The Chicago Bears find themselves at (1-0) and in a two-way tie atop the NFC North after their 19-10 victory on Sunday afternoon at Solider Field. Despite the majority of viewers taking the San Francisco 49ers to win the game, the Bears became one of many surprise results in Week 1.
While this may be Year 1 of the team’s rebuild, if Sunday was any indication of how hard this team is going to fight this year, things could be a lot more fun than originally expected. Week 1 is always home to plenty of shocking results, so expectations should be tempered. Even so, fans should enjoy the win and can hang their hat on the team’s second-half performance. Just how impressive was Sunday’s win? We’ll dive into that and much more in the first 2022 NFL regular season’s installment of 10 takes.
1. There’s plenty of credit to go around for Sunday’s win, but this coaching staff’s ability to make second-half adjustments should not be overlooked.
Let’s be honest. The Bears looked dead in the water as they went into halftime. Their passing offense had completed just three passes, and their lone scoring opportunity was blown apart by a penalty on fourth down to put them out of field goal range. Many (including myself) spent most of the halftime wondering how the team was only down 7-0.
Then they come out of the second half and immediately give up a big drive. Luckily it ended in a field goal, but at that point, they were down two scores at 10-0. It was hard to see how this offense was going to be capable of scoring twice. It was also tough to fathom the defense holding up on the field much more than they already had.
It only took one broken play to flip the game completely. The offense started moving the ball, and the defense locked down even more. What was once a 10-0 deficit turned into a 13-10 lead and eventually a 19-10 victory. None of that would have been possible without a coaching staff that was capable of making the right second-half adjustments.
Whether it was the offense using more rollouts, a different running back, or simply being more aggressive in early downs, it made all the difference. Defensively, they found a way to ratchet down even more, and it led to a big turnover and plenty of punts. Don’t take this type of thing for granted. It was not something we saw very often in the Matt Nagy era.
2. Justin Fields looked lost in the first half, but the second half was a completely different story.
The Bears’ offense was a complete train wreck in the first half of Sunday’s game. Fields was sacked twice, hit plenty, and hurried even more. Many went into the second half wondering if the Bears were capable of scoring enough points to make it a game.
All it took was one broken play that resulted in a 51-yard pass to Dante Pettis for a touchdown to get the team’s offense going. Despite Fields being just 3-of-9 for a measly 19 yards and a really bad interception, the entire game seemed to flip on its head with one play.
Fields’ final numbers (8/17 for 121 passing yards, 28 rushing yards, two passing touchdowns, and an interception) weren’t impressive. In most cases, it would have been a pretty bad game. That would not have taken into account the poor weather and overall field conditions. It would also be discounting his second-half performance in which he went 5/8 for 102 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
The reality is simple. This offense lacks proven talent. They also lack stability along the offensive line and a second-year quarterback that is learning his third offense in as many years. Growth will not be linear. That’s OK, though. Fields’ athleticism will continue to allow him to flash. His arm talent will lend to highlight reel throws. His inexperience will also lead to some ugly interceptions and head-scratching throws. It’s all part of the process.
He did show something on Sunday that his fellow draft classmate was not able to complete- Winning a football game under less than ideal circumstances. It was Trey Lance who had a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter. Yet, it was Fields who threw a pair of second-half touchdowns, while Lance threw a crippling interception when his team was fading.
Does this mean that Fields will end up being a more successful quarterback? Absolutely not. What it should do is continue to give fans hope that as the season progresses, so will Fields.
3. After giving up a pair of sacks in the first half, the offensive line did a quality job of settling in. Things will not get any easier next week, though.
Heading into Sunday’s game, it was hard to envision a scenario where the Bears’ offensive line would end up “winning” the day. Especially when facing a top-end edge rusher like Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead on the interior. Make no mistake; it was a rough start. Fields was pressured twice and sacked once on the first drive of the game. He was sacked twice in the first half and found himself on the ground more often than anyone would like to see.
Despite that, the second half was one of adjustment and something that allowed this unit to settle down against the pass rush and give their second-year quarterback a chance. Their work in the run game needs plenty of work. Their development overall needs a lot of work. That was expected, though. This is a young and inexperienced unit. One that has just one starting offensive linemen who have started each game over a full season.
The not-so-good news? Their jobs don’t get any easier next weekend against a quality Green Bay Packers front seven that has plenty of upside. It’ll be yet another quality early-season test for this young unit to endure.
4. The defense’s performance on Sunday is a testament to just how successful Matt Eberflus’ defenses have been since 2018.
Sometimes, the right coach can make all of the difference. The Bears saw that going from Mel Tucker to Vic Fangio on the defensive side of the ball back in 2014. We also saw the opposite effect when Chuck Pagano took over for Fangio in 2019. So, it’s easy to understand a drastic change when you see it. That’s what happened in Indianapolis when Eberflus took over the Colts’ defense back in 2018. They went from 27th in defensive DVOA in 2017 to 11th overall in 2018.
Turning our attention to the Bears, it would have been expected for them to see a dip in overall production from last year to this year. They traded away Khalil Mack (more on him in a bit), let Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols go in free agency, and released nose tackle Eddie Goldman this past off-season. That’s a lot of proven and high-level past producers that are no longer residing in Chicago.
Yet, it was the defense which stole the show for the majority of Sunday’s game. All of this against an offense that averaged (25.1) points-per-game and ranked 7th in total offense last season. Yes, they made a quarterback change and were missing George Kittle. Even so, the Bears held the 49ers’ offense to 10 points and 331 total yards. They also forced two key turnovers. Considering how much of a transition this unit has seen over the past few months, this is an impressive feat. Expectations should still stay realistic, but it’s not hard to see how this defense could surprise in 2022.
5. The 49ers may have more talent, but we all got our first look at how the H.I.T.S principle and quality team discipline can steal games.
Two numbers stick out from Sunday’s game.
- Penalties: 12-99 to 3-24
- Turnovers: 2 to 1
Both of those key areas in this game went the Bears’ way. Fifteen of the Bears’ 24 penalty yards came off of rookie punter Trenton Gill’s towel decision that put them out of field goal range. The timing of the turnovers also played a sizable factor. The final turnover of the game came at the hands of Eddie Jackson’s interception in the fourth quarter and ultimately led to the Bears’ third and final touchdown of the game.
Make no mistake; the 49ers dominated the first half of this game. Yet, the second half ultimately decided the game, largely due to the second turnover and the flood of 49ers penalties. The Bears’ defense was clearly punching at the ball any chance they got.
In the NFL, the margin for victory can be razor-thin. These two key stats usually play a big part, and they sure did here.
6. Quite the quality showing for general manager Ryan Poles’ first draft class in their first regular season game.
Eleven of the team’s 15 rookies were active for Week 1 on Sunday. There are two ways of looking at this.
- Poles did a very nice job of finding Week 1 contributors.
- The Bears are in the midst of a rebuild, and this is a product of it.
Regardless of how you look at it, many of these rookies factored into the final result.
Rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker had quality NFL debuts. Gordon was burned for a big play earlier in the game but did finish with six tackles (including one for a loss). Brisker was the more impressive of the two and finished four tackles (one for a loss) and was all over the field.
Fifth-round edge rusher Dominique Robinson accounted for one and a half of the team’s two sacks. He also had seven tackles (one for a loss) and a pair of hits on the quarterback. Left tackle Braxton Jones had a rough start to the game but settled in nicely. Gill had a quality day punting the ball, averaging (46.2) yards-per-punt. Finally, running back Treston Ebner averaged 24 yards per return as the team’s primary kickoff returner.
Velus Jones Jr. should make his debut within a few weeks, and that will positively impact this group as well. All in all, it was a quality day for Poles’ first rookie class and one that will be relied upon heavily as the season continues.
7. Plenty has been made about who fits the lead running back role the best in this new offense, and Sunday’s glimpse was not a positive view for David Montgomery.
As a whole, this was not a banner day for the team’s run game. Especially given the circumstances of the weather and overall field condition. With that being said, only one of the two running backs stood out in a positive light. Khalil Herbert averaged 5 yards-per-run on nine carries, including the group’s lone touchdown run.
Montgomery, on the other hand, had a very disappointing performance. The 49ers have a great front seven, and that should not be discounted. Even so, Montgomery averaged (1.5) yards-per-carry on 17 carries. No matter how you cut it, that’s not going to work. Overall, the fourth-year running back seemed hesitant and did a lot of dancing in the backfield before he hit his holes. Some of that was on the poor blocking in front of him, but when comparing his efficiency to Herbert, it’s not comparable.
It’s still very early, and there’s no need to overreact to one game. With that in mind, it’ll be very interesting to see if Herbert sees an uptick in carries next Sunday night in Green Bay.
8. Dante Pettis’ 51-yard touchdown catch could prove to be much more than a broken play.
On first look, it’s easy to just see Fields scrambling away from pressure, throwing across the field, and finding a wide-open Pettis that would result in a 51-yard touchdown. There’s no denying that it was a broken play and was one that just took a decently accurate throw. What was not originally seen was how well Pettis simply sat down in zone coverage and allowed his quarterback to make a play. After the game, Eberflus was asked about the play, and he referred to it as the “scramble drill.” That’s an important term to keep in mind.
In the past, we’ve seen Bears quarterbacks running for their lives and receivers running deeper and deeper down the field. This rarely gives the offense a chance to create a big play from a broken structure. Comparing that to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s former team in Green Bay, you see receivers coming back to the ball or settling into a pocket within the zone to make for a viable completion opportunity. This entire play was a product of coaching and a new offense. It’s yet another example of something different that fans should hope for and expect moving forward.
9. Checking in on some former Bears in Week 1, many flourished in their new homes.
Khalil Mack’s debut with the Los Angeles Chargers could not have gone much better. He finished the game with three sacks, three tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. Akiem Hicks had a quality showing in a dominant defensive effort for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football.
Allen Robinson’s debut with the Los Angeles Rams was one to forget. He was targeted just two times, in which he had a single catch (short of the sticks) for 12 yards. Defensive tackle Bilal Nichols was also relatively quiet (three tackles) in his first game with the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Bears made a clear decision to rebuild in the off-season. That led to plenty of tough decisions with veteran players that had once played large roles. It’ll be interesting to see how some of these former key players perform for teams that are expected to compete for playoff spots.
10. Flashing forward to Week 2, Sunday Night’s game appears to be a little more compelling than most had originally thought.
The Packers had a rough season debut in Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. They never led in the game and fell to the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 23-7. Rewind to just a year ago, and many will remember this same Packers team getting dominated by Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints by a 38-3 final score. They followed a disappointing Week 1 loss with a seven-game winning streak that only ended when Aaron Rodgers came down with COVID and missed a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bears will look to avoid repeating history on Sunday night, but it will be a tall task. The only good news? Most of the franchise’s 17 previous head coaches have found a way to beat the Packers in their first year. All new head coaches have since the hire of Dave Wannstedt (1993). They’ll face an extra motivated Rodgers, that currently holds a (22-5) career record against the Bears.