5 things we learned vs. Bengals

CHICAGO -- Here are five things we learned in the Chicago Bears' 24-21 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Charles Tillman battled despite illness: Playing through an injury or ailment is nothing new for Tillman, but his seven-tackle, two-interception effort, despite covering the dangerous A.J. Green, was commendable. Green got the best of Tillman on multiple occasions and finished the day with a game-high nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but keep in mind that Tillman vomited multiple times on the sidelines before receiving an IV of fluid at halftime. Statistically speaking, Green easily won the battle, but Tillman showed moxie throughout the game. His desire to jump up and run with the football after an interception is refreshing. While most guys are content to break one tackle and fall to the ground following an interception, Tillman ran like a man possessed both times he had the football in his hands and looked at one point to have scored a touchdown on his first interception before the ruling on the field was overturned. Tillman works hard. He defends the opponent’s best receiver almost every week, and has never been accused of being a glory hound. He’s also the best cornerback in Bears’ history, but we already knew that.

2. The offense picked up steam as the game wore on: The Bears’ offense is far from a finished product, but Jay Cutler led the team on two second-half scoring drives that eventually proved to be the difference in the game. Cutler tossed one bad interception, but overall, he had himself a good regular-season opener, throwing for 242 yards, two touchdowns, and posting a 93.2 quarterback rating. Cutler wasn’t sacked a single time. A lot of the credit for the Bears’ pass protection needs to go to Cutler, who got rid of the ball in a hurry and helped negate the Bengals’ talented defensive front. Cutler also displayed accuracy on his passes and spread the ball around to several different targets. If Cutler can play at this level and make these types of decisions every week, the Bears will be a playoff team.

3. Brandon Marshall’s hip was a non-issue: All the commotion about Marshall’s hip last week was overblown. Marshall doesn’t like to practice, but he loves to play in regular-season games. If that isn’t obvious by now, you haven’t been paying attention. The Pro Bowler appeared to be in mid-season form on Sunday, catching eight passes for 104 yards and one touchdown on a team-high 10 targets. Marshall needs the football. He’s great. He just doesn’t need to have the ball thrown his way when he’s double-and triple-covered. Cutler picked his spots to throw to Marshall, and the results were exactly what the Bears needed. It’s not too often Marshall isn’t the best receiver on the field (that honor went to Green on Sunday), but he did enough to help the team win, with most of his damage in the second half when the Bears were clawing their way past Cincinnati. After Cutler, Marshall was the Bears’ second most important offensive player on the field in Week 1.

4. Martellus Bennett makes an impact after a quiet preseason: Bennett’s numbers don’t jump off the page (three catches for 49 yards and one touchdown), but let’s examine his significance on Sunday. First, the tight end made an outstanding catch in the back of the endzone on a pass that was tipped by a Bengals’ defender. He came down inbounds with the football for the games’ first score. His second reception came on third down and went for 30 yards, helping set up the Bears’ first touchdown of the second half. Finally, Bennett hauled in a huge 11-yard pass on third down to move the chains late in the fourth quarter and keep the Bengals’ offense off the field. Teams need those kinds of subtle contributions from players in order to win in the NFL. The tight end is off to a good start after catching just one pass for 16 yards in the preseason. As Bennett said two weeks ago, players don’t cash bonus checks for what they do in the preseason. It’s the regular season that counts, and Bennett is off to a good start.

5. Marvin Lewis, really?: I cannot believe that a team with the second most tenured head coach in the NFL, with a defensive coordinator (Mike Zimmer) who many believe is good enough to be an NFL head coach, with a former NFL head coach on the staff (Hue Jackson) and a seasoned group of assistants would be capable of making such dumb and costly mental mistakes. The Bengals have nobody to blame but themselves for this one. From their lack of time management, to burning all three second-half timeouts with eight minutes left to play, to ridiculous personal foul penalties at critical moments of the game, the Bengals hardly resembled a team that some are predicting could advance to the Super Bowl. Championship teams are disciplined. The Bengals are not. Where is the common sense with this group?