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Game notes: Bears stick it to Tom Brady and Bucs, improve to 4-1 in thriller

Regardless of how well they played, what matters most is that the Bears played well enough to win.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the Bears are now 4-1 and have finally defeated a legitimate playoff contender.

With a tenacious pass rush and a game-clinching field goal from Cairo Santos, Chicago came away with the 20-19 over the Buccaneers Thursday night. Despite an underwhelming offensive performance and a couple of tackling hiccups, both sides of the ball made just enough plays to sneak out of Soldier Field with their fourth win in five games.

Here are a couple of big takeaways from last night’s victory.

Offense

In traditional fashion, the Bears came away with the win despite a lackluster offensive performance.

Granted, it wasn’t all bad. Allen Robinson was fantastic, catching 10 passes for 90 yards and serving as a reliable possession receiver to safely move the ball down the field. The argument can be made that his inability to come down with the grab allowed Carlton Davis to pick Nick Foles off in the first quarter, but other than that, he was that reliable top target he has been for the Bears for quite some time.

Jimmy Graham made a phenomenal one-handed touchdown grab in tight coverage, giving him his fourth touchdown of the year in just five games. He also made an impressive toe-drag catch along the sidelines. Despite his signing being met with skepticism, he has been a fantastic and much-needed presence at the tight end position for a Bears team that struggled heavily there in 2019.

Nick Foles looked hot and cold on Thursday. He was able to stretch the ball down the field with generally accurate short-to-intermediate throws, and he showcased the ability to scan the field and make smart adjustments at the line of scrimmage. While one could say that he looked smarter than Mitchell Trubisky, that doesn’t necessarily mean the former Super Bowl MVP was better than his backup.

For every savvy move Foles made, he would deliver a poorly-thrown ball or force a throw into tight coverage. He only ended up with one interception, and while heading to the tape will provide a more accurate assessment, he could have ended up with three or four. It definitely wasn’t his finest performance.

Running the ball was expected to be a challenge against the Buccaneers’ second-ranked run defense, and a challenge it was for the Bears. David Montgomery finished with just 29 yards on 10 carries, though he did score his first touchdown of the year. He also made a couple of nice adjustments in the air as a receiver, where he caught seven passes for 30 yards.

Not much blame can be placed on Montgomery for his poor rushing stat line, as Tampa Bay's interior defensive line was just simply too much for the Bears to handle. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh in particular both got significant push at the point of attack, making it very tough for the running back to find an open running lane and exploit it in time.

The Buccaneers’ secondary and pass rush both looked nice, too. Like the Bears, they also finished with three sacks, in addition to seven quarterback hits. William Gholston had three hits and a sack off the edge, while the aforementioned Vea and Jason Pierre-Paul also contributed for sacks. Granted, Foles’ general lack of mobility makes it tougher for him to evade incoming pressure, but Chicago’s offensive line arguably had its worst game of the year coming off of another disappointing outing against a talented Colts defense.

Tampa Bay’s secondary also made numerous plays on the ball, deflecting eight of Foles’ 12 incompletions. Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis combined for six deflections, while rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. showed why many Bears fans were upset they passed on him in the second round. As always, though, heading to the coaches tape will provide a better understanding of why Chicago’s receivers had some issues with separation.

There are definitely adjustments that the Bears will need to make on the offensive side of the ball, and down the line their current level of play may not prove to be sustainable enough to keep them winning ball games as often as they have. However, as long as they keep on piling up victories, they should be okay.

Defense

The Bears’ defensive front was a tale of two cities when comparing their pass-rushing performance and their run-stuffing performance.

Tom Brady went down for a sack three times, which ties for the most sacks a team has had against Tampa Bay’s talented offensive line this year. He was also hit eight times, a testament to how well Chicago applied pressure on the future Hall of Famer.

The star of the show was Khalil Mack, who finished with two sacks and three quarterback hits, as well as another sack that was called back for a roughing penalty. He absolutely battered the Buccaneers off the edge, literally tossing rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs around like a rag doll and dominating left tackle Donovan Smith when asked to do so.

Outside of Mack, James Vaughters pulled off the other sack with additional pressure off the edge from Barkevious Mingo. Bilal Nichols was able to hit Brady twice, while Roy Robertson-Harris and Mario Edwards Jr. both tallied hits, as well.

In coverage, the Bears saw another solid game from both Jaylon Johnson and Kyle Fuller. While not their best game of the season, they got the job done on the outside more often than not. Both cornerbacks held their own against Mike Evans—albeit a hobbled Mike Evans—and they both showed off very good route recognition, which aided Chicago’s pass rush as they shut down their opponents. The middle of the field was pretty barren, and the overall play in pass coverage from the Bears’ safeties and linebackers didn’t appear to be great at first glance, but the corners did their jobs.

Against the run, it was a different story. Ronald Jones II trampled his way to 106 yards on 17 carries, averaging a whopping 6.2 yards per carry. The Buccaneers got great push against the Bears’ interior defensive line at the line of scrimmage, and seemingly every level of Chicago’s defense allowed Jones to bowl over them.

Despite a generally disappointing game in run support, the Bears stepped it up in run support when it mattered most late in the second half. That helped force Tampa Bay to throw the ball at a time in the game when Chicago’s pass rush was strong, and that helped them prevent another miraculous Tom Brady comeback from happening.

Three and out

3. First things first, well wishes to James Daniels, who as of this writing is speculated to have suffered a torn pectoral. The injury is expected to be season-ending.

Daniels has still had some growing pains this year, but he’s generally looked much better than he has in either of his previous two seasons. Left guard is clearly the best fit for him in the NFL, and with a whole offseason to settle into the position and bulk up, he has looked like a long-term starter at the position.

2. The Bears have gotten off to a hot start to the season, but they have a pretty challenging schedule ahead of them. They face the Packers twice, the Rams—who look a lot better than they did last year—the undefeated Titans, and the Saints, who cannot be counted out despite their slow start to the year.

While the tough part of the Bears’ schedule has yet to come, getting off to this hot of a start is crucial for their long-term playoff hopes. At this rate, they can afford to go 6-5 or even 5-6 for the rest of the season and still make a postseason appearance. With the disappointing Vikings on their schedule twice—as well as the Lions, Texans and Jaguars all on tap once—they should have plenty of chances to pick up enough wins to make it into the playoffs. In order to do so, though, they will have to avoid losing games that they have no business losing.

1. I promised you all an article featuring scouting reports of quarterbacks in the upcoming 2021 draft, and I will certainly do so, especially considering the Bears lack a long-term option at the position.

However, with their projected draft positioning and the lack of quarterback depth in this upcoming class, the Bears may end up taking a different position in the first round. The offensive line stands out as a major need, at both the tackle and guard positions. Adding a wide receiver wouldn’t be a bad idea, as this is a talented receiver class and they could afford some more firepower. The run defense could also stand to improve, so adding interior defensive line and linebacker help could be beneficial.

I’ll dig more into their potential draft needs further down the line, but the most important thing is this: the Bears are 4-1, and while they still have numerous areas in which they can improve, they have set themselves up in a very favorable position in the long run.