The Chicago Bears found themselves victorious for the first time in the 2021 regular season after their 20-17 victory at Soldier Field. It was a game that the Bears dominated all but about five minutes of the game, yet they only won by a single field goal. It was also a game in which the team lost their starting quarterback and finally had a taste of the incoming era of Justin Fields.
So what now? A lot of that will depend on Andy Dalton’s health status for Week 3. Their schedule doesn’t let up though, as they’ll head to Cleveland to face a dangerous Browns team coming off their first win of the season. For now, let’s just reflect back on a game that had mostly positives.
1. Fields wasn’t great and maybe not even good, but I’m not sure there’s any turning back if Dalton can’t play Week 3.
Earlier in the week, I talked about not putting unrealistic expectations on any of these rookie quarterbacks. Obviously for Bears fans, that means Fields. Sunday’s “debut” was a good lesson in exactly that.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully expect Fields to be an overall better quarterback option than Dalton very early in the season. With that being said, he’s still a rookie and mistakes are going to happen. We saw plenty of that mixed bag on Sunday afternoon. There were times when he left the pocket too quickly and other times when he held the ball too long.
There were also throws that should have been caught and simply weren’t. The two plays that stick in my mind are Darnell Mooney’s drop on a deep throw to the sideline and Allen Robinson’s drop in the end zone. Both were very good passes but neither were caught. That cost them a minimum of six points, but if both plays are made, that could have been a pair of touchdowns instead of zero points.
The reality is simple. Yes, Fields needs to be better and he will be in time. It’s also true that their pass catchers need to make those catches. But in order for that to happen, Fields need to see practice reps with the starters and have a full week of preparation to start. Dalton’s health will determine if and when that happens, but if it’s Week 3, Fields will be in for quite the challenge.
Head coach Matt Nagy also sounded like a coach that is comfortable with Fields becoming his starting quarterback. Not only that but he declined to commit to Dalton, even if he’s healthy moving forward.
Patience is needed and there’s no real need for any knee-jerk reactions. Quarterback development is not linear, not is it a quick process. Sit back and enjoy the process. Whether that’s Fields taking over from here on out or soon, this season just got that much more exciting.
2. Speaking of the quarterback situation, you have to feel for Dalton at this point.
Count me as one of the many people who believed that Fields should have received a real shot to challenge for the starting job in training camp. With that being said, you still have to feel for any player that is actively fighting for his job, not playing too poorly and still hasn’t done enough to keep his job. It’s also unfortunate that Dalton’s immediate future is uncertain due to an injury on a nice running play.
In these types of situations, it’s always good to remember that these guys are humans too. Despite how we may feel about them as players, they are all hyper competitive people and this type of things impacts them mentally and emotionally.
Again, only time will tell what Dalton’s Week 3 status is, but between Week 2’s happenings and the growing reports of Fields’ growth in practice, it feels like a matter of time before this is no longer Dalton’s team.
3. After a week of pessimism, there was plenty to be optimistic about on both sides of the football.
You’d like to see the Bears hold the majority of that 17 point lead so late in a game. If you didn’t watch the game and simply saw the score, you’d probably assume it was a close game. But in reality, the Bears dominated a large majority of the game.
Even so, fans have to be impressed how they responded after being blown out on national television... Again.
There’s a lot that can be said about head coach Matt Nagy, but he has had a tendency of rallying his troops following a bad loss. Credit also needs to go to the rest of the coaching staff and the multiple struggling players of Week 1 that bounced back to have a large impact in Week 2.
4. For a coordinator in his second NFL game, defensive coordinator Sean Desai had quite an impressive game.
Count me as one of the many folks who questioned Desai after Week 1’s embarrassing defensive outing. When you coupled how they opened up the season with how they looked in the preseason, it was fair to wonder if he was the right guy for the job.
Obviously you never want to overreact too much to one week in general, but fans have to be impressed with his defense’s response against another dangerous offense. On the day, they had four takeaways, four sacks and many impressive plays overall. They also held a good offense to just three points until the final five minutes of regulation. Again, you’d like to see them finish stronger, but the defense is the reason they won the game.
5. Speaking of the defense, their high priced veterans and star power finally came to play.
Last week, I was quick to call out a defense full of high-paid players. That included Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Eddie Jackson among others.
This week, each one of those players had some sort of impact. Jackson had a forced fumble. He also played much better in coverage and didn’t shy away from tackles. Mack tallied his first sack of the year and Quinn had himself quite a day as well.
There were plenty of “star” plays in Sunday’s game, but the fact that they were able to respond the way that they did bodes well for the rest of this season. Make no mistake, the Bengals have a good offense. The Bears did a great job of limiting a unit that is still ascending.
6. Allen Robinson has had a slow start to the season, but he needs to make plays when called upon.
For all the high-paid players who did perform well, Robinson was not one of those. After two weeks of the season, he has six catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown came on his first catch of the game. The problem? He had just one other catch for the remainder of the game and multiple targets that he did nothing with.
The bigger frustration (at least for me) is that he had a pair of touchdown opportunities and didn’t come down with either. The first was a 50/50 ball in the end zone. Things happen, so it’s easier to let that one go. His blatant drop on a perfect deep ball from Fields later in the game was the one that stuck out much more, though. It also helped the Bengals stay in a game that should have remained a blowout.
It’s easy to see why Robinson would be frustrated with his current usage. There’s no debating that, but considering he’s making almost $18 million this year and he’s playing for a big contract, he’s not off to a good start. We’ll see what he looks like in a few weeks. Assuming Fields takes over as the starter and they can develop some chemistry. Either way, Robinson needs to be a lot better moving forward.
7. For as much concern as there was about the team’s offensive tackle situation, their interior play has been more concerning to me.
As a whole, their offensive line has given up six total sacks and isn’t consistently winning in the trenches. That was to somewhat be expected, though. What wasn’t expected is how poor the interior offensive line played on Sunday. Larry Ogunjobi was a one-man wrecking crew. He also had success against all three of James Daniels, Cody Whitehair and Sam Mustipher.
Daniels is coming back from a season ending injury. He’s been uneven, but has had his good moments. Whitehair has also been inconsistent, but he usually gets better as the season goes on. The one I’m really concerned with is Mustipher. Yes, he was a nice undrafted free agent story, but he continues to lack strength and it has shown.
In order for this team to stay successful in the run game and give their quarterback a chance, the interior line needs to be more consistent and play better as a whole.
8. Young defensive talent shined for the Bears on Sunday and that’s exactly what they need moving forward.
Jaylon Johnson, Roquan Smith and Bilal Nichols all had big moments in Sunday’s dominant defensive performance.
Johnson tallied his first career interception and had four pass breakups. So far, he’s been about as good as you could ask for as the team’s primary cornerback.
Smith was his vintage self. He finished the game with eight tackles, which led the team. He also had a pick-six, a sack, a tackle-for-loss and another quarterback hit.
Nichols had four tackles, a sack, a tackle-for-loss and a few quarterback pressures.
Even a young player like Kindle Vildor flashed in moments too, with a pass breakup of his own.
In order for the Bears to carry any sort of defensive success beyond 2021, they’ll need young players like these four to step up and others to develop. This was a good start in this department.
9. Looking ahead to Week 3, Sunday’s road trip to Cleveland will be a real litmus test to see where this team is truly at.
The Browns may be (1-1) on the season like the Bears, but they have one of the more talented rosters in the league. They’ll be a little banged up heading into the game and might be without both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Even so, they have plenty of talent and an explosive offense that features a two-headed monster at running back that could give the Bears fits.
Both sides of the ball should be an interesting matchup. So far, the Browns defense has struggled, but they boast a pass rush that could give the Bears’ offensive line nightmares throughout the week in preparations. Being as this game will be on the road, this should be a good measuring stick to see where the Bears are truly at after a pair of Jekyll and Hyde like performances.
10a. The Bears become the first team in the NFC North to get a win. Who would have seen that coming?
Heading into the season, I’m not sure you’d find any objective analyst in the league that had the Bears winning the NFC North. So far, the Bears are the only team within the division to win. With that being said, one of the Detroit Lions or Green Bay Packers will get a win tonight on Monday Night Football.
At this point, you’d still have to consider the Packers the odds on favorite to win the division, but this is looking like yet another middling year for the Minnesota Vikings, as they have started (0-2) for the second straight season.
Heading into the year, I felt that if the Packers weren’t as good as projected, the NFC North had the potential to be one of the worst divisions in football. So far, that doesn’t appear to be far off. Tonight’s game should be an interesting one.
10b. Speaking of rookie quarterbacks: If you look around the league, each one of them are having up and down results so far.
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is the only rookie starting quarterback to have a win after the first two weeks of the season. Even with Jones though, he hasn’t put up overly gaudy numbers. Even so, one could argue that he has been the “best” of the three starters through two games.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been highly inconsistent in both starts. He has three touchdowns to go with three interceptions and is averaging a measly 166 passing yards-per-game so far on the year.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson had a very rough Week 2 in which three of his first five passes were intercepted. He finished the game with 210 passing yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating on the year is (56.1).
Circling back to Fields’ first real performance, that’s why it’s key to be patient and understand that rookie quarterbacks almost always have rollercoaster rookie seasons. The Justin Herbert’s of the world are the exception, not the rule.