No matter how ugly it looked at times, the Bears picked up a Week 1 win as the underdogs to officially start off the Matt Eberflus era.
After a scoreless first half, the Bears rallied back in front of an energized Soldier Field crowd to defeat the 49ers 19-10 on Sunday. The heavy downpour of rain played a major factor in the overall style of play for both teams, providing for a run-heavy approach from both teams.
That stat sheet sure wasn’t pretty for the Bears’ offense, but they did just enough to outperform the 49ers in a battle between two first-round quarterbacks from the 2021 draft. Here are some of the key takeaways from Chicago’s Week 1 victory.
It wasn’t often pretty, but the Bears scored more points than the 49ers, so that’s something to be happy about.
The first half was a nightmare for Chicago on the offensive side of the ball. Not only were they completely shut out in the first two quarters, but they only had 68 total yards heading into halftime. Three of their first six drives resulted in three-and-outs, and one of those other three resulted in Justin Fields throwing a brutal interception. They couldn’t get much of anything going through the air or on the ground, making it difficult viewing for the Bears on Sunday.
Luke Getsy’s first-half approach was tough to watch. Of the 11 2nd-down plays the Bears ran in the first two quarters, 9 of them were running plays. 7 of them came in situations that were 2nd & 7 or longer, and only two of them went for more than 3 yards. The run-heavy strategy was practically a given, considering the weather and Getsy’s general philosophy on offense. However, the reliance on running the ball with significant distance to go — especially up the middle — was baffling.
Things opened up for the Bears coming out of the second half, though. Getsy showed more of what fans expected heading into the season: horizontally stretching the field, play action under center, and bootlegs designed to get Fields on the move. That efficiency translated to the analytics; despite going just 8-for-17 and throwing an interception, Fields still had a solid 0.15 EPA per play, as opposed to Lance’s -0.16 EPA per play.
When the Bears throw just 17 times and complete just 8 passes, it’s going to be tough for any weapons to stand out. The likes of Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown both gained over 18 yards on their respective lone receptions, with St. Brown scoring a touchdown on his catch. Dante Pettis had the biggest play of the game, gaining 51 yards on a backyard-style play that saw him get wide open after some scrambling by Fields.
It was essentially like night and day when comparing how Khalil Herbert and David Montgomery ran the football on Sunday. Herbert led both teams with 0.48 EPA per play, finishing with 9 carries for 45 yards and a touchdown. Montgomery had more carries with 17, but he only ran for 26 yards and ended up with -0.49 EPA per play. It was tough for the backs to consistently find open lanes with a solid 49ers front-seven performance, but Herbert was more explosive and efficient with his touches.
It’s tougher to determine individual offensive line performances upon first glance using the broadcast tape, but Teven Jenkins seemed to have a nice outing rotating at right guard with Lucas Patrick. PFF’s game recap showed that Jenkins had an 81.7 offensive grade, allowing just one pressure on 13 pass-blocking snaps. Braxton Jones had some early struggles at left tackle against a scary San Francisco front, but he seemed to gain confidence as the second half came around.
It’s tough to use this game to truly judge the Bears’ offense, considering how tough it was to throw the ball and to just move in general in the rain. Given the circumstances, though, they picked it up coming out of the half and had a solid outing. There’s much to improve upon, but the odds are slim they’ll play in such poor weather conditions again this year.
Any time your defense allows just 10 points, that’s a good outing for that unit.
That’s exactly what the Bears did on Sunday, and they arguably surpassed expectations to prevent the 49ers from breaking away for too many dynamic plays. A bend, don’t break approach with solid pressure up front complemented the sloppy Chicago weather perfectly.
Trey Lance finished the game 13-for-28 with 164 passing yards, no touchdowns and an interception. The rain made it tougher for him to get a good grip on the football and throw accurately, but he also made a handful of questionable throws. The Bears took advantage of one of those throws in particular, as Eddie Jackson shot underneath to tally his first interception since 2019.
Many noted that it was a play resembling his 2018 All-Pro form. Considering Jackson has been on the record as saying he has a chip on his shoulder again, it’s encouraging to see him making plays in coverage again. He had the Bears’ lone interception of the day, but the likes of Roquan Smith, Trevis Gipson and Justin Jones each had pass deflections.
The aforementioned Smith put together another solid outing, tallying 9 tackles with half of a sack, the pass deflection and a quarterback hit. Arguably the star of the show, though, was rookie edge rusher Dominique Robinson. The fifth-round pick had the second-most tackles on the Bears with 7, and he finished with 1.5 sacks and three pressures in his NFL debut. Trevis Gipson also did a solid job of generating pressure up front, notching a quarterback hit and getting in Lance’s face a handful of times.
It’s difficult to come out of a game with strong defensive back analysis off of the broadcast tape alone, but both Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker made some good plays. Brisker recovered a fumble and looked reliable as a tackler, while Gordon was also stout against the run and on screen plays. Granted, Gordon seemed to be responsible for a 44-yard gain by 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings, but the two rookie defenders seemed to have solid performances at first glance.
Chicago was inconsistent against the run — Jeff Wilson Jr. had just 22 yards on 9 carries, but the likes of Elijah Mitchell, Trey Lance and Deebo Samuel all ran pretty well. The interior defensive line could stand to improve with holding up gaps, but they weren’t terrible to the point of embarrassment.
Sloppy weather conditions benefitted the Bears, as did the absence of George Kittle and Mitchell’s injury. However, they still performed well as a unit and surpassed expectations, making life difficult for the inexperienced Lance. That’s something to feel good about heading into Week 2.
Three and out
3. I wanted to give a shoutout to the Bears’ coaching staff and roster for the discipline the team showed on Sunday.
They finished the game with just 3 penalties, none of them coming in the second half. There were no holding penalties, just one false start (on special teams), and no holding or false start calls on offense. You can make whatever you want about the Trenton Gill towel penalty. When the Bears needed to get it together — both from a discipline perspective and a play-calling perspective — they did. That adaptability is something they lacked under the new regime.
2. This is a super long-term, pie-in-the-sky view at the rest of the season. In the grand scheme of things, however, specific wins like this are huge for the Bears.
By all accounts, this was not a game the Bears were expected to win. They have a handful of easier games on their schedule: the Falcons, Jets, Giants and Texans are all matchups Chicago could be favored to win. Winning the games you’re “not supposed to win” does a lot of good for a team’s playoff hopes. I’ll go on the record as saying I don’t think the Bears are a playoff team, so don’t get that misconstrued. That said, a few more wins like this could be huge for them later on in the regular season.
1. I’ll just say that I’m especially glad the Bears won this week, because if they had lost, the curmudgeons out there would’ve pushed “the towel game” as a narrative. The fact that we escaped that alone is worth celebrating.