One fourth of the NFL season is behind us, at least as far as the Bears are concerned. (After tonight's, Packers-Vikings Farveathon, that statement will be official. Until then, keep gouging your ears.) And while the NFL is a fickle beast, and teams can look completely different from one week to the next -- are the Dolphins that good, or are the Bills that bad? -- we are beginning to learn a few things about the 2009 Chicago Bears. A rundown:
• The Bears start slow. Very slow. They went into the half on Sunday tied with a pretty mediocre team, but one that was shredding the Bears defense at will in the first half. Matt Stafford had no problem finding his receivers and tight ends whenever he wanted; even when he was flushed out of the pocket, which was rare, he had at least one open target to find and hit. Which he did.
In the second half, the world righted itself. The Bears began to solve the Stafford quandary, which included putting pressure on the young QB and forcing him to hurry throws to suddenly not-all-that-open wideouts. After three touchdowns in the first half, the Lions only mustered a field goal in the second. This is nothing new, either: For better or worse, the Bears have done this in each of their four games. It would be nice to see them finish a team like Detroit or Seattle off in the first half, but as long as they finish them off before regulation time, we can't complain too loudly.
• Jay Cutler is quite good, actually. Are there any lingering doubters? Has Jay Cutler fully acquitted himself? This stat should do the trick: After Sunday's performance, Jay Cutler is the first Bears quarterback to post three consecutive games of plus-100.0 quarterback rating since Jack Concannon in 1970. (Lofty company, to be sure.) Cutler played awful in the opener, and Bears fans were right to be nervous about his performance, but for three straight weeks Cutler has proven not only that he is capable but that on a team with marginal wide receivers and a shaky offensive line, he can still excel. Heck, as he showed on his first touchdown, a five-yard rush, he can fly.
• The Bears special teams are good, at least. The verdict is rightfully still out on the Bears' offense in general (the Lions defense is no barometer, and this is the team that struggled mightily against the Seattle Seahawks, remember) and the defense is just as uncertain (that first half was just ... blech). But we know one thing for sure: the Bears special teams can still bring it. Whether it's Robbie Gould being the team's most potent scoring threat, Brad Maynard taking every opportunity to pin the opposition inside their own 10, or the kick return team blazing holes -- and Johnny Knox's second-half-opening touchdown -- through kickoff squads, the Bears derive a great deal of their value from their special teams. It's a shame they're only on the field every so often.