Talk about a rollercoaster game.
Down 23-6 to start the fourth quarter, the Bears rallied back to score three touchdowns in less than 12 minutes to defeat the Lions 27-23 in the first game of the 2020 season.
From a lights-out late performance by Mitchell Trubisky to a Kyle Fuller interception to a dropped pass in the end zone by Lions running back D’Andre Swift, seemingly everything went right for the Bears in a game where, for the first three quarters of the game, very little did.
A lot happened on Sunday, but here are some takeaways from both sides of the ball.
It wouldn’t be a Bears game without disappointment, excitement, and numerous near-heart attack experiences. This week had all three.
Prior to the fourth quarter, Mitchell Trubisky was 12-for-26 with 153 yards and no touchdowns. While some blame could be placed on his targets for making poor adjustments to the ball from time to time, the fourth-year quarterback was generally inaccurate and showed little, if any, improvement in his decision-making or his mechanics. He was a big reason the Bears were down by as much as they were at one point, and why they only converted two third downs in 10 attempts.
And then, the fourth quarter happened.
Trubisky caught fire when the pace picked up. The Lions’ defense looked discombobulated at the hands of his accurate throws, the Bears’ tempo and Matt Nagy’s play calling. Trubisky completed eight of his 10 passing attempts in the fourth quarter, gaining 89 yards and scoring three touchdowns through the air.
When their backs were against the wall, the Bears dug themselves out of a very deep hole and defied the odds. Trubisky is known for starting slow only to put things together late in the game, and that ability was definitely on display on Sunday.
Now, if Trubisky is going to make his case for a contract extension after this season, he is going to have to become more consistent every single quarter. He wasn’t good in the first three quarters, but luckily enough for the Bears, he was great when it mattered most, and that was enough to give his team the comeback victory.
While the Bears saw inconsistent quarterback play, one aspect of their offense that saw consistent improvement was their ground game. They tallied 149 rushing yards on 28 attempts as a team and showed much more tenacity and explosiveness on the ground. David Montgomery finished with 64 yards on 13 carries, reaching a 4.9 yards-per-carry total that he only topped twice in the entire 2019 season. He looked much more explosive and decisive in between the tackles: a welcome sign for a team that struggled in the run game last year.
Montgomery wasn’t the only player to excel out of the backfield. Tarik Cohen had 41 yards on seven carries, his highest rushing total since Week 14 in 2018. While not always the most consistent runner in between the tackles, he looked plenty explosive out of the backfield this week. Cordarrelle Patterson also contributed with 18 yards on four carries.
The Bears’ offensive line was also very impressive in the ground game. The unit did a fantastic job of paving the way for their running backs and pushing Detroit’s defensive line around at the point of attack. Incorporating more outside-zone runs into their arsenal and utilizing the 12 personnel more often, Chicago’s run game looked much more sound than it did for most of 2019. The offensive line also allowed just one sack all game, which is certainly encouraging.
Chicago’s weapons were fairly inconsistent through the air. Jimmy Graham started off the game on a sour note, dropping two passes and not having any production until the fourth quarter. However, he did finish the game with three catches, 25 yards and a touchdown. Allen Robinson contributed five catches for 74 yards and made his fair share of nice catches. Anthony Miller didn’t record his first reception until inside two and a half minutes left in the third quarter, but he finished the game with a very nice 76 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Rookie Darnell Mooney also impressed on his three catches with 38 yards. The same didn’t stand for second-round pick Cole Kmet, who was only targeted once and had an errant ball thrown his way.
For most of the game, the Bears’ only encouraging play on offense came on the ground. Once the fourth quarter came around, though, they were able to turn things around and stretch the field effectively. They will likely need sustained offensive success to be a playoff contender, but for the time being, it got the job done.
The Bears’ defense has been heralded all offseason for its front-seven, but the unit was pretty disappointing in its first outing of the 2020 season.
Tallying just one sack all game, Chicago’s pass rush was lacking consistently throughout the afternoon. Akiem Hicks recorded the lone sack, but the team’s firepower failed to show up on a down-by-down basis. Khalil Mack didn’t have a hit on the quarterback and was shut down pretty regularly, and Hicks had a minimal impact outside of his sack. The loss of Robert Quinn to an injury prevented the Bears from unleashing their “Rule of 3” unit this week, and their pressure off the edge suffered.
The run defense was disappointing, especially when Adrian Peterson took to the field. The 35-year-old running back looked like his old self, showing off explosiveness and decisiveness en route to a 93-yard, 14-carry game.
Some of the Bears’ older veterans struggled, particularly Danny Trevathan and Buster Skrine. The linebacker, who was signed to a three-year contract extension this offseason, looked sluggish in the open field and got beat across the middle of the field regularly in coverage. Trevathan tied for the team’s highest tackle totals with seven, but the box score didn’t tell the whole story. Skrine had two pass deflections, but he also allowed separation to Danny Amendola out of the slot, who caught five passes for 81 yards.
The Bears have two young nickelbacks on the roster in Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley, so they could find a replacement for Skrine if this level of play were to continue. However, finding a replacement for Trevathan is much tougher given the lack of depth at inside linebacker, so the Bears will need him to bounce back going forward.
It wasn’t all bad on defense, though. Save for the one play he got trucked on, rookie Jaylon Johnson was impressive in his NFL debut. He broke up two passes and was able to shut down the boundary attack for the Lions for most of the game, looking polished and showing off very good route anticipation skills for a rookie. Kyle Fuller also contributed with a key interception after Eddie Jackson broke up a pass late in the fourth quarter. Without that turnover, the Bears may not have had the opportunity to score that final touchdown and take the lead.
The Bears’ overall defensive performance wasn’t anything to call home about, but it wasn’t necessarily horrible. They put together a couple of nice plays that ended up playing a significant role in their victory down the line.
Three and out
3. The Bears’ offense is at its best when Mitchell Trubisky doesn’t think.
An up-tempo, fast-paced approach to their offensive playcalling helped the Bears march the ball down the field and keep the Lions’ defense guessing. This has been the case for much of Trubisky’s career, as he tends to overthink his reads when his back isn’t against the wall.
That approach doesn’t make for a calm and collected viewing experience for fans, but it can get the job done in certain situations.
2. Even though their tight ends didn’t make a major impact in the passing game outside of Jimmy Graham’s touchdown and a 16-yard grab, the Bears certainly saw impact from that position in the run game.
Using 12 personnel and even throwing in some 13 packages with Demetrius Harris on the field, the Bears relied on heavier packages more often than they did in most games in 2019. As previously mentioned, the run game looked very impressive, and part of that was due to improved scheming, both along the offensive line and at the tight end position. The team’s moves over the offseason indicated they would change up their run game philosophy, and it certainly worked out for them on Sunday.
1. Next week, the Bears take on the Giants, and the matchup could serve as a redemption opportunity for their pass rush.
Though Chicago struggled to generate pressure off the edge against Taylor Decker and backup Tyrell Crosby in Detroit, they find themselves going up against another below-average tackle tandem next Sunday. First-round rookie Andrew Thomas holds down the fort at left tackle for New York, while veteran backup Cameron Fleming will start at right tackle with Nate Solder having opted out of the season. If Robert Quinn returns to the field in Week 2, then Chicago could have a change to help their pass rush find their mojo again.