By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Part of what makes watching the NFL each week so addictive is the anticipation leading up to each game, an urgency which grows more and more intense the closer you get to your respective kickoff (or “kickoff” in general for you football agnostics, the fantasy obsessed and degenerate gamblers alike).
After enough years maintaining the ritual of getting up at least by 10 or 11 (central) and gathering oneself to be wide-eyed in time for Noon kickoff, your body begins doing the job for you no matter how much you may have kicked it the night before truly partying or just watching old wrestling matches on YouTube, you’re gonna be sure to be where you need to be to watch your team from play 1 of the coming afternoon.
Not all games are worth that effort, though, or that recitation of muscle memory — each NFL season offers some games that you could really sleep in on. The Chicago Bears and New York Jets provided such a contest on Sunday, one where the Bears won 24-10 for their first win in a month of Sundays.
In recent years the Bears have had games you could miss completely, go head and and get that rest you haven’t gotten all week or better yet get ya heathen self churched up, cause you weren’t missing anything the least bit biblical at Soldier Field. We’ve been able to avoid that type of malaise in 2018 due to a decent 3-1 start ceding itself to a two-game losing streak.
Coming into this week with a flat .500 record and having the benefit to play one of the certainly worst 10 teams in the NFL provided a particular brand of nervous energy that would have made it hard for the Bears faithful to stay sleep past Noon — there was a real chance here to see either the New Monsters get their swagger back and stomp towards another defining and confidence-building victory or to see the guys be completely de-fanged and neutered with little to no hope for a playoff run in the back-half of the season unless half the NFC came down with Polio or something equally as strange.
Such were the stakes against a sad team from New York not named the Giants or the Mets. The luck of the draw was certainly on the Bears’ side this week, this was a rebuilding week or a clean-up week with the health inspector willing to look the other way. Khalil Mack took a merciful week off, the first of his career in his sixth season.
For some people in this goofy-ass city that wasn’t enough, but Mack deserved the time to simply root for his team this week — the Bears need to look long-term with this guy and long term may be as short as wild card weekend this January, though it really should be a loose outline for the next six years that Chicago has control of his contract.
But say it is January, a below freezing afternoon either here or in Green Bay or somewhere else like Washington and after helping grit out the Bears to a 10-6 record, Da Mack’s right ankle shatters like a Faberge egg after getting rolled on by Bryan Bulaga or Brandon Scherff, a victim of four straight months of unnecessary wear and tear and tensile build-up, the Bears fold up in one playoff effort and now they’re dealing with a surely de-valued talent for the remaining five years, which will likely tick town to about two or three depending on how much explosiveness he lost in the name of 1 1/2 more sacks against Sam Darnold and Derek Anderson.
That would be worth it, wouldn’t it?
Yeah, I’m offering a whole lot of imagination here, but none of it is outside of the realm of possibility, just as the Bears not needing Mack to dispose of the Jets’ limp offensive attack was outside of such realm. They didn’t need him and they won’t need him next week in Buffalo if he’s not particularly healthy.
Even though us as fans and media approached this Jets game with a distinct amount of emotional investment, the Bears played it cool, something its proven itself to do well under coach Matt Nagy but in a professional way, not an aloof way.
Next man up was the motto for the defense and they did what they had to do; New York scored one garbage-time touchdown in the fourth quarter and spent precious little time in the red zone beyond that. Cannon-armed rookie QB Sam Darnold didn’t add any highlights to his thin resume and none of his innocuous receiving corps got any surprising plays off past the Chicago secondary.
Offensively there was another slow start, including a missed 3-point kick and quite a few Mitch Trubisky passes floating helplessly in the lakeside winds, but while the defensive-minded Jets showed some spark early on they like their offense don’t feature the kind of play-makers needed to overcome a clearly better team.
Gang Green tried to intimidate with some early blitzing but got burned on a great screen pass to Tarik Cohen with 5:24 left in the first quarter, leading to a 70-yard scamper for the end zone, tying the longest offensive play from scrimmage this season.
It would seem that was the breaking point for the Jets, but the game labored on through halftime with a 7-3 Bears advantage. Things didn’t open up particularly until a 9 play, 55 yard drive ended just before 2 pm with Trubisky connecting with Anthony Miller in the back of the end zone on a sharp ball pinned to his back shoulder.
So you could have sacrificed two hours of this game back to your life and got the gist of things — the Bears are certainly better than the Jets, Cohen is being put to use well in Nagy’s offense, Miller has promise all about him, etc.
More positives from late in the game — including Jordan Howard’s tough running, some of the most reminiscent in 2018 of his first two years as a pro, led to the game-clinching score made by Howard with just over 7 minutes left in the game — could very well have been overshadowed by offensive guard Kyle Long being carried off the field in the fourth.
More news about Long will likely dominate the early part of this week as the earliest of reports from the game were not positive.
And you wonder why the mind can wander regarding Mack?
Of course, he can be 100 percent healthy coming into a game and get hurt, much like Long was Sunday, but the overall theme for every NFL team every NFL season is attrition and how to deal with it. You’re going to lose games and lose people in the process of those games, mostly those who win the most have to deal with the least losses, but the timing of those losses helps as well.
With each 16 games you can take some hits but whenever you can control it you got to think of what could you leave yourself with at the most important times of the season.
The off-seasons are to build and the Bears did that as well as they could in the 2018 period, thus leaving themselves capable to do work even without a defensive MVP, now they got to see if they can do the same with an important offensive piece as well.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR