Despite a scare late in the fourth quarter, the Bears were able to come away from their home opener with a win on Sunday.
On the backs of a pick-six by Roquan Smith and opportune field position by two other interceptions, the Bears got out to a 20-3 lead with under 7 minutes to go in regulation. While two passing touchdowns by the Bengals cut down Chicago’s lead a bit, the latter was still able to finish the afternoon with a 20-17 win, improving to 1-1 on the season.
Here are some of the key takeaways from this week’s game.
It is now the Justin Fields Show in Chicago.
An injury to Andy Dalton saw the veteran hit the bench, and while he re-entered the game for one possession, Fields took over the starting duties for the second half.
Granted, Dalton played pretty well before his injury. The offense was a bit vanilla — as to be expected with an older veteran with average physical tools — but he was able to go 9-for-11 and lead the Bears to an efficient opening drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Allen Robinson. He was accurate and got the ball out quickly, which is exactly what the Bears asked him to do.
Once Fields entered the game, he admittedly looked like what he is: a rookie. He had some encouraging throws, but he also had a tendency to hold onto the ball too long and forced throws to his first read a bit too often. It wasn’t a perfect outing by any means, as he went 6-for-13 with an interception in his first game with significant action.
Fields wasn’t entirely at fault for the way that his stat line looked, though. His receivers as a whole appeared to struggle with drops and coming down with passes in contested situations. He had some well-placed passes that simply weren’t caught, including a beautiful pass in the end zone to Robinson, who had a rare drop. The offensive line also struggled a bit, as the Bengals as a team sacked Bears quarterbacks three times and had six total quarterback hits.
No receivers tallied 30 receiving yards or more outside of Darnell Mooney, who led the Bears with 6 catches for 66 yards. He was able to get open consistently, and while he did have a drop, he did a very good job of creating separation on a regular basis.
The Bears’ run game struggled as a result of the aforementioned offensive line issues, but David Montgomery did the best with the little he was given. While his 61 yards on 20 carries might not seem incredible at first glance, he did a good job of staying upright through contact and was able to fall forward for extra yards more often than not. Given limited running lanes to exploit, the third-year back was still able to put some plays together.
One area the Bears struggled in was penalties; they lost 70 yards on eight penalties and struggled with communication at the line of scrimmage. Fields himself committed two false start penalties, which likely stemmed from a lack of experience working with Sam Mustipher under center. They also stalled out with two field goals in favorable field positions, failing to convert on a drive starting with a 1st-and-goal and sputtering out after a forced fumble by Eddie Jackson that Tashaun Gipson took to the Bengals’ 39-yard line.
The Bears didn’t have the best offensive performance, but they did just well enough to come away with the win with help their defense. There is plenty to improve upon going forward, but that should improve once Fields gets more reps in-game and through practice with starters.
At one point, Joe Burrow had thrown 199 passing attempts without throwing an interception. The Bears proceeded to pick him off on three consecutive passes.
Save for a 75-yard touchdown drive and another touchdown allowed after a Fields interception downed inside their 10-yard line, the Bears excelled defensively for much of Sunday afternoon. They held the Bengals to a shoutout in the first half, forcing them to punt twice and shutting Cincinnati down on fourth down once. Though none of their defensive drives resulted in three-and-outs, the Bears were able to hold the opposition down and step up in key situations.
Early in the fourth quarter proved to be the Bears’ best defensive play of the season thus far. Roquan Smith intercepted Burrow and rumbled his way to the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown return, putting Chicago up by 14. After the extra point and kickoff, an interception by Jaylon Johnson immediately followed, setting them up on Cincinnati’s side of the field. After a Bears offensive drive stalled out and resulted in a punt, a tipped pass by a blitzing Alec Ogletree was caught by Angelo Blackson, giving them possession inside the Bengals’ 10-yard line.
The first two defenders mentioned stood out with stellar performances. Smith led the Bears with 8 tackles, showcasing the quick processing speed and sideline-to-sideline range as a tackler that saw him named a second-team All-Pro last year. In addition to his interception, he also picked up his first sack of the season and had a pass deflection. While Smith’s elite play carried on from last year, Johnson looked the part of a player who could make that jump into high-end starting territory. He deflected a whopping four passes and picked up his first interception of his career. His route recognition looked stellar, his athleticism was apparent, and his willingness to compete at the catch point made him a shutdown corner on Week 2.
Those two were far from the only defenders to stand out, though. One week after a disappointing outing, Eddie Jackson bounced back with a four-tackle outing, with one of them being a key tackle for a loss on third down. He also forced a fumble that served as the first turnover the Bears forced all year, and he appeared reliable in coverage. Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn each racked up a sack, looking like the dominant edge-rushing duo the Bears expected them to be heading into 2020. Akiem Hicks also made his presence felt, notching four tackles and two quarterback hits in a pressure-filled outing, and Bilal Nichols contributed a sack and four tackles of his own.
The Bears did struggle a bit in their secondary, though. Both Jackson and Johnson had strong outings, but no other starting defensive back really stood out in a positive manner. Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor both had some flashes, but neither were necessary consistent in coverage and allowed their fair share of catches. Tashaun Gipson didn’t necessary light it up, either.
That seems like nitpicking, though, as there was a lot to like about the Bears’ defensive performance. The pass rush was consistent, and the coverage — though not perfect — was better as a whole than it was against the Rams.
Three and out
3. As of this writing, the severity of Dalton’s injury is unknown. I wish him the best in his recovery and hope for his sake that it wasn’t as serious as the rumored — but likely false — ACL tear.
That said, the injury could serve as a blessing in disguise for Fields in its own gruesome way. He has the opportunity to start against NFL defenses and prove himself capable of being a full-time starter this year. While the original plan was likely for the Bears to start Dalton and ease Fields into it, they don’t really have a choice now. Considering it’s usually rare for first-round quarterbacks to be benched, the likely situation now is the latter plays well enough to secure the starting spot for the remainder of the season, barring injury. For fans clamoring for the rookie entering the starting lineup, you may have gotten your wish.
2. Shoutout to Pat O’Donnell.
Of his four punts on Sunday, two of them pinned the Bengals inside the 10-yard line. The placement behind his punts were reliable and helped the Bears’ defense out significantly. Three of his five punts this year have gotten inside the 20-yard line — he has surely gotten off to a strong start this season.
1. The Bears take on the Browns next week in a matchup that should be a difficult test for them and Fields.
Baker Mayfield suffered an injury this week but returned to the game, and Jarvis Landry went down with a sprained MCL. While Cleveland is likely the superior team on paper still, the Bears could be able to face a hobbled roster and sneak away with a win against a legitimate playoff contender.