Jeff Berckes: The Chicago Bears are NFC North Champs. They clinched the division by beating the Packers and in the process, knocked the Packers out of the playoffs. Oh, and it was only week 15. Eddie Jackson broke that silly little streak Rodgers had going between interceptions (when your team is 5-8-1, you have to hang your hat on something) and Trubisky looked like he shook off the rust from the shoulder injury. I think I even got my moment of Rodgers’ heart breaking after Leonard Floyd ran him down at the end of the game. Rodgers staggered to his feet with his shoulder pad exposed, looking longingly over at the better team as he was ushered off the field so the Packers could kick a FG to try and save face. It was one to savor. What was your biggest takeaway from Sunday?
Patti Curl: My favorite moments from Sunday’s game were watching Rodgers run away from one hulking Bear after another. It wasn’t the cool evasive roll outs we’ve seen in the past, it was a man being chased by a bear with appropriate fear in his eyes. So many giggles.
But you asked for my biggest takeaway. For me it was Trubisky. This might be the first time I felt confident that he could really carry the team. He didn’t have to burden the whole load, but he moved the ball with confidence and conviction. The offense had struggles and mistakes, but not when the ball was in Biscuit’s hands. The two big failures (fake punt flop and wildcat fumble) Trubisky literally wasn’t on the field.
I knew the defense would terrorize Green Bay’s offense. I wasn’t sure what we’d get from Trubisky and I couldn’t be happier.
But back to you. What was your smallest takeaway from Sunday’s game?
JB: When you say “smallest,” my mind jumps to Tarik Cohen because he’s only 5’6” despite acting like he’s 6’5”. I think it’s fair to say that I was very excited about Cohen coming into the year when we were projecting current players and their fit into the Chiefs / Andy Reid scheme that Nagy would bring over. On Sunday, when he ran that little Texas route, adjusted to the pass and used that ankle-breaking agility to somehow turn the corner, dive, change hands, and extend the ball over the pylon - it hit me that he has turned into my favorite offensive player. By my count he has 18 explosive plays and a whole bunch of nice punt returns this year. He leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, total touchdowns, and yards from scrimmage. He has the longest catch of the year along with the longest run by a non-Trubisky on the team. He deserves his Pro Bowl selection and I’m really excited to watch his career unfold.
The one thing that doesn’t sit right with me is the default nickname - The Human Joystick. It’s not a bad nickname, it was just used before. Daniel Jeremiah from NFL network nicknamed Cohen “Chicken Salad”. I love that nickname and apparently Cohen agrees. A comment with Pro Football Reference has been filed to amend this error of omission.
I know you love all Bears more or less equally, but has someone on offense emerged as a personal favorite for you?
PC: This is a tough question. If you asked me last year, it would easily be Jordan Howard. I wouldn’t be lying if I still said Jo Ho today, but there is just so much more to love about the Bears skill players and I need to protect my heart from the possibility of a separation between JHow and our Beloved. At the beginning of the year, I would have guessed it would become Anthony Miller, but he’s played a smaller role than I expected and Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson have both won me over in their own ways. So I’m going to dismiss the skill positions altogether and go with a long-time growing favorite of mine in Charles Leno Jr. He’s the definition of easy to root for--large, playful, underrated, and humble--and it’s adorable to think of him getting a false start at the beginning of Sunday’s game not because he was scared of the Packer’s pass rush but nervous about proposing to his girlfriend. His now fiancé has retweeted me in the past, so I can confirm she is a woman of high character and good judgment.
Speaking of good judgment, aren’t the Bears about to visit the team that once traded Mitch Trubisky for what amounted to Solomon Thomas, Adrian Colbert, 4/5ths of Dante Pettis, Fred Warner, and the capital to trade up for Reuben Foster?
JB: I’m so not surprised you are taken with Charles Leno Jr. and as a former offensive lineman, I’m always happy when the big guys find someone to settle down with. Congrats to Charles and his fiance - may I suggest navy and orange for wedding colors? Prince Amukamara and the Chi-Town All-Stars for the band? Staley as the ring bearer?
Anyway, that trade... honestly, the trade is something that I still don’t completely understand given the lay of the land at the time, but before I explain myself, know that I 100% love that Pace had the conviction to follow through with what he believes. I relate this only for the record of where my mind was at the time. I was convinced that the Bears were going to trade down to accumulate picks to feed a starving roster or take Jamal Adams to give us a leader in the secondary. Adams, by all accounts, has been a stud, but that’s not really the point. I was shocked we went in the opposite direction and gave up a fair, but not insignificant amount of draft capital to do it. When we took Trubisky, honestly I was stunned - I had just been on the Chicago airwaves giving an interview to a local sports show and sneered, nay, scoffed at the idea of drafting a QB, thinking the Bears were eyeing the supposedly great class of 2018. Pace had me fooled!
But alas, at the end of the day, no one cares about my or anyone else’s prediction at the time and those that go out of their way to tarnish Trubisky or Pace to try to justify a meaningless position are just sad. Maybe the Bears sit tight and still get their guy, maybe another team jumps over them for Trubisky. Maybe the Bears had a huge grade disparity between Trubisky and Watson and Mahomes. Maybe, maybe, maybe. The important thing is the Bears are really freaking good at football right now, Mitchell Trubisky is steadily improving, and this team is so much fun to watch. The 49ers? Who cares? They’re a mere footnote in the biography of MT10.
But we should probably actually talk about those footnoted 49ers. This week’s matchup does seem like a lot of elements are tracking against the Bears. Coming off a big, emotional win against the rival Packers to win the division and officially reducing the cheeseheads to their natural state of internet trolling and sobbing, the Bears must travel to the west coast to play a team with a poor record but who have played well as of late. Add in the likely absence of Eddie Jackson and a sense of fate of being locked into the #3 seed, are you worried at all the Bears slip in this one? What are your keys to the game to prevent it from happening?
PC: I think Nagy and this team have the right mindset to avoid phoning in a game, even under extreme champagne-fountain circumstances such as these. In terms of keys to success, like any game they lie in the three phases. Defense against an inexperienced quarterback such as Mullens comes down to being just tricky enough to confuse him but not so tricky that he doesn’t notice the trick he’s supposed to fall for. Special teams means limiting Robbie Gould at all costs. To do this, the Bears will have to let the 9ers score or force a turnover any time they enter field goal range. Finally on offense, the 49ers have some enviable big boys on their line and I think focusing on the mismatch passing game rather that working too hard to establish the run is a must.
JB: I’m looking at some team stats and the one that jumps out at me is the stark difference in takeaways. The Bears lead the league with 35 takeaways, a full five ahead of the 2nd place Browns (Browns? Yes, Browns). The 49ers on the other hand are 32nd in takeaways with, checking to make sure that’s right, yes, 5 takeaways, a full 6 behind the 31st place Ravens. Kyle Fuller has more takeaways than the 49ers this year. Eddie Jackson has more takeaways than the 49ers this year. Khalil Mack and Prince Amukamara have more combined takeaways than the 49ers this year. I think you’re right, we’ll be just fine.
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~*UPDATE*~ Pro Football Reference has come through and added Chicken Salad to the Tarik Cohen page after my request! Success!