Five Things We Learned: Bears-Bucs

LONDON -- Here are five things we learned following the Chicago Bears 24-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London on Sunday:

1. Bears travel agent made right call: The Bears didn't necessarily play great during Sunday's win, but they looked a heck of a lot better than Tampa until the very end. Maybe the Bucs spent the whole week in London enjoying too much of the British scene. Already without LeGarrette Blount, the Buccaneers lost running back Ernest Graham in the first quarter, and it seemed over until a furious late rally that fell short. For much of the game the Bucs sideline was quiet and the players appeared to lose interest. As for the Bears, they were able to cobble together enough big plays on offense and defense to hang on and win the game. Concern over the Bears late arrival was justified, in my opinion, but Lovie Smith accomplished the mission by getting the all-important win over a fellow NFC club. Tampa's slow start makes you wonder what exactly Bucs head coach Raheem Morris had those guys doing over here in London for the entire week.

2. Matt Forte looks elite to me: For lack of a better word, Forte's 32-yard first quarter touchdown run was spectacular. Forte showed you everything an elite back is supposed to possess -- speed, moves and toughness. He's recorded 100-yard rushing games in three of the past four weeks, and already has piled up 1,091 yards from scrimmage. Naturally, people want to focus on Forte's contract situation, but that will eventually take care of itself. What's exciting is that Forte has truly become one of the top backs in the league, a notion many scoffed at prior to the season. The only person who can stop Forte is Mike Martz. If Martz sticks to the run and stops the occasional series where he outthinks himself, Forte is going to have a monster year. And if Forte has a monster year from the start to finish, the Bears could find themselves in the postseason.

3. The Dallas duo can help the cause: This marked the first time ex-Cowboys Roy Williams and Marion Barber contributed in a big way to the Bears offensive effort. Barber easily had his best run in a Bears’ uniform when he broke off a 32-yard run in the second quarter, and later scored from 12 yards out. Williams had one bad drop, but redeemed himself with a 25-yard touchdown reception. The Bears aren't asking Williams to be perfect. Just make the easy catches. If Williams can accomplish that feat, he can help the offense, which he did in Week 7.

4. Bears’ wild-card chances remain very much alive: Barring some dramatic reversal of fortune, the Bears probably won’t catch the Packers. But after that, the NFC is wide open. Even though it looked kind of bleak in the aftermath of the Lions loss a few weeks ago, the Bears are right in the thick of the conference wild card race. Early season victories over Tampa and Atlanta could prove to be crucial later in the year. The Bucs and Falcons certainly don’t look like scary teams, and now Detroit is staring to falter. You really don’t need to be a great team to earn an NFC playoff berth. Just slightly above average. That perfectly sums up the Bears.

5. The NFL has a small place in Europe: One time a year. That's it. Expanding the NFL International series to two games is a stretch and placing a team in London is a poor idea, but one regular-season contest a year is just right. London is a great city, Wembley Stadium is terrific, and the locals have a decent interest in American football. But the NFL needs to be careful not to overplay its hand. A franchise here in London will never surpass soccer in popularity, and while the trip to Europe is generally enjoyable, it's a drain on football players who are creatures of habit. Not to mention that every time two teams square off in London, one of those teams is losing a home game. That's not fair to the fans in the States. Keep it simple. One game per year with different teams making the journey every season.