Following the Chicago Bears first loss of the season late Sunday afternoon, they had to turn things around on a short week for a Thursday night game, but they found a way to beat the first place Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a thrilling 20-19 finish. Much like the theme of their games so far this year, it wasn’t pretty, but like I’ll continue to say, a win is a win.
Despite the Nick Foles era getting off to a rocky start last Sunday, he showed Bears fans on Thursday night exactly why he was able to garner a big contract just two off-seasons ago in Jacksonville. Now the Bears find themselves with a mini-bye week and an opponent in the Carolina Panthers who represents a beatable team.
Yes the Bears are (4-1), but just how good should Bears fans feel after last night’s game?
1. Tom Brady’s perfect (5-0) record against the Bears is no more and that in itself shows some progress
Again, it wasn’t an overly pretty win, but the Bears beat a Buccaneers team that came in with a record of (3-1) and is likely to win the NFC South. On top of that, they faced a quarterback that came into the game with a perfect record against them over his 21 year career in Brady.
There’s plenty of areas for improvement, and head coach Matt Nagy shouldn’t be excluded from criticism, but Thursday night’s win showed just how much the Bears have grown over the last few years. The reality is, this is a team that can lose to virtually anybody, but also a team that can hang around with virtually anyone and pull out close wins. That should not be discounted. Not to mention, who doesn’t like to see Brady throwing a tantrum after a loss?
2. Nick Foles isn’t very good, but make no mistake, this is exactly why the Bears brought him in
Everyone found themselves wondering, “What does Foles bring to this team that Mitchell Trubisky did not?” for the first 28 or so minutes in last night’s game. Foles opened up the game missing a wide open Allen Robinson on a third and two. He followed that up on the next drive by missing a wide open Darnell Mooney for what would have likely been a 50-plus yard touchdown pass. Needless to say, we saw plenty of the bad with Foles over the first quarter and a half of last night’s game.
Then out of seemingly nowhere, we saw Foles go a perfect six-for-six to open up their first touchdown drive, followed by another drive where he had full control of the offense, and then he capped off a big drive with a great throw to Jimmy Graham for the touchdown.
This is who Foles is and why he has bounced around at times when he hasn’t been in the right system. He lacks consistency with accuracy at times, but he brings much more to the table in regards to poise, staying in the pocket to make throws and his magic in big moments.
While he’s still not the long-term answer at quarterback, he still gives the Bears the best chance to win games in 2020.
3. Can we all calm down about Khalil Mack now?
All off-season and for a majority of the first few games, I had seen a lot of fans question Mack’s overall impact in games. A lot of this came about due to his lack of overall sack numbers. While that’s understandable, his pressure numbers and win percentage against one-on-one blocks has consistently been at the top of the league the entire year.
He put a lot of doubts to rest on Thursday night with a big performance in which he finished the game with three tackles, two for a loss, a pair of sacks and three hits on Brady. He also had a third sack wiped out on a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
Simply put, Mack is still an excellent player and the best defensive player on this team. The sack numbers will come over time and I’ve maintained that all season. We finally saw some of that come to fruition last night and that should show up again over the next 11 games.
4. So much for those three-win predictions various publications like USA Today put out in the preason, huh?
USA Today’s writer Nate Davis puts out yearly pre-season record predictions for all 32 NFL teams. More often than not, he undersells the Bears and in turn, fans take it a bit personally. This year, he wasn’t the only one and for those on Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of those projections being exposed since the team’s fourth win of the season.
As I said before Week 1, it would take catastrophic injuries and a chain of other unexpected events in order for this Bears team not to finish better than five or six wins. Just five games into the season, they’ve already eclipsed some of those three-win predictions and as the season continues, that win total will inevitably grow.
I’m not convinced the Bears are a very good team, yet. But even so, they’d be hard pressed to be much worse overall than they were in 2019 when they finished (8-8). Even so, let’s take it easy on Nate and some of the other writers. After all, they get paid to make predictions, but they aren’t fortune tellers. It’s rarely anything personal because it’s just sports.
5. Only time will tell how big Thursday night’s win will be, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers
Every year, multiple websites will do their own formula of projecting team’s playoff odds. Most of the time, those formulas are based on history, among other factors. Football Outsiders and Five-Thirty-Eight are the two big names out there, but this is one that may provide more accuracy due to its formula.
NFL records 2009-2019 matched with the percentage of the time a team would have made the NFL's new 14-team playoff. Tossed out ties. Enjoy. pic.twitter.com/24qPwqVheN— Virtual Boo-bble Justo (Day 210) (@JuMosq) September 15, 2020
Above, you’ll see that the Bears are currently projected to have a (85%) chance of making the playoffs under this formula, which has been adjusted to fit in two extra playoff teams in 2020, as agreed to in the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For reference, Football Reference’s Week 4 projections had the Bears at an even (52%) with a (3-1) record. While I expect that’ll drastically improve after this weekend’s results, it’ll likely still fall short of this chart’s chances. Either way, the Bears are in very good shape moving forward.
6. Speaking of playoff odds, don’t discount the Bears’ (4-0) start within the conference
Like it or not, the chances of the Bears winning the NFC North aren’t exactly great. Why? The Packers have looked elite, and I don’t expect them to slow down any time soon when you consider the injuries they’ve already had to play through and how dominant they’ve been.
Ultimately that’s fine, because without a drastic improvement in offensive play from the Bears, it’s hard to see them getting very far in the playoffs anyway. With that being said, starting off (4-0) within the conference when there’s still four very winnable games against opponents like the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and next week’s opponent in the Panthers, is a very strong start.
Even with the extra Wild Card team in both conferences, each contender’s 12-game conference record plays a big role when determining potential tie-breakers down the line. The Bears’ Week 7 opponent will be the Los Angeles Rams, who are another team that is likely to compete for a top wild card spot. That means in that particular situation, their head-to-head record would actually determine the higher seed, but with three non-divisional spots on the line, a strong conference record could end up being the difference between a Wild Card weekend playoff game and staying home.
7. How the Bears choose to replace James Daniels will be an important factor to any offensive improvement over their last 11 games
On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Daniels has a torn pectoral muscle and will likely miss the remainder of this season. Despite Daniels still somewhat struggling with consistency, his loss hurts the Bears interior offensive line.
It’s possible the coaching staff could choose to stick with an internal candidate like Alex Bars or Rashaad Coward, but I think they’d be smart to find a better veteran fit. Ronald Leary, Ted Larsen, Josh Kline, Eric Kush and Justin Britt headline a group of veteran options. Jamon Brown would have been an ideal fit, but he was poached off the team’s practice squad back in Week 2 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
8. Cairo Santos’ 47-yard game winning might have saved his job
On Tuesday, the Bears brought in veteran Kai Forbath for a tryout and while they didn’t end up signing him on a short week, I’m sure there was some interest there if Santos struggled again on Thursday night. Luckily for Santos, he nailed the game winner and brushed away some of the concerns he has with kicks beyond 40 yards.
There’s no telling if or when Eddy Pineiro will be healthy enough to return from Injured Reserve, but Santos is doing just enough to keep his job.
9. Don’t overlook the value of the team’s current “mini-bye week”
Yes, the Bears have been one of the healthier teams in the league, but they’ve now lost Tarik Cohen and Daniels to season ending injuries and are somewhat banged up in the depth department with Sherrick McManis and Deon Bush nursing short-term injuries. I would also guess that Kyle Fuller will take the extra time to get his hand right, despite coming back into the game after it was taped up on the sidelines.
Hopefully Nagy and this offense can use these extra few days to self-scout and come up with a better plan moving forward of how to maximize the production within this offense.
10. Presented without title
I can understand if as a Packers fan you got upset at NFL analytics for calling the Packers' 13-3 record last season "fraudulent".— Ken Ingalls - Packers Cap (@KenIngalls) October 9, 2020
But then please don't use the same analytics to poke holes in the Bears' current 4-1 start of this season.
It's hypocrisy and it's a bad look.
Some may remember that a few weeks back, I featured one of Ken’s tweets in an article. He gave a very good breakdown of how team’s rosters and practice squads would work in a COVID-dominated season.
This week, I’m featuring him again because I think he brings up a very good point. Last year, the Packers were regarded as one of the worst (13-3) teams in league history by the analytics community. As I noted above, I don’t think the Bears are in the same zip code as the Packers right now, but he does bring up a good point. Analytics can say whatever they want about a team’s performance, but the reality is the Bears are (4-1) and in a very good spot moving forward to challenge for a playoff spot. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of areas to improve, but I think Bears fans should enjoy the big win and long break before Week 6’s game next Sunday.