By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
November of 2018 may go down as the month where a new dawn in Chicago Bears football first begun to shine.
Not long after dawn on Thanksgiving day and not long after the team’s previous biggest win in some five years, the Bears went forth in their final game of a unique 3 game, 12 day stretch against division rivals, sort of a crash mid-term for a team looking to make the NFL’s Dean’s List for the first time in a long time.
After only a record-short 85 hours from playing the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, the Bears still had enough energy and will to pull off an exciting 23-16 in Detroit to start the holiday off perfectly for #Bearsnation.
The victory was a nail biter and featured a common occurrence for this season — a big save by the defense. In fairness to the offense, they had to go without starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky who was resting a bruised throwing shoulder. In a game without him, Chicago somehow did more to prove Trubisky’s worth, though credit should be given to backup Chase Daniel, who scored enough and most importantly kept the ball capably in his team’s hands instead of giving the Lions extra chances to score.
It wasn’t pretty or high-octane, but it was a thankful closing effort that now comes with a deserved 10-day break before any more official action.
Winners now of five straight, including three straight division games, the New Monsters have provided more reason than ever for NFL observers to look outside Los Angeles and New Orleans to see a team who could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. At 8-3 overall with an 83 percent chance of winning their division, the chances of seeing the Bears play in January are sitting pretty like the most immaculate holiday spread.
Let’s take a look at a few more takeaways from yesterday’s tasty victory over the Lions.
“I Don’t Get No Respect!”
With dramatic punctuation from safety Eddie Jackson and cornerback Kyle Fuller, the Bears’ defense came through in the clutch again Thursday afternoon in a game that was up in the air for much of the fourth quarter.
Overall, it seemed like the Bears defense was just “there” for much of the day, they hadn’t really stiffened up until the midway point in the fourth quarter on and that’s when the team really took control of things. It looked like Chicago would be in trouble after giving up 10 points to the Lions on two straight drives, allowing the game to be tied at 16 once the drive of the game with the ball commenced with just over six minutes left in the game and the Lions in control of the ball.
Pinned back deep in their own territory, Jackson made a break on the ball as Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford offered it towards his own sideline, and all seemingly in one motion picked the ball off, flew unimpeded towards the end zone and offered some “Prime Time”-like strutting as he would break up the game’s tie and set the table for another win, just as he did to the dismay of Minnesota and Kirk Cousins just a few days earlier.
To credit Stafford he responded right away and drove his team deep in Bears territory in the waning minutes of the game but a seeming miscommunication with his receiver left another Stafford ball alone in the end zone with Fuller, who would make the play that effectively ended the game.
The Bears are getting a lot of credit for their front seven, especially with edge rusher Khalil Mack and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks making big play after big play. Now would be a good time to start giving the secondary a ton of credit as well. As a group the Bears’ defensie backs have played terrific and at the least Pro bBowl considerations are worthy for both Jackson and Fuller. Jackson, for many, can be put squarely in the conversation for best safety in the NFL today.
The pass rush wasn’t as fierce as it normally was Thursday but in the end there was no reason to fear, the secondary was still there.
Back-up quarterback Chase Daniel had himself a good game overall, compiling a 106.8 quarterback rating, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
Daniel was able to keep the Bears in the game and lead some impressive drives, but also while watching the game fans got to see how valuable quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is. Trubisky’s ability to throw the ball down field is a huge reason why the Bears are sixth in the league in scoring at 28.8 points a game.
Hopefully Trubisky will be ready to go on Dec. 2 against the Giants but for one game Daniel was solid enough. Trubisky is dealing with a shoulder bruise and thankfully it wasn’t something worse than that. This season can easily head south and nowhere near the Southern location of the Super Bowl (Atlanta) if Trubisky were to be out for an extended period of time.
Earlier in the year there was some talk about benching Trubisky for Daniel because the veteran had more experience in the scheme coach Matt Nagy used with Daniel as a back-up in Kansas City, but Thursday likely provided a clear example of what would have happened had the Bears made that rash move. Daniel can play a capable quarterback, the Bears would be able to piece together long drives here and there but the lack of big play potential Daniel offers under center would allow defenses to key in on him a lot more than Trubisky.
Trubisky is still developing — which he doesn’t get enough credit for in the light of the impressive numbers he’s legitimately putting up — but with his arm strength and leggy athleticism he gives the Bears a unique play-maker at the most important position in sports.
“Ready, Set, Blast Off!”
Now the Bears are in a good place entering the final month of the season, which will kick off with a very winnable game against the New York Giants in New York followed by another flexed prime-time showing against the L.A. Rams at home, then a final home game against the fading Packers and lastly with road trips to San Francisco and to Minnesota, which may that may end up being flexed to prime-time as well.
Realistically, the Bears need to win just two of these final five games to win the division but three wins would win the division outright as long as one of said wins could come from beating the Vikings again. The other wild playoff scenarios would include a victory against the Rams, which would give the Bears any kind of tie break they could take advantage of should they need it.
It should be a very entertaining finish to the regular season. And it is pretty safe to say that fans will get to see some January football from the Bears this year with even a home playoff game a distinct possibility.
Last year the Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, showing once again that the idea of anything happening in the NFL postseason is not a far-fetched one. Perhaps the Bears are in the middle of what could be a magical season.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR