Even without Mitchell Trubisky, this was a game that the Chicago Bears should have won.
Instead, a day full of poor coaching decisions, subpar quarterback play, mediocre defense, and a sprinkle of shabby officiating doomed the Bears, as they lost to the New York Giants 30-27 on the road in overtime. Chicago managed to score 13 points in the fourth quarter and recover an inside kick - a rare feat in today’s NFL - but their fourth-quarter heroics were not enough to push them into overtime with the win.
Here are my notes from yesterday’s chaotic emotional rollercoaster of a game.
If it wasn’t apparent before, Chase Daniel is no Mitchell Trubisky.
The journeyman backup finished the game with 285 passing yards and a touchdown with a 66.7 completion percentage, but his statistics were inflated by Chicago’s heavy reliance on their aerial assault in the second half: they only ran the ball three times in the third and fourth quarters. He had a few impressive plays, like a beautifully thrown pass on the wheel route to Tarik Cohen in the fourth quarter, but he also forced a lot of throws, relied too heavily on his first read and made many bone-headed decisions, which resulted in his throwing two interceptions, both to Alec Ogletree.
One of Daniel’s biggest struggles was his inability to avoid sacks and throw the ball away. He isn’t the athlete that Trubisky is, but the veteran’s tendency to take the sack looked like the play of a rookie. The Bears’ offensive line wasn’t great in pass protection, as B.J. Hill and Olivier Vernon combined for five sacks. However, a true starting quarterback would have been able to throw the ball away on most of those sacks. He also had a lot of trouble hanging onto the ball, as he fumbled a whopping four times. Even if the playing conditions were less than ideal due to the rain, that high of a total is simply unacceptable. Part of the blame also falls on center Cody Whitehair, whose snapping issues of last year returned this week after an otherwise good 2018 campaign.
In a rare turn of events, Jordan Howard had a pretty good game. He finished with 76 yards on 16 carries, resulting in 4.8 yards per carry, his second-best average of the year. His ball-carrier vision looked like that of his old self, and he hit the hole hard with determination and athleticism. He even broke away for a season-high 25-yard gain. Chicago’s decision to only hand the ball off to him twice in the third quarter was surprising, given how hot he was coming into halftime.
Given the Giants’ aggressive defensive scheme and the Bears’ starting a backup quarterback, it made sense for Tarik Cohen to get a lot of touches out of the backfield in the passing game. Chicago knew this, and they did so to the tune of 20 touches for a combined 186 yards (that total becomes 21 touches and 187 yards when you count his game-tying touchdown pass). He made several big plays, from the aforementioned touchdown pass to his incredible 46-yard jump ball reception early in the fourth quarter. After arguably the best game of his young career, it’s more evident than ever how important Cohen is to the Bears’ offense.
Allen Robinson also had a very good game, snagging multiple balls in tight windows. He had a catch of the year candidate in the second quarter, hauling in a deep ball on the helmet of B.W. Webb. He finished with five receptions for 79 yards, proving why the Bears chose to sign him to the massive offseason deal that they did. Other than Robinson and their two running backs, their offensive weapons had rather lackluster performances: no other offensive player had more than 23 total yards all game. Taquan Mizzell had the fourth-most productive game by a Bears skill player yesterday, which speaks volumes.
For a top-tier defense going up against an offense led by one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, the Bears didn’t live up to their elite billing.
Kyle Fuller picked up his sixth interception of the season, cementing himself as an All-Pro candidate. Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks all picked up sacks, with Hicks even adding a one-yard rushing touchdown to his stellar day. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan both had 10 tackles. On the surface, it seems as though Chicago would have done a good job defensively.
The statistic that proves that wrong is Saquon Barkley’s rushing yards total: 125 on 24 carries.
Despite being a rookie, Barkley is an elite running back with physical tools that few in the league can match. Still, that doesn’t excuse the Bears’ inability to close up holes and properly tackle to limit the stud back. They had issues at all levels against the run: the defensive line got manhandled at times, the linebackers had occasional troubles with sinking their hips into tackles and using their bodies instead of their arms, and the secondary didn’t look all that good in run support, either.
Combine that with a handful of major lapses in coverage, and the Bears simply weren’t themselves defensively. It wasn’t a totally horrible performance, but they struggled against an offense led by Eli Manning. And, unlike the offense, they had all of their key players playing. They will have to turn things around quickly, or else the Los Angeles Rams will shove the ball down their throats next week.
Three and out
3. In a game where a lot went wrong for the Bears, they were helped out by poor performances by their divisional rivals. The Minnesota Vikings lost, ensuring the Bears maintain a 1.5-game lead in the division. The Detroit Lions fell to 4-8, which means that the Bears will not finish in last place in the North for the first time since 2013. Oh, and the Green Bay Packers lost to the Arizona Cardinals, and Mike McCarthy got fired. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.
2. A lot of fans are freaking out about this loss because it means that the Bears will likely have to win at least two more games in order to win the NFC North. While a win yesterday would have made the goal a lot easier, it is still pretty likely. They still have the San Francisco 49ers on the schedule, which should be a win barring a significant run of injuries. The Bears also have the dysfunctional Green Bay Packers (a fun string of words to write) at home, who could have a four-game losing streak heading into the game if they lose next week to the Atlanta Falcons. If the Bears win those two games alone, then they will win the division, unless the Vikings somehow win out.
This isn’t even taking into mind that the Bears might beat the Rams or Vikings. Plus, with how dysfunctional the NFC playoff race is, nine wins could possibly be enough to make the playoffs. Though losing to the Giants gives the Bears a bit more stressful road to the playoffs, it’s still one they should be able to conquer.
1. Chase Daniel’s stretch as the starting quarterback for the Bears has presumably come to an end, as Mitchell Trubisky will be healthy enough to play against the Rams on Sunday night. He certainly could have been worse, but there’s a reason he isn’t starting long-term for an NFL team right now. All things considered, he did an alright job, and he didn’t knock the Bears out of playoff contention.
These past two weeks are further proof that Trubisky is the heart and soul of this offense. Without him under center, their offense isn’t quite as explosive as normal. His athleticism, which is arguably the most underrated aspect of his game, allows for a lot of play-calling versatility, and it helps him evade sacks and get out of a lot of jams that most quarterbacks - Daniel included - couldn’t. I’m excited to see him return in person at Soldier Field, because this offense runs smoothly with him at the helm.