The Bears exercised a lot of demons at Soldier Field on a beautiful 45 degree December afternoon. They broke an 8 game home losing streak to this very Packers organization which was important. Very important. Especially considering they are the Bears long time and historical main division rival and there must be nothing more frustrating than being your rivals doormat in your own home stadium.
However, as significant as that was the more significant and important streak broken today was the nearly 8 year playoff absence. The goal of any organization is to reach the highest peak of any particular business and the peak of a football organization is winning a Superbowl. That as we all know is not possible without participating in the post season.
It’s another worst to first NFL story which has been happening more frequently in the modern era so that in itself is not a great accomplishment. However, it is a bigger one considering the Bears are doing it in year one of a reboot. It cannot be called a full on rebuild when you retain an entire coaching staff for a third off its phase. In this case defense. I’ll get into that in greater detail in a future piece.
Matt Nagy is the main person who will get the accolades for the turn around and deservedly so. The culture he has built as the main architect of this new era in Bears football has been nothing short of amazing and will almost certainly net him the highest individual honor bestowed upon a head coach. However, Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio as a sort of co-head coach and to a smaller degree Special Teams coach Chris Tabor have also helped to build this winning culture in the first season together as coaches.
Of course, sustaining this success will be even a greater challenge as I will get further into in that future piece I plan on tapping out later this week. The biggest factor in that sustaining of success is building the roster, developing that roster and retaining as many key core pieces to develop continuity of their respected systems. The Same system that helped the Bears go worst to first is the same one that will make it harder to stay in first.
Coaches will be lost to better opportunities in the league and college, and players will leave via free agency for greater financial opportunities and expanded roles with their new teams. New players will be added and lesser players will be promoted for those vacated by players who left for greener pastures and the same will be true of some on the coaching staff. For now, it’s an opportunity to lay a mighty strong foundation for the future of this organization, but this team has an opportunity to make this an even bigger surprise season by this version of the Bears. We will see just how deep of a playoff run this team will make very very soon.
As for the game itself, I was surprised at how competitive it actually was. With the Packers devastated by key injuries on defense and the Offensive Line versus a team with all the intangibles going their way at home in the Bears, I was kind of expecting a thrashing. To the credit of the Packers organization they gave the Bears a challenge and did not make it easy for them.
There were some negatives in this game I do want to get out of the way. The main issue I had was with Nagy making three curious calls late into the 3rd quarter on two consecutive offensive possessions. The first decision at around midfield was Nagy deciding to give Taquan Mizzell a hand off on a crucial 3rd down with The Packers trailing the Bears 14-6. At that point why would you call the number of a player who is your 3rd Halfback on the depth chart on such a key possession?
The second came on the ensuing play on 4th down with the Bears in punt formation. They direct snapped the ball to Benny Cunningham in a failed fake punt play that came up 3 yards short. The Packers then took the ball at mid-field and drove for a touchdown and than converted the two point play to tie the Bears at 14-14 in the third quarter and the game firmly in doubt. So, for some reason with a team full of playmakers like Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Terry Burton, Jordan Howard, and even Adam Shaheen who made two important catches in the game, Nagy chose Mizzell and Cunningham to convert that pivotal 3rd and 4th down play. A head scratcher to be sure.
On the following drive the Bear put together an impressive drive to get near the Red Zone. They get to a 3rd and short and decide to pull out a trick play where Trubisky vacates from under center and motions to his left as a pass catcher and Cohen sets up in pistol formation. They than try to run an RPO play that turned into a lost fumble when it looked like Cohen couldn’t decide quick enough of whether to hand it off to Howard or keep it himself. Fortunately, the Bears defense held the Packers to -2 yards and a three and out after the fumble than the Bears scored a touchdown on their next possession to regain the lead.
There were other plays the Bears left on the field but this is a day the Bears have earned praise not admonishment. The number one player deserving of praise was Quarterback Mitch Trubisky. He outperformed future Hall of fame great and longtime Bears killer Aaron Rodgers following what may have been his worst outing to date last Sunday night against the Rams.
Offensively, Howard had another solid performance even if the stat line isn’t too gaudy! Robinson had his usual big catches in key spots when Trubisky needed a big play most. The offensive line was very good giving Trubisky time to throw and opening holes. Shaheen as I mentioned earlier contributed with two colossal catches and provided stellar blocks all day long. Burton had a big Touchdown catch. Gabriel had a big third down conversion on a Trubisky roll out.
However, once again Cohen was the Bears biggest offensive star. When the Bears need a big play more times then not there is Cohen making it. Whether it be a long run like the 22 yarder he had today to spark a scoring drive or making an athletic dive inside the pylon on a catch for a touchdown or making a big punt return that leads to more points. With the playoffs in view Cohen appears to be the nightmare matchup every defensive Coordinator will be grinding video on to try and figure out how to stop. Could he be in better hands than with one of the most creative offensive minds in the game in Nagy. It has to be one of the most exciting things to watch out for in the entire post season.
Defensively, it was simply more of the same. While Akiem Hicks had a relatively quiet game both Kahlil Mack and Leonard Floyd who has stepped up big since his cast has been removed were anything but. Both played exceptionally against the run while also being sound on pass coverage when called upon and disruptive as pass rushers. Both had 2 sacks apiece and countless pressures as they harassed Rodgers the entrie game. Floyd should have had 3 sacks as he let Rodgers escape his grasp on one pass rush. Bears truly have a dynamic duo on the Edges offensive coordinators are not looking forward to scheming against this post season.
Both off ball Linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith were solid in coverage and tackling machines versus the run in what we have come to expect from those two. Both were predictably assignment sound.
The backend played its usual disciplined self locking down would be Packers receivers most of the afternoon as Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara held that Corp in check. The biggest surprise came from Sherrick Mcmanis who made great plays on a couple pass attempts to Randall Cobb for PBUs and was stellar in run support.
Easily the worst thing to happen in the game was the injury to Eddie Jackson after making an interception on Rodgers on a defletion in the end zone to essentially seal the game. While trying to stop and down the ball he planted awkwardly and twisted his ankle that had been diagnosed as a mild high ankle sprain. More should be known after swelling goes down enough for an MRI but it appears as if the Bears dodged a bullet and at worst will lose Jackson for the remainder of the regular season but should be go to go for the playoffs as there appears to be no structural damage.
The defense as whole played well and special teams were solid. Cody Parkey made all his kicks including making some strong kickoffs for touchbacks and Pat O’Donnell was excellent with his directional punting and hangtime pining the Packers offense inside the 5 twice. Coverage was excellent even without their captain Mcmanis who is needed as the Nickle Back for the remainder of the season taking over for injured Bryce Callahan who is likely done for the remainder of the season. Especially if Kyle Long is healthy enough to return from injured reserve.
A special shout out has to go to the Bears fans who once again were loud and supportive of the team. Just goes to show you that if you want your fan base to be involved and supportive you have to give them a reason to be.
All in all the Bears won as they have done all season long in a complete team effort getting great play and coaching from all three phases and why the Bears are just as likely as any team to win the Superbowl this season as NFC North Champions.