.
But all the gifts in the world are useless unless you find the directions to assemble them and have the patience to get the job done.
The Bears’ 24-21 victory over the Bengals was a testimony to perseverance, short memories and preparation.
The Bengals easily could have put Sunday’s game away early and perhaps should have. Trailing 7-0 after Charles Tillman’s interception of a ball Andy Dalton never should have thrown at his own 36-yard line, Jay Cutler threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett. Then the Bengals drove 97 yards in nine plays to tie it at 7 on a 2-yard A.J. Green touchdown catch.
The Bears managed only 31 yards on eight plays and the Bengals were in the midst of another 80-plus yard drive when Dalton hit Green on the hands at the Bears’ 17, and the Bengals receiver deflected the ball directly to Tillman for his second interception of the game.
The Bears could manage just a three-and-out and the Bengals took off again with an eight-play, 91-yard touchdown drive culminating on a 45-yard Dalton-to-Green connection to make it 14-7.
After the Bears and Bengals swapped three-and-outs, Cincinnati punted to the Bears at their own 41 and Dre Kirkpatrick committed a personal foul out of bounds, setting up the Bears at the Bengals’ 44 with 37 seconds left.
The Bears managed only four yards on two plays, ran out of time and were forced to try a Robbie Gould 58-yard field goal.
As it turned out, this probably was the turning point of the game, where luck met opportunity and talent succeeded. Without the bonehead Kirkpatrick penalty, the Bears go to the locker room down 14-7. But without one of the best field goal kickers in the league, capable of nailing a 58-yarder that might have been good from 65, they still go to the locker room down 7.
That field goal turned out to be the difference in the game.
Still, at halftime, the Bengals had totaled 240 yards on 34 plays and the Bears had managed only 92 yards on 33 plays. When the Bengals took the second half kickoff and held the ball for half the third quarter, putting together a 12-play, 80-yard drive ending in a 5-yard BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown, making the score 21-10. At that point, it felt like the Bears might be done.
Instead, the Bears fired back on the ensuing posssession when Cutler scrambled out of trouble from his own 35 and found a wide-open Martellus Bennett on the right sideline for a 30-yard catch and run. The drive totaled 80 yards on nine plays and the Bears were back in business at 21-17.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Bears had a Cutler moment with the quarterback throwing an interception to Vontaze Burfict, who appeared to be the only player for either team in the neighborhood.
Rather than let the Bengals salt the game away, just three plays later Tim Jennings stripped Mohamed Sanu at the Bears’ 19 and recovered the ball himself, and eight plays after that Cutler found Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown toss that gave the Bears the 24-21 win.
So was this a new version of the Bears to get excited about, or more of the old raising more questions than they provided answers? We’ll need at least another week and probably more to know.
But what we do know is in a game most teams would have lost against a quality opponent, the Bears found a way to win. That suggests this might have been the start of something good.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.