The Chicago Bears fell to (2-3) in the young season after their disappointing 29-22 loss in Minnesota to the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings. Despite being down 21-3 before halftime, the Bears scored 19 unanswered points and actually had the lead heading into the final three minutes into the game. Unfortunately, the lead was short-lived after the defense struggled to stop Minnesota's offense for most of the day.
Despite the loss, Bears fans have reasons to feel good. Yes, it's a loss and a disappointing one at that, especially with how it ended. But there were still some good signs worth being optimistic about. We'll dive into that and more in this week's 10 takes.
1. For the second week in a row, Quarterback Justin Fields took a step forward.
It is no secret that the Bears are in Year 1 of a pretty extensive rebuild. As I pointed out last week, expectations will never be lower. With all that in mind, it's still never easy to lose games like the Bears lost on Sunday. Despite being down 21-3 as the second quarter was winding down, they went on a 19-0 run and held the lead. Even after giving up the lead, it felt like this offense had a real chance to go down and tie the game to send it into overtime. The biggest reason for that? Their second-year quarterback.
Despite throwing the ball just 21 times and eight rushes, Fields accounted for (89%) of the team's offense in Week 5. Not only did he finally break the 200-yard mark for the first time in 2022, but he was also much calmer in the pocket and a much more accurate passer most of the day. Fields was (12/13) in the final half alone for 135 passing yards and a touchdown. His poise in the pocket was noticeable, as was his decision to run the ball when necessary. If not for the Ihmir Smith-Marsette fumble in the final minute of the game, fans have to have felt good with Fields leading the team down the field for a potential game-tying drive.
For the second straight week, Fields took a step forward. That's always worth feeling good about, especially with how this season has started for this offense and its young quarterback. Even with a short week on Thursday Night Football ahead, Fields has a chance to take another step forward against a bad Washington football team.
2. Last week, I called for more aggression from this coaching staff. This week, they delivered.
The Bears simply did not take enough chances through the first four weeks of the season. That changed on Sunday, if only in a few spots. The first of those came with a fourth down conversion, in which the pocket broke down around Fields, and he was able to convert a fourth down and four with relative ease.
After scoring on their first possession of the second half, head coach Matt Eberflus decided to attempt an onside kick to keep the momentum moving in their direction. Despite it not working, I personally loved the decision. It shows faith in your offense.
Finally, when the Bears scored their final touchdown, they opted to go for a two-point conversion. While it did fail, it still made the most sense and was the game's third "aggressive" decision. These are the types of "risks" this coaching staff needs to be taking moving forward. It's very clear they will struggle to win games, so why not give your team every advantage to steal a win or two down the stretch? This is how you find out what you have on a rebuilding roster. So, kudos to this coaching staff for finally making some aggressive decisions.
3. Two blown calls really changed Sunday's game, and for a team with little margin for error, it might have made the difference.
The reality is simple for this Bears team. This roster lacks talent, and this is a group of players that doesn't have a lot of experience with each other. Because they are in a rebuild, the new regime needs to find out as much as they can about this current group over a 17-game season.
Because of this, it puts a magnifying glass over blown calls made by the officials. There were two of them, and the final one might have been the difference between the Bears winning Sunday's game.
The first blown call came on a pass interference call against the Bears on third down. Luckily, the next play was a Kindle Vildor interception. Ultimately—Due to field position— It might have ended up being in the Bears' favor. The second blown call was where the game changed. Fields had a huge run in which he made a few moves and ended up breaking off a 45-plus yard run that would have resulted in a touchdown. It was called back on an illegal block in the back by Smith-Marsette. The issue? It wasn't an illegal block in the back. Kameron Dantzler did a very good job of acting, but it was not a penalty. What it did do is take seven points off the board and caused a four-point swing because the Bears ended up settling for a field goal.
At the time, it didn't feel as big because they took the lead on the field goal. After the Vikings' final touchdown, it became apparent that it was going to factor into the game's final result, and it did. Instead of the Vikings being up 29-26 in the final two minutes of the game, they were up a full touchdown. That changed the entire goal of the Bears' drive. Yes, Smith-Marsette fumbled and ended a promising drive. Still, it changed the complexion of how the Bears would operate on their final drive of the game. Those are the types of bad breaks the Bears cannot afford to have to go against them. Especially when facing superior teams.
4. David Montgomery coming back after missing just one game was impressive, but their usage of Khalil Herbert is not what it should be.
First of all, Montgomery returning after missing one full game is about as impressive as it gets. Especially considering how bad his ankle injury looked when it happened in Week 3. It also reminds me of what a friend who covers Iowa State originally told me about Montgomery. He told me that the former Iowa State product had a few moments in college when it looked like he had a serious injury and would simply pop back up and continue playing. We've seen this multiple times throughout his tenure with the Bears, and it just doesn't seem humanly possible.
With all of that being said, the way this coaching staff continues to abandon Khalil Herbert with Montgomery in the fold just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Montgomery is unquestionably the more well-rounded back. He's considerably better as both a pass protector and a pass catcher. Even so, Herbert appears to be the better fit as a pure runner in this scheme. Despite what we've seen from the Green Bay Packers over the last five or so years with their running back rotation, it's very clear this is Montgomery's backfield, and Herbert's role is minimal with Montgomery fully healthy. At some point, I think that needs to change. Montgomery can be effective and has plenty of value. But as teams continue to key in on the run, the Bears must get more creative and less predictable. Part of that can come from how they use their running backs.
5. Speaking of the run game. Teams are starting to key in on the run, which means that eventually, Getsy will have to allow Fields to throw more.
Over the past two games, Bears running backs have averaged a measly 3 yards per carry (41 rushes for 123 yards). The bulk of their rushing average has come from Fields' 6.6-yard average in the same time frame. Simply put, teams are stacking the box and have figured out how to stop the team's rushing attack out of the backfield.
In that same time frame, Fields has attempted just 43 passes. That doesn't mean they've only called 43 pass plays due to eight sacks and 15 rushing attempts in that time frame. What it does mean is that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy is going to have to get less predictable with early-down runs and trust his improving quarterback to make plays on his own. After all, Fields has accounted for well over (70%) of the team's offense over these past two games.
The good news? The offense is starting to look a little less 1970s. The bad news? After Thursday's game, they face a trio of quality defenses that will strain this entire offensive group. It's time to get it figured out now and help continue their young quarterback's upward trajectory.
6. The lack of pressure on the quarterback is directly leading to a lot of the defense's issues earlier on.
Through five games, the Bears' defense has a total of eight sacks. Their pressure rates are also in the bottom half of the league. Some may theorize that's due to their inability to stop the run, and that may be the case. Regardless, their lack of pressure on the quarterback directly impacts how their entire defense operates.
Sunday's game was another endeavor that didn't bear much fruit. They had a single sack on Kirk Cousins and hit him three times. Because of that, Cousins was able to pick a weaker secondary apart most of the afternoon. That included a 17 for 17 start, which was a career-best for the veteran quarterback. At some point, defensive coordinator Alan Williams and Eberflus are going to have to figure out a way to start generating more pressure. A first step might be to mix up their edge rusher rotations because Trevis Gipson is the only player close to being consistent in this department. It will get tougher on this defense as the season presses on if they can't find a way to impact the quarterback more often.
7. With N'Keal Harry close to a return, the Bears need to decide whether or not rostering Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Dante Pettis will be worth it moving forward.
Things are going to get somewhat interesting at the receiver position relatively quickly. Smith-Marsette's rough day is a sizable knock, especially considering how little of an impact he's had on the offense since being a waiver wire pickup shortly before the start of the season. Considering he's only in his second year, he may have a slightly longer leash than the veteran Pettis.
Pettis has three drops in two games. Despite a preseason that impressed the coaching staff and a big catch in Week 1, the veteran has not done the job. It's one thing to not be a big factor within the game plan, and it's another to flat-out drop passes that would create big plays.
With Harry due back soon and Byron Pringle expected back at some point this season, it's worth wondering if they can "afford" to keep both struggling receivers. I still somewhat doubt the Bears make any substantial moves at the trade deadline, but that would be another factor that could impact both players' roster spots. Either way, the Bears need a whole lot more than what they've received from this receiving group. Their plan hoping someone might step up and surprise, has not produced anything worth writing home about.
8. For all of the issues the Bears have had this year, their kicking situation has not been one of them (under normal conditions).
Kicker Cairo Santos has been fantastic all season. Week 5 was no different, as he was perfect on the day, including a 51-yard field goal he nailed right down the middle. The week before that, it was fill-in kicker Michael Badgely, who was also perfect. Luckily for him, his impressive performance led to a full-time gig with the Detroit Lions (who lost 29-0).
In a season where many things will go wrong and even less will be consistent, Santos has provided a stabilizing force for a team struggling to consistently score points. That may not mean a lot during a rebuilding season, but if the Bears find a way to compete for a playoff spot next year, Santos is the type of stabilizing force that will be valuable for a team that will need every competitive advantage possible to win games. Long story short, this is yet another Cairo Santos appreciation "thread" and it's well deserved.
9. Looking around the league, there are a lot of middling teams and not many truly good teams.
Heading into Week 5 there were 14 teams at .500 or better. That's one of the highest marks in recent history. It shows a couple of things.
- Teams are more closely grouped than in quite some time.
- There are just not a lot of "great" teams so far this season.
Some of that comes from surprising losses from good teams like the Buffalo Bills, The Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also came into the week with .500 records. Even so, there are not a whole lot of teams taking the league by storm. On the flip side, there aren't a lot of horrible teams, either. The Houston Texans came into Week 5 as the only winless team, but that is no more, as they upset the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
As usual, it's likely the good teams will separate themselves as the season goes on, but so far, it appears we may be seeing a changing of guards in certain divisions in the NFL. Among those (so far) has been the NFC North. The Vikings are (4-1) and currently hold a 1.5-game lead over the Green Bay Packers.
It'll be interesting to see how some of these surprise teams, like the (4-1) New York Giants and (5-0) Philadelphia Eagles, carry on throughout the season, too. One thing seems clear, the Bears seemed poised to finish in the bottom third of the league this year. But that was pretty much expected.
10. Week 6's look ahead: On a short week, the Bears should feel very good about their chances to get back to .500 on Thursday night against the Washington Commanders.
#NFL Week 6 Odds: #Bears open as a 1-point home underdog against #Commanders per @DKSportsbook— Windy City Gridiron (@WCGridiron) October 9, 2022
More here from @wiltfongjr: https://t.co/YIA4KOLUVv
Maybe I shouldn't be but it's hard for me to believe that the Bears are home 'dogs to a (1-4) team that hasn't proved to be anything more than a doormat in the NFC, thus far. Regardless of how Vegas feels, Bears fans should feel pretty confident heading into Thursday night's game.
Yes, mid-week games are always unpredictable and rarely produce fun-to-watch products. Even so, the Bears appear to be the better team with the better quarterback. Sorry, Carson Wentz.
The two teams appear to be heading in opposite directions, or at least we can hope. Washington has given up at least 20 points in all five games this year. It'll also be Fields' last chance for a few weeks to face a defense that shouldn't give him too many issues. I'm not expecting a blowout by any means, but this is a game the Bears should win, especially at home.