In a game the Bears desperately needed to win, they executed in remarkable fashion.
The Bears wanted to win on Sunday in order to take over the seventh seed in the NFC and take control of their own playoff destiny. The Jaguars—or their fans, at least—wanted to lose in order to secure the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to take Trevor Lawrence.
Both fanbases got what they were hoping for this week, as Chicago trounced Jacksonville on the road in a 41-17 blowout. 31 unanswered points from the Bears helped them take control of the game after a back-and-forth first half, and they saw both sides of the ball step up after a rather pedestrian start to the game.
With the Bears in a favorable position to make their second playoff appearance in three years, here are some of the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s action.
After a slow start to the game, the Bears’ offense started cooking in the third quarter.
Mitchell Trubisky finished the game with 265 passing yards and two touchdowns while going 24-for-35 on the day. He also added a touchdown on the ground, rushing for a six-yard score on one of his two carries. He looked accurate more often than not, and he was able to make a handful of nice throws across the middle of the field.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Trubisky by any means. His interception in the second quarter was all-time levels of bad, forcing a throw into an incredibly crowded window in the end zone that got picked off by Joe Schobert. The four-year quarterback also had a couple of double-clutch throws that saw his footwork sputter out of control and his upper-body mechanics forced.
When he came out of halftime, though, Trubisky looked much more comfortable. He went 6-for-7 on the opening drive of the second half that resulted in his rushing touchdown. All told, Trubisky went 11-for-13 with 126 passing yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the third quarter, and that helped the Bears pull away with the win this week.
His weapons deserve quite a bit of credit, too. Allen Robinson had a fantastic game, catching 10 passes for 103 yards on 13 targets in a performance that gave him 100 receptions in a season for the first time in his career. He was able to consistently get open and serve as a reliable possession threat throughout the afternoon.
Jimmy Graham was another star of the show, catching two touchdown passes in a four-catch outing in which he tallied a season-high 69 yards. Darnell Mooney was also pretty reliable in the passing game, catching four passes for 39 yards and showing off his burst and speed when called upon to do so.
A solid passing game was complemented by yet another strong performance by David Montgomery, who topped 1,000 rushing yards on the season with 95 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. The second-year back finished with over 90 yards for the third-straight week and scored a rushing touchdown for the fourth-straight week.
As has been the case for the past couple of games, Montgomery has looked equal parts powerful and explosive. He was able to keep his legs churning to fight through contact from tacklers, and he also showcased spring in his step when moving laterally. He had seven rushes that went for five yards of more, including four rushes that saw him pick up double-digit yardage.
It wasn’t his prettiest game, per se, but Montgomery was still reliable in picking up yardage and was able to put together big chunk plays to help the Bears move down the field. As the 2020 season comes to a close, the organization has to be feeling good about the way he has been running the football.
The offensive line didn’t appear to be as consistently good as it has been in recent weeks, but they weren’t particularly bad, either. They allowed just one sack on Sunday and were able to open up a handful of running lanes for Montgomery to work with, even if they didn’t come on a down-by-down basis. Chicago’s hog-mollies played a big role in Artavis Pierce’s two big plays on the ground in the fourth quarter, resulting in a 23-yard run followed by the undrafted rookie’s first NFL touchdown.
While the Bears were a little slow coming out of the gates against the Jaguars, they were able to pick things up in the second half and make the necessary adjustments to give Trubisky easy reads and get Montgomery going on the ground. This week marked the first time since Week 9 of 2018 that Chicago has scored 40 points or more in a game, and that’s something worth celebrating.
Roquan Smith came into Sunday with a plot for vengeance.
Days after being snubbed from a Pro Bowl appearance, Smith played a vital role in the Bears’ win over the Jaguars. He led the team with eight tackles, marking the 12th time in 15 weeks that he has had over seven tackles in a game. He was his reliable self in run support, making plays in and out of the box to help limit the Jaguars to scoring just 10 points through the first three and a half quarters of the game.
What may have been even more impressive than his effort in run support was the plays he made in coverage. Smith picked Mike Glennon off twice and added two pass deflections in the process. He managed to pick both of his passes off in a favorable part of the field, as both of his picks resulted in the Bears’ offense starting off their subsequent drives within the Jaguars’ 35-yard line. Both interceptions helped his team put points on the board, as Chicago scored a field goal and a touchdown on Smith’s first and second interceptions, respectively.
Though he was snubbed on a national level from a Pro Bowl nomination, he solidified on Sunday that he has quickly become one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL.
The Jaguars weren’t on offense long enough for any other Bears defenders to garner commendable statistics, but that doesn’t mean Chicago’s defensive unit didn’t get the job done. Bilal Nichols and Mario Edwards Jr. were both able to hit Glennon, with Nichols also adding a pass breakup to what has been a strong season for the Delaware alumnus.
Danny Trevathan’s four tackles may look pedestrian by his standards at first glance, but he was versatile in his contributions, tallying both a sack and two pass deflections. The Bears’ two starting linebackers had a combined four of the team’s six pass deflections this week, an encouraging sign for a defense that has generally been soft covering the middle of the field this year.
Granted, much of that soft coverage lies on the shoulders of Chuck Pagano, and that proved to be the case again on Sunday, albeit more outside of the hashmarks than normal. Glennon was 15-for-18 heading into the second half, and a conservative gameplan in coverage allowed the former Bears quarterback to deliver the ball with plenty of soft spots in zone on all parts of the field. The absences of Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine due to injury likely did play some role in that gameplan, but Pagano has also been passive in coverage all season.
Smith’s first interception could have made an impact on Glennon’s confidence, as he went 11-for-20 after halftime. Though he delivered stellar contested-catch touchdown throws to D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, the eight-year veteran wasn’t all that impressive. There were some growing pains from the likes of Kindle Vildor and Xavier Crawford, but as a unit, the Bears’ secondary could have played a lot worse, given the circumstances.
Chicago struggled to generate pressure in the passing game, as neither Khalil Mack nor Robert Quinn tallied any quarterback hits this week. However, two key interceptions and improved offensive plays helped the Bears pull away, and they found themselves in an incredibly comfortable position late in the game.
Three and out
3. With a win to improve to 8-7, the Bears are now in possession of the No. 7 seed in the NFC.
In order to make it into the playoffs, the Bears will either need to defeat the Packers next week, have the Rams beat the Cardinals, or both. They aren’t out of the woods yet, as the Packers will prove to be difficult competition for them in Week 17. With the reports that Jared Goff may not play for Los Angeles next Sunday, it may be more difficult for the Rams to beat their divisional rivals. However, the Bears’ win on Sunday was huge boost to their Wild Card hopes. They will be in control of their own destiny next week, and that’s all a team can ask for in this kind of situation.
2. After Sunday’s win, the Bears have avoided finishing under .500 for the third-straight season. Like it or not, that will likely be enough for Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace to save their jobs.
Despite each of their flaws, it appears unlikely that the Bears will be willing to part with a head coach or a general manager who has not had a losing season over the past three seasons. That would ring especially true if Chicago makes it into the playoffs, as two playoff appearances in three years is a strong negotiating point for both Pace and Nagy. For those in the camp of wanting to start a rebuild, the Bears’ three-game winning streak will likely delay such a process for at least another year.
1. Mitchell Trubisky is not the long-term answer at the quarterback position for the Bears. That much should not be up for debate, even after a string of good games against inferior competition.
But might he just be the short-term answer for the Bears at quarterback? There’s a strong possibility he will be the quarterback the team goes forward with in 2021. Since Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties, Trubisky has looked much better than he had earlier in the year. They are winning games with him under center, and their coaching staff has now proven capable of scheming around his strengths and weaknesses.
Given they likely won’t pick early enough to draft a high-quality quarterback prospect without having to give up significant draft capital, the Bears could very well stick with Trubisky for another year and look to address needs elsewhere in free agency and the draft. It seemed unlikely this time two months ago when he was on the bench behind Nick Foles, but now Trubisky could be in line for some sort of contract extension this offseason.