Monday was a historic night for Jay Cutler, whose two touchdowns not only helped his team steal a 22-19 road win in San Diego but moved him ahead of Sid Luckman as the Bears' all-time leader in TD passes.
Rather remarkably, the Bears are now 3-0 against the AFC West this season (they host Denver in two weeks) and 0-5 against everyone else. That's still enough to keep Chicago on the fringe of wild-card contention in the NFC. But over in the AFC, San Diego, now 2-7, is not so lucky and sits buried in last place in the West.
We take a look back at the good, bad and ugly from the Week 9 finale:
• Chicago's final two drives: For two and a half quarters, the Bears mustered up very little on offense—seven points and a pair of missed Robbie Gould field goals. Their final two possessions were absolute beauties, though, and swung the game in their favor.
Trailing 19-7, Chicago was backed up to its own 7-yard line midway through the third quarter. A 15-play, eight-minute touchdown drive followed, with Jay Cutler hitting Martellus Bennett from one yard out for the score. The Bears converted all four third downs on that drive, including Jeremy Langford's 1-yard scoring plunge.
The Bears trailed by five when they got the ball back again with 7:53 to go in regulation. They promptly marched 80 yards in 10 plays, capped by Zach Miller's leaping, one-handed catch of a Cutler rope. Langford added a two-point conversion for the final 22-19 count.
Those drives displayed Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase at his best. He mixed a bevy of packaged plays, many resulting in Cutler bypassing a run option to throw a quick screen, with a heavy dose of Langford and the ground game. Gase and Cutler are working extremely well together right now, and the results are showing.
• Jeremy Langford: Maybe the Bears won't miss Matt Forte, after all. Ka'Deem Carey, not Langford, drew the start Monday night with Forte out of the lineup nursing a knee injury. Langford took over in a hurry, finishing the game with 21 touches (18 rushes, three receptions) for 141 yards and a TD.
He made several impressive plays along the way, perhaps the best coming on a diving 31-yard reception in the first half. Langford also looked comfortable blocking in front of Cutler when called upon. The rookie running back picked up blitzers on several plays, giving Cutler time to throw.
It's just one game, but remember it when the discussion turns to Forte's impending free agency. If the Bears feel that they can get this sort of performance from Langford on a regular basis, they might be more willing to let Forte exit this off-season.
• Jason Verrett (briefly), then Alshon Jeffery: The Chargers can't seem to escape any game without multiple key injuries (more on that later), and their star CB, Verrett, felt the brunt of that misfortune Monday. Early on, Verrett stood toe to toe with Jeffery, despite ceding several inches in height. His presence helped force an incompletion Jeffery's way in the end zone, then Verrett later jumped a Jeffery route for a pick-six.
But immediately after that play, which put San Diego ahead by 13, Cutler dialed up a 47-yard pass to Jeffery. Verrett pulled while in coverage and limped to the sideline. He would not return to the game, leaving Steve Williams to shadow Jeffery from there out.
The result: Jeffery caught 10 balls for 151 yards and played an instrumental role in his team's comeback win.
• Melvin Gordon's rookie season (so far): I write so far if only because we, among many other outlets, regarded Gordon so highly coming out of Wisconsin. However, he is still trying to find his footing on his new team, and the quest has not been helped one iota by San Diego's constant injury-induced reshuffling up front.
Gordon did catch three passes for 25 yards (and had two more receptions negated by penalties), but he mustered a mere 31 yards on 11 rush attempts—a 2.8 yards-per-attempt clip that will drop his already disappointing 3.7 YPA for the season.
• Chicago's third-quarter offense: A bit of nitpicking here, because Chicago scored early in the fourth quarter after a long third-quarter drive, but ... well, providing a forum for nitpicking is why the internet was invented. Look it up. (Don't look it up.)
But because Langford's rushing touchdown came in the final stanza, the Bears remain the lone NFL team without a third-quarter TD this season. The deficiency didn't hurt them in the end on Monday, but it is a lingering problem. It's also a little baffling considering how effectively Chicago has moved the football over the past several weeks.
• San Diego's injury issues: With the game on the line, Philip Rivers completed a clutch pass to Javontee Herndon. Who? Exactly. Herndon is a relative unknown who played his college ball at Arkansas, but his presence on the field late in the fourth quarter highlights where San Diego was at with its depth chart. The Chargers are basically operating a fantasy camp at wide receiver right now.
Already down star Keenan Allen for the season with a lacerated kidney, the Chargers also lost veteran Malcom Floyd to an arm injury Monday night. Their offensive line has been in shambles all year—one-time projected starting center Chris Watt landed on injured reserve mere hours before kickoff. And Verrett's injury occurred just as Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle rejoined the lineup for the first time since Week 6.
The Chargers entered 2015 with a good team on paper, but they needed to stay healthy. They haven't even come close.
• Robbie Gould: The longtime Bear entered Monday seventh all-time in field goal percentage (86.1%). His numbers took a hit in this game. Gould missed a 47-yarder early, then doinked a 34-yarder off an upright in the third quarter. The latter miss seemed for a long time as if it would loom large, until the Bears' late rally.
Gould's counterpart, Josh Lambo, missed an extra point—the only missed PAT of Week 9.
• Penalties: A flurry of flags are almost unavoidable in NFL games these days, and the Chargers and Bears obliged. The 14 total penalties hurt the Chargers most, especially late in the game.
They led by two when Stevie Johnson was called for delay of game for spiking the football, that miscue coming after a key 3rd-and-8 conversion inside the Chicago red zone. Three plays later, Rivers escaped pressure and found Antonio Gates for a TD, only to have it wiped out by an ineligible man downfield.
San Diego committed eight penalties in all, three coming consecutively in the second quarter (offensive pass interference, holding, false start).