The Bears picked up a win in front of their home crowd, and they improved their own odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft in the process. It doesn’t get more win-win than that.
Chicago scratched and clawed their way to a narrow 16-13 win over the Panthers on Thursday night, bringing them to 3-7 and sending those in attendance at Soldier Field home happy. In doing so, Carolina also fell to 1-8, thus giving the first-round pick they’re sending the Bears the highest odds of obtaining the top pick in the upcoming draft.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the Bears’ latest win.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Bears did just enough on offense to squeak away with the victory.
Perhaps the most important development was that Tyson Bagent didn’t allow any turnovers after struggling in that regard last week against the Saints. He finished the game 20-for-33 (60.6%) with 162 passing yards, a 73.0 passer rating, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
There were a handful of confusing decisions, like missing Tyler Scott open vertically or throwing to Cole Kmet in a crowded defensive area. However, the Shepherd University alumnus did what he needed to do to keep drives going and prevent the Panthers from making splash plays on defense. Arguably the most impressive statistic was the fact that he didn’t get sacked once all evening.
With a backup QB like Bagent, your offense is going to rely heavily on short passes that get the ball out quickly. That’s what the Bears have done ever since he took over in Justin Fields’ absence, and that’s what they did on Thursday. DJ Moore led the team with 5 receptions for 58 yards in his “revenge game” against his former team. Cole Kmet contributed 5 catches of his own, going for 45 yards in the process. Besides those two, though, no Bears player had more than 15 receiving yards.
It was very much a ground-and-pound game for the Bears, who handed the ball off to D’Onta Foreman 21 times. He ended up with 80 yards on the ground and a touchdown, giving him 3 rushing touchdowns and 4 all-purpose touchdowns this season. His performance wasn’t pretty, but he did what he needed to do in order to move the chains and win the time of possession battle. Tyler Scott served as a solid enough gadget piece, totaling 31 yards on his two offensive touches.
The Bears’ offense lacked spark and didn’t generate much of anything in terms of explosive plays, which wouldn’t be enough to beat the top teams in the NFL. Luckily for them, the Panthers certainly aren’t in that upper echelon, and Cairo Santos going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts sure helped their chances of winning. Heavy on the fundamentals and lacking in flash, Chicago’s offensive performance was just enough to help them come away with the victory.
The Bears’ defense was the reason they ended up winning this game.
Up front, Montez Sweat had as good of a zero-tackle game as a defender can have. He finished with two quarterback hits and 8 pressures, which Next Gen Stats touts as the most by a Bears defender in a single game since Robert Quinn in Week 13 of 2020. Around him, Yannick Ngakoue, Justin Jones and Rasheem Green all picked up sacks. Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens both showed some chops rushing the passer, too.
Chicago’s defensive front also held up well against the run. The Panthers averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground, and excluding Bryce Young’s scrambles, that average drops to a measly 1.9 yards per carry. The interior was rock solid at plugging holes, and T.J. Edwards and Jack Sanborn cleaned up well with 12 and 7 tackles, respectively.
Kyler Gordon was a force at cornerback, though not necessarily in the traditional sense. He finished with a pass breakup, but perhaps more notable were his two tackles for a loss and two QB pressures as a blitzing defender. His tenacity was contagious and saw him look the part of a quality starter on Thursday.
Jaquan Brisker had some inconsistency in his return at safety, as he missed a handful of tackles but played better in the second half. He finished the game with a pass deflection and 9 tackles, with one of them going for a loss. Eddie Jackson didn’t do much of note alongside him at safety, however.
The Bears’ defense allowed just 6 points against the Panthers, preventing the offense from scoring any touchdowns (the lone touchdown scored came on a punt return by Ihmir Smith-Marsette). Carolina’s offense has struggled in terms of pass protection and creating separation this year, but the Bears played them as well as just about any other defense has this year. They deserve a lot of credit for how they held the opposition off and for how they battled up front.
Three and out
3. It happened against a bad offensive line, but the presence of Montez Sweat opened up opportunities for other defensive linemen to make plays.
With three sacks and 9 quarterback hits against Carolina, the Bears’ pass rush came to play on Thursday. Sweat generated a lot of attention and provided chances for his teammates to get one-on-one looks and get into opposing backfields easier than they did before the trade. Time will tell if that level of play is sustainable, but it was encouraging for the Bears to say the least.
2. A win isn’t going to be enough to excuse Luke Getsy’s performance calling plays on Thursday.
The over-reliance on screens is reaching the point of parody. Certain decisions like running it up the gut on 3rd-and-19 and regularly sending running backs right towards Derrick Brown — who had 10 tackles and two tackles for a loss for the Panthers — were confusing. There were some highlights, as receivers did a solid job of getting open. However, play design isn’t the issue with Getsy: it’s the execution and the play-calling ability. That’s equally as important in evaluating an offensive coordinator, if not more so.
1. I’ll close with this: every Bears fan in the world should be cheering on Kyler Murray on Sunday. Let’s get that No. 1 pick.