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Notes: Bears sneak away with last-second Thanksgiving win over Lions

The Bears improved to 4-7 with a narrow win on the road on Thursday.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The streak is over.

While not as triumphant as Brock Lesnar conquering The Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak, the Bears broke a five-game losing streak with their 16-14 win over the Lions on Thanksgiving. A Cairo Santos field goal from 28 yards out put the game to rest, giving Chicago their seventh win over Detroit in the last 8 games. Regardless of the stakes or how the team played, that has to feel pretty good for an organization that went through a dumpster fire of a week.

Will it mean much in the grand scheme of the job security of Matt Nagy and other key members of the organization? Probably not, but a win on Thursday has helped subside rapidly spreading rumors of his immediate firing.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this week’s game.

Offense

On Thursday, the Bears brought an offense onto the field that was led by Andy Dalton, and they looked like an offense led by Andy Dalton.

That’s not to say Dalton was atrocious. The veteran went 24-for-39 for 317 yards with a touchdown and an interception, marking the first time a Bears quarterback has thrown for over 300 yards this season. He had a handful of nice throws down the field and didn’t really demonstrate any issues with timing, nor did he make too many baffling decisions with the football. It was a perfectly capable performance for a backup quarterback, and Dalton proved why he should still garner a decent contract next offseason, whether that be in Chicago or elsewhere.

That said, Dalton has his limitations, and they showed up on Thursday. He generally doesn’t have a strong arm at this stage of his career, and that was on display in such underthrown passes like his end-zone interception intended for Damiere Byrd and a low pass in the dirt that Jimmy Graham had to fall over to snag. His ball placement on some of his deeper passes was inconsistent, which resulted in his going 9-for-17 on passes that traveled more than 10 air yards. Needless to say, there’s a reason Chicago’s offense was pretty vanilla.

Okay, fine, Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor being in charge of it is definitely a reason, but Dalton’s strengths are amplified in a basic offense that doesn’t ask him to do much. That’s why he’s not a franchise guy anymore, and that’s fine for what he is, as long as you don’t expect him to be anything more than that.

A team attempting 39 passes means that there are several targets up for grabs, and that was certainly the case for the Bears this week. They spread the ball successfully to 6 different players — targeting 9 players through the air — with four of them having 3 or more catches. The two biggest stars were Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Mooney led the team with 123 yards on his 5 catches, including an impressive 52-yard deep ball. The second-year weapon was able to attack the Lions vertically with his speed and tally his second consecutive 100-yard outing. Kmet led the team with 8 receptions, notching 65 yards in an outing that showed his promise in tight windows and his improvement as a security blanket in the Bears’ offense.

The Bears struggled in terms of run blocking, despite facing a Lions defense that has been pretty average stopping the ground game. Their inability to generate much push up front made it tough for David Montgomery to produce much of anything, as he had just 46 yards on 17 carries in a 2.6 yards-per-carry afternoon. Khalil Herbert had just four carries for 9 yards, as well. It was a tough day running the ball for the Monsters of the Midway, and much of that was because of a lack of opportunity created up front. The offensive line did do a solid job in pass protection, though, giving them something positive to build off of heading into December.

It wasn’t a pretty game to watch for the Bears’ offense, but they got the job done somehow. A game-ending drive that went 8:30 helped them put the game on lock and effectively march down the field while milking the clock down, though they did get help from the Lions burning two timeouts back-to-back and getting a penalty for doing so. The Bears didn’t have an offensive performance you could write home about, but what did you expect?

Defense

The Bears certainly applied a “bend, but don’t break” approach on defense, and it worked just well enough to limit the Lions to 14 points.

It felt at times that Detroit didn’t want to win the game, and while the same could be said to an extent about the Bears, it applied tenfold for the home team. The Lions had 10 penalties over the course of the afternoon, resulting in their seeing 3rd-and-32 twice on Thursday.

Chicago struggled defensively coming out of the gate, with Artie Burns allowing a 39-yard touchdown on a double-move by Josh Reynolds in the former’s first start of the season and the Bears’ first defensive drive of the game. After that, though, they were able to shut down a Lions offense that has struggled for much of the year. They forced two three-and-outs in the first half, a punt on one of the aforementioned 3rd-and-32 drives, and they forced a turnover when Robert Quinn executed a strip sack that was recovered by Trevis Gipson.

Quinn had his fair share of splash plays, including said sack that brought his tally up to 11 sacks on the year, as well as an explosive tackle near the line of scrimmage against the run. The veteran tied for the team lead with three quarterback pressures, too. The pass rush as a whole was a bright spot for the Bears, as while they only tallied one sack and three quarterback hits, they were able to generate pressure pretty well against a Lions offense that got the ball out of Jared Goff’s hands quickly. Trevis Gipson and Angelo Blackson each had a quarterback hit, with the latter tallying three pressures.

The Bears’ run defense was pretty up and down, which was to be expected with their defensive line’s inconsistency plugging up gaps and Roquan Smith’s injury early in the game. Smith had 3 tackles on just 18 snaps before going down with a hamstring injury.

Jared Goff completed 21 of his 25 passing attempts and scored 2 touchdowns, and the Bears kept a conservative approach in coverage that limited the Lions’ ability to break away for big plays or pick up yardage after the catch. Jaylon Johnson finished the game with 6 tackles, and while that normally isn’t a good sign for a cornerback, he allowed just 25 total yards on the six passes he was targeted on. Artie Burns had a pass deflection after getting burned deep for a touchdown, and while neither of the safeties stood out in a positive light upon first glance, neither of them appeared to be truly awful, either.

Would the Bears have gotten torched by a better offense than what the Lions have? Potentially, but given the circumstances, they were able to limit their opponents well, and that’s all that matters.

Three and out

3. Instead of actually talking about football — because I don’t feel like doing that any more than I already have — I’m going to get into the holiday spirit. Here are some Thanksgiving takes that I have that none of you asked for:

  • Mac and cheese is an elite side
  • Green bean casserole isn’t bad but it’s overrated
  • Mashed potatoes are at their best when there’s something texture to them (potato lumps, skin-on, etc.)
  • Normalize eating stuffing more often than just Thanksgiving
  • For those who celebrate, the unofficial Christmas season starts on Black Friday

2. After getting to spend Thanksgiving with family — some of whom I haven’t seen since before COVID hit — I think that it’s great that we’re able to be able to experience holidays and other social events together again. There’s something special about being able to spend time with those you love and care about that many people like myself tend to take for granted.

1. Thank you to everyone who interacts with me in my Bears-related endeavors. Whether you comment on these articles, follow me on Twitter or listen to my podcasts, I am thankful for the chance to talk football with you all, even when our favorite team isn’t playing well. Even if you disagree with some of the things I say, I appreciate the opportunity to reach all of you. It truly means a lot.