Thursday night’s performance was, for most of the night, the best example yet of what Marc Trestman’s passing offense is supposed to look like.
Through three quarters the Bears’ air attack strafed the Giants’ secondary and provided just enough production to lead a 27-21 nationally televised victory. It raised the Bears’ record to 4-2, ending a two-game slump, and dropped the visitors to 0-6.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was rarely pressured, and he appeared almost leisurely at times as he spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Brandon Marshall — the Bears’ go-to receiver despite Alshon Jeffery’s productivity in the previous two games — was the main man again. But Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte all contributed.
That was barely enough to offset a sometimes-shaky defensive performance by a Bears team that played without two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) for the first time since 2009.
And late in the game, with the Bears trying to put the Giants away, the offense stalled, forcing the Soldier Field faithful to sweat out the final few minutes.
The too-close-for-comfort victory wasn’t secured until Tim Jennings’ second interception of the night, with 1:54 left.
The Bears were also without defensive tackles Stephen Paea (toe) and Nate Collins, who’s on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his left knee. They lost linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson to injuries in the second half.
But the Giants were short-handed as well, missing starting center David Bass, running back David Wilson and cornerback Corey Webster.
The Giants were still able to slice the lead to 27-21 with six seconds left in the third quarter, as Eli Manning overcame a horrendous start to put on his own display of precision passing, to set up Brandon Jacobs’ 1-yard TD run after a pass interference call in the end zone on Jennings.
Robbie Gould’s 12th straight successful field goal from 50 yards or farther, a 52-yarder that cleared the crossbar with room to spare, had opened the second half-scoring and increased the Bears’ lead to 27-14.
It was Gould’s 10th field goal of the season without a miss.
The first half resembled a track meet more than a football game.
And the Bears had the faster team, building a 24-14 lead capped off by Gould’s 40-yard field goal two seconds before halftime.
At times Cutler and the Bears’ passing game almost made it appear too easy as they attacked a Giants team that allowed 182 points in its first five games, the most in the NFL.
Marshall’s second TD catch of the game and fifth of the season broke the second tie of the night and put the Bears ahead 21-14 with 5:20 still left in the first half. A beautifully executed 27-yard, back-shoulder throw from Cutler to Jeffery helped set up the score, as Cutler completed passes to four different receivers.
After sputtering early, the Bears’ offense tore through the Giants late in the first quarter — until it reached the red zone. After going 75 yards on five plays, two running plays netted 1 yard but then Cutler found Marshall wide open in the middle of the end zone for a 14-7 lead on the second play of the second quarter.
But the Giants went 80 yards in seven plays tying it less than four minutes later on a 37-yard Manning-to-Rueben Randle TD. Bears safety Major Wright and Jennings both failed to bring Randle down inside the 10-yard line.
The Bears’ defense got takeaways from the mistake-prone Giants on the visitors’ first two possessions. The second one was the charm.
After Zack Bowman, filling in for Tillman, picked off Manning on the Giants’ first possession and returned the ball to the New York 12-yard line, the Bears’ offense frittered away a great scoring opportunity and came away empty. On fourth-and-2, a scrambling Cutler threw slightly behind Marshall, who was close to the first down marker, but Marshall dropped the ball.
On the Giants’ second possession, Manning threw his second interception, and his league-worst 14th. This time, Pro Bowler Jennings, who led the NFL with 9 interceptions last season, didn’t leave it up to the offense. Jennings sprinted 48 yards untouched for the Bears’ 11th pick-6 in the past 22 games, giving them a 7-0 lead with 5:10 elapsed in the first quarter.
When Manning wasn’t throwing the ball directly to the Bears, the Giants’ offense piled up chunks of yardage. The Bears’ defense allowed six plays of more than 12 yards the first 16 times the Giants snapped the ball. Jacobs’ 4-yard run tied it at 7-7 with 3:48 left in the first quarter.
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