Hub Arkush: Bears show grit in win over Ravens

Chicago's Josh McCown call an audible on first down late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. Bears went on to beat the Ravens in overtime 23-20. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

It will be remembered as one of the strangest games of all time, an NFL game delayed by rain and severe weather for two hours, restarted and then threatened again as the weather returned in the third quarter.

It will also be remembered as the game that saved the Bears 2013 season and pretty much stuck a fork in the defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens.

Other than the weather, the Bears' 23-20 overtime victory over the Ravens went pretty much according to plan.

The Ravens offense was awful as expected. Ray Rice did explode for his best game of the season, rushing for 131 yards on 25 carries and catching three passes for 17 more yards. But Joe Flacco proved why he’s the most overpaid and overrated player in the game.

Flacco’s 17-for-31 for 162 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions worked out to a 53.4 passer rating and left him significantly outplayed by the overachieving Josh McCown, the Bears backup quarterback who was 19-for-31 for 216 and a touchdown without a turnover and a 92.9 passer rating He is now 2-0 as a starter.

When asked after the game about McCown outplaying Flacco, coach Marc Trestman smartly avoided the question while praising McCown.

"It was just a terrific job by Josh and the entire team of taking care of the football," Trestman said.

The difference was a Flacco attempt to the flat that was tipped by David Bass and returned for a 24-yard interception return touchdown. It was a ball that never should have been thrown, but the kind Flacco tries with some regularity.

But this win was more about what the Bears did do than what the Ravens didn’t.

Perhaps most important to the Bears' hopes for a stretch drive to an NFC North title – the Lions' 37-27 loss at Pittsburgh leaves the two tied atop the NFC North again at 6-4 – was that Julius Peppers was the best player on the field again.

It’s hard to know where he’s been for the better part of the season, or how much his dominant performance against the Ravens had to do with how horrible their O-line has been this year, but when he plays like he did against Baltimore, everybody else on the Bears defense is better. And he’s a game-changer.

After his worst game of the season last week against the Lions, Matt Forte was a bell cow again, rushing for 83 yards on 18 carries for a 4.6 average while catching five passes for 42 yards with a touchdown.

Then there’s the offensive line. Much like the unknown extenuating circumstances around Peppers’ game, without studying the tape it’s hard to know how much was Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills and Eben Britton playing great and how much of it was the scheming Trestman and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer do with Britton to make it work.

But when Terrell Suggs is held to one solo tackle and never gets near the quarterback, and Elvis Dumervil gets just one quarterback hit and otherwise doesn’t register on the stats sheet, your line has had a great game.

One more hero who can’t go unnoticed is Martellus Bennett. He has been playing through injuries all season long and when an ankle flared up in addition to shoulder and leg problems that have been chronic, it was uncertain if he’d even go against the Ravens.

He was as much a blocker as a target, helping out with Suggs and Dumervil, but when the Bears desperately needed a big play in overtime it was Bennett who beat cornerback Lardarius Webb down the seam, turned 180 degrees to snare a rope from McCown and then turned again to break two tackles and set up the Robbie Gould game–winner.

The Bears have a ton of work to do. The Lions hold a tiebreaker over them for the division and rumors of the Packers' death are premature.

But the Ravens win and the way it was accomplished proves there’s not an unwinnable game left on the schedule, regardless of who the quarterback is, and that this Bears club has as much or more heart as it does talent.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him  at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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