THE MORNING AFTER: No style points needed for a needed victory
CHICAGO – The cameras were covered in drops, sometimes even showing some fog. The ponchos were out, even if a deluge wasn’t really on the way.
There were steady showers on a grey day by the lakefront, fitting this pre-Halloween weekend perfectly. No sun was shining on the fans or the Bears, and that was literal and figurative.
The shine that around the Bears the week before against the Patriots was gone. Two-straight losses, both which came after the team had a lead in the second half, knocked the Bears out of first place in the NFC North, and restored healthy doubt in the club after a month of optimism.
On top of that, news came 90 minutes before kickoff that two transformative players on the team – linebacker Khalil Mack and receiver Allen Robinson – would be out for Sunday’s contest against the Jets. So much for a little optimism brewing before kickoff, as some wondered if the team could prevent a third-straight defeat that would knock them under .500.
Well, they did.
A 24-10 victory made the dreary day a little more tolerable. Was this a work of art? No. Was it full of dominating defense, sacks, and turnovers? Not really. Did Mitchell Trubisky or anyone on offense set the world on fire? Outside of two catches, no.
Like the weather, this win by the Bears wasn’t spectacular like the three previous victories. It was a bit bland, stormy at times, but in the end, Matt Nagy’s team got what they needed when the needed it, and that’s plenty.
“They focused on what we talked about, being aggressive, and finishing,” said Nagy of the Bears’ performance. “You know, finish was a big thing and then protect Soldier Field.”
In the end, they did. But it took time for things to take. Outside of the short pass to Tarik Cohen that led to a 70-yard touchdown, Trubisky was inconsistent with his throws on a windy day at Soldier Field, going just 5-of-13 in the first half. But he righted it to finish 11-of-16 in the second half, coupling that with his running ability to get the Bears’ downfield. A ten-yard rush on third down early in the third quarter allowed Trubisky to lead the first scoring drive of the second half, hitting Anthony Miller on a precision strike for the score.
“We wanted to stay aggressive and they were doing a good job stopping us if the first half but we also stopped ourselves a little bit there,” said Trubisky. “We just needed to continue to get in into rhythm.”
Eventually, the running game joined them, especially Jordan Howard on a critical drive following a New York score in the fourth quarter that cut the Bears lead to seven. Howard ran the ball four of the final five plays, rushing for 32 yards on those runs to get the Bears into the endzone. It was only a 3.7 yard per gain average for Howard (81 yards), but he saved his best for when it was needed.
“They were creating holes for him, and Jordan just had a great mindset today that he wasn’t going to be stopped,” said Trubisky of the running back. “When the hole was open, he was to hit it. He was making guys miss and guys were bouncing off him. He played his tail off today.”
Even without Mack, the Bears defense did as well, even if it wasn’t with the usual flair against a rookie quarterback. Only Bryce Callahan was able to bring down Sam Darnold for a sack, doing so on a corner blitz in the fourth quarter. For the first time all year, the Bears didn’t force a turnover, something that was a point of pride for the unit after years of struggling to do so.
Instead the Bears’ quietly allowed just two scoring drives all day while surrendering just 207 total yards. Those numbers could have been even lower had an Eddie Jackson roughing call on third down in the fourth quarter had not kept a touchdown drive alive. Nevertheless, the defense easily survived its first game in 2018 without the services of Mack.
“We learned how to win two-in-a-row, now we’ve learned how to lose two-in-a-row and come back and play a really good game,” said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. “One of those lessons we want to keep doing.
“But I will say this, man: Every week is a challenge, we’ve just got to push through every adversity we get.”
Just like Sunday. It wasn’t the perfect performance in the perfect weather, but the Bears were good when the needed to be good to get a critical victory.