By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Earlier this month when the Chicago Bears took their latest tough loss, that time by the Patriots, many fans in Bears nation were feeling low as the dropped to 3-3 on the season.
Well, what a difference a couple weeks and a couple of bad opponents can make.
The Bears had an opportunity to get back on track and put themselves in a position to once again get a stranglehold on their division if they could take care of the Jets followed by the Bills, the wound up doing exactly what they needed to do by beating both of those teams and now sit alone in first place in the NFC North after completely dominating Buffalo 41-9 Sunday afternoon in Chicago’s second straight win.
A laugher by half-time, the Bears put a scoreless first quarter behind them and exerted complete control over their hapless opponents with a 28-point explosion in the second quarter.
The offense was okay with another assortment of highlights and lowlights to their name, but it was the defense that was the story of the day with an absolute dominant performance. Buffalo’s lackluster offense couldn’t get anything going and consistently put the ball in harm’s way whether keeping it on the ground or in the air.
Not only was the ball and the game was often there for the Bears to take, the Bears routinely took those balls with style, providing new highlights for often derided players like Adrian Amos and Leonard Floyd along with the continually strong Kyle (or “Kurt”) Fuller.
The Bears now can look forward to a string of three division games in twelve days starting when they play the Lions on the lakeside this Sunday.
In time for these all important games to come we were once again reminded that the Bears are not a joke team, unlike the Bills. Here are three more takeaways from the Bears’ celebratory win in Buffalo.
Defense Rounds Back to Form
Upon first introductions of the Bears this season, all signs pointed to the Chicago defense as the strength of the team because of its talent and continuity from last season.
Staying together from its coordinator through his staff on down to the roster, a roster which added edge rusher Khalil Mack to a top ten defense from a year ago.
Hyping the unit was a viable reaction to their 2018 prospects even though it could be argued that last year’s defense was a top unit more in a strictly statistical sense, holding opponents to humble yard and point totals without making the game-changing type of plays a top defense makes and that Chicago fans usually see from the very best Bears defenders.
In the first four weeks of this year fans were able to see some of those game changing plays — Mack single-handedly brought opponent’s drives to a hault while the likes of corner-back Prince Amukamara made game-winning plays, such as his fourth quarter interception against Seattle.
After Mack became hobbled with an ankle injury, the defense did not look like a top-ten unit against the Dolphins and Patriots. The entire defense, much like an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, needed a rebound with some teams below their level to get the confidence back up.
A good job was done against the Jets and an even better job against the Bills without the recovering Mack, a good sign as the Bears shouldn’t be depending on one man to hold an entire phase of the ball club to a championship level.
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It was important to see the Bears put together a performance worthy of a top ten defense and it seems like the rest of the defensive starters were sick of being told they are only as good as Mack allows them. Heading into this very important stretch in the season, starting with this week against the Lions, the defense has to be the consistent go to unit as the offense is still going through their growing pains and now dealing with injuries to their best receiver and offensive lineman.
The dominance over the Bills was an excellent confidence builder for the defense, which finished with a gaudy stat line of 14 points scored to nine points given up, four sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Now all Bears fans are salivating at the thought of this confident defensive unit getting a infusion of Mack once he is healthy.
Healthy at the Right Time?
In the last section I talked about Khalil Mack’s injury as well as briefly touching on the injuries to wide receiver Allen Robinson and right guard Kyle Long and their impact on the offense.
On Saturday it was announced that Long will be missed for quite a while — eight weeks at the least — as he was placed on injured reserve but with the designation to return possibly by the end of the season.
Its tough to win games without your best players but kudos to the Bears for seizing the opportunity to rest both Mack and Robinson against the meek Jets and Bills. The respective statuses of both these recent high profile acquisitions will be watched closely as hopefully the time off in recent weeks will get them at or near a hundred percent for a critical stretch in the season.
Robinson was dealing with a groin issue that kept him from finishing the game against the Patriots and groins can be tricky like hamstrings. Mack seems to have suffered a high ankle sprain in the Dolphins game, a high ankle sprain usually takes 4-6 weeks before it can fully heal, but at the minimum he has some kind of ankle injury that has severely affected his play.
These two guys are extremely important to the team and they will be needed if the Bears are going to win the division or do more after the turn of the New Year.
Offense Has a Ways To Go
The Bears offense has been trying to continue to grow despite the newness of the coaches and players along with some of key injuries. In many ways they have improved, but when you see the game that followed their contest Sunday — between the Saints and the Rams — anyone could see how far away the Bears are from the top level of the NFC.
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Chicago remains a team with potential and are on the rise because they do not have a glaring weakness on their team. They should be in every contest as they have been so far, but the next step in their development as a team will come with the offense and specifically the quarterback.
The Bills defense is a solid group, they actually held the New England Patriots to one offensive touchdown just six days prior to facing the Bears, though they lost in a lopsided score of 25-6, but they didn’t provide much in the way of a defining challenge on Sunday. The offense didn’t need to do much in general to win this one, that’s just how it played out. More involved and consistent performances will be needed soon, especially when the Bears face more complete teams like the Vikings.
This group can still take some big steps because they continue to improve week to week, but as of this latest victory, they have a ways to go still. Good thing they’re giving themselves a head start on the rest of the NFC North.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR