By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Losing streak, over and out.
After 42 days where their season went from promising to the brink of tragedy, the Chicago Bears picked up a gift-wrapped win on Sunday against the limping Detroit Lions, 20-13.
Just a few hours before kickoff it was announced that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wouldn’t play due to a back injury and light at the end of an unexpectedly long tunnel arose.
As Detroit’s second string QB Jeff Driskel settled in as starter, the Lions had to settle for his performance, which was not the kind that Stafford would have likely gave. Still, Driskel gave his team a good effort and once again a Bears opponent clearly won the game’s first half.
Ultimately, the story of the game was two pretty evenly-matched teams sizing each other with only one team’s starting quarterback was healthy, that put Chicago in the rare position of having the better play-making signal-caller in a 2019 match-up.
No doubt, the upcoming Thanksgiving Day game between these teams will look and feel much differently if Stafford is able to play. For now, though, the Bears can enjoy getting one up on their NFC North rivals, if the win itself wasn’t impressive.
Sunday saw a change from the typical Bears effort in the previous four losses, which saw all three phases have a hand in each loss. Yet, aside from the positive end result, each phase had some sort of significant mistake or misgiving that undercut the Bears and allowed this game to come down to the final two minutes.
What should have been a Chicago blowout against a weaker team wound up revealing many issues that still remain for the Bears. But anyone wanting something positive after a horrible several weeks of play can look to the fact that the team once again flashed some signs of life like how they looked a season ago, on down to the re-opening of Club Dub afterwards.
Maybe this is the start of an ongoing trend back to consistent good football, but there’s still a chance that that’s a fools hope. All we can look at is what worked from week to week, so here are a few key observations from Sunday’s win.
Less Offensive Offense
At least for one more week, the offense was able to show something. Towards the end of the first half the Bears were once again really struggling to move the ball. They were once again on course to set some more records of bad offense when they had just 25 yards before their final first half possession.
Finally something clicked and the Bears got a touchdown to go up 7-6 at half. Then, in the third quarter, the Bears put up 13 points to build a 20-7 lead going into the fourth quarter. It looked as if a blowout was commencing.
But in the fourth bad offense reared its ugly head for the Bears just as it did in the first half and the scoring halted. Had this offense been able to stay consistent throughout the game then this one wouldn’t have been so close. To make matters worse, the Lions are one of the worst defenses in the league, yet they looked up to the task of containing Chicago’s offense
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky finally displayed some arm talent as expected of a No. 2 overall pick in the draft, but as it has been in his losses and wins this season, the same maddeningly inconsistent play showed up across a majority of Trubisky’s game. Head coach Matt Nagy can promote an air of positivity and a win in his pocket while going to work this week and getting ready for the Los Angeles Rams but he and his staff has to stay on top of dealing with the team’s overall offensive ineptitude or they could stand to embarrass the squad with the whole nation watching this coming Sunday night.
End of an Era?
Looking at the defense this week, many were worried what Stafford may be able to do, he just came off a 400-yard effort against the Oakland Raiders. When news came that Stafford was out, it felt like the Bears defense should be able to feast.
Another layer to the situation and another strike against the Lions was added with starting tackle Rick Wagner leaving the game with an injury. Yet with a raw quarterback, a bad defense and a banged up offensive line the Bears managed just two sacks Sunday.
Detroit and Driskel showed more resolve than expected and played a solid game and in some ways arguably looked better than Trubisky (which isn’t saying much).
Give credit to the defense for holding onto the lead because the offense lowered its RPMs down to zero. But even with the credit given, should it have even been that close? Can the Bears defense no longer shut down teams with a backup quarterback and missing offensive linemen?
A year ago the Bears defense was an immovable object against elite offenses and completely owned games against weak opponents by forcing turnovers and dictating game pace. Now its only a solid group of players that does just enough seemingly to keep the Bears in games against teams it plays down to.
The defense isn’t bad and they don’t deserve a lot of blame for the overall malaise of this season but it certainly has been jarring to see even that proud unit regress so much. Luckily for the Bears, Sunday when they play the Rams struggling offense, the defense should have a chance to regain some mojo against a Rams offense that is asking a lot of questions of itself lately.
Miscues and Opportunities
This truly was an odd week for the Bears, especially considering what happened in this game and what could be read from it.
First off, the Bears were trying to end a four-game losing streak so it was a must win type of game. All the injuries take place and the Bears slightly out edge the Lions for the win. Within the game it looked clear the Bears benefited from a boost by linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski who had an MVP type day with nine solo tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and an interception. Kwiatkoski wasn’t even scheduled to play until middle linebacker Danny Trevathan injured his elbow horrifically.
Without Kwiatkoski’s inspiring effort — along with a touchdown grab from back up tight end Ben Braunecker to continue the theme of surprising contributions — who knows what way this game would have finished. A few players really stepped up but a lot of the team’s “stars” didn’t really factor in much on the stat sheet.
This Bears squad is so up and down with its players and coaches that its really hard to predict how they will play in any game now. Sometimes on a losing streak, bad things inexplicably happen and those same things don’t happen when a team is winning.
Maybe with a victory in their pocket now, the Bears can move forward a little bit and make a loud statement on the national stage when they play the Rams on Sunday night in L.A.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR