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10 Bears Takes: Eberflus’ 1st divisional win, Panthers’ big changes, bye week check-in

The Chicago Bears pulled off a win on Monday night in improbable fashion. Despite being a team known for blowing fourth-quarter leads, they turned the tables in front of a national audience to win on a last-second field goal in a game in which they didn’t score a touchdown. More on Monday night’s “thrilling” win and what to expect over the final six weeks of the 2023 NFL regular season.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears have finally made it happen! They won a divisional game, on the road, and down on the scoreboard going into the final minutes of the game. The defense forced four takeaways, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game, and most shockingly, the Bears didn’t score a touchdown on Monday night but came away with the win.

Now, Chicago will head into their bye week at (4-8), but with all four of those wins coming in their last eight games. Although I’m still skeptical that this team has turned a corner, they’ve positioned themselves to finish the season on a much stronger note than they started it. We’ll dive into Monday night’s whacky happenings while addressing the Carolina Panthers’ recent changes. All of that and more in another packed edition of 10 Bears Takes.

1. After nine divisional games, head coach Matt Eberflus finally found his team as the victor against a divisional opponent.

It wasn’t pretty, and they probably should have lost, but Eberflus has his first NFC North victory after nine tries. When general manager Ryan Poles took over in January of last year, he spoke about taking the North and never giving it back. So far, it’s been tough sledding. After a last-place finish in 2022, things did not start off on a promising note against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1’s blowout loss at Soldier Field.

Frankly, the entire season has been yet another uphill battle. All of this despite a much-improved roster on paper. I still lean heavily towards the complete overhaul with this coaching staff in six weeks, but Eberflus received a breath of life on Monday night. Context does matter, though. The Minnesota Vikings were without star receiver Justin Jefferson and Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins. Even so, the game came down to the final seconds of the fourth quarter, and the victory came without a touchdown being scored by the Bears.

Will one game be enough to save Eberflus’ job after Week 18? Absolutely not. But it is a step in the right direction and one that will continue to spark that glimmer of hope in the front office that this team is indeed on the right track. It’ll be telling how this team responds coming out of their bye week when they head back home to hopefully turn the tables on the division-leading Detroit Lions in Week 14 at Soldier Field. For now, things should remain relatively calm, and this coaching staff will look to rally the troops for a strong finish to the 2023 regular season.

2. Quarterback Justin Fields was not asked to do much on Monday night but passed the test until his two fourth quarter fumbles. Then came the final offensive drive of the game, where he did something we’ve been waiting to see for a while now...

We’ll get more into the thought process and overall game plan on offensive coordinator Luke Getsy later, but for now, let’s focus on the Bears’ third-year quarterback. Heading into Week 11, the narrative surrounding Fields was simple. It’s up to him to prove that he’s the franchise quarterback moving forward. Overall, I’d grade Fields’ performance against the Lions as a positive. If I were grading it, I’d give it a solid “B.” The fumble at the end hurt, but he played more than well enough to win last weekend’s game.

Heading into Monday night, he had five more auditions to stake his claim to the job in 2024. The first two drives started off well. He was getting the ball out quickly and went a perfect 12-for-12. Both opening offensive drives stalled and resulted in field goal attempts, but it was hard to argue that this game had started off far better than their previous Week 6 contest against the same defense.

Despite forcing four interceptions, the Bears’ offense remained anemic most of the night. They scored just three points off of turnovers and didn’t have a single touchdown in their 12-10 victory. Nothing Fields had done up until the last drive was overly impressive, but he had a few nice chunk plays and was avoiding sacks. Then came back-to-back drives where he fumbled and lost the ball. Considering how Week 11 ended, this felt like the Bears were reliving the same nightmare, just in a different week. The team’s 9-3 lead disappeared, and this offense continued to move the ball.

Despite those two lost fumbles, Fields found himself in yet another game-winning situation with 2:29 remaining in the fourth quarter. It started with a 16-yard pass to Moore after 13 yards on the ground from Fields, Chicago was set up with a 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 49-yard line.

After two passing plays where no one was open down the field, their third-year quarterback finally broke through. On a 3rd and 10, Fields sat calmly in a chaotic pocket, waiting for someone to come open. Lo and behold, Moore came streaking across the middle of the field and came down with the all-important 36-yard completion that would ultimately set them up for the game-winning field goal.

That drive marked just the third time in Fields’ career in which he led the Bears on a “game-winning” drive. The conflicting part? The reason they needed that comeback was in large part due to his two lost fumbles on consecutive fourth-quarter drives.

Chicago will go into their bye week with plenty of questions still unanswered. To me, that’s a bit problematic. Twelve games into Year 2 of a new regime, there should be more answers than questions. Yet, Fields has still not done enough to claim the starting job for 2024 and beyond. Eberflus and his coaching are far from safe. There is still far too much to learn, with almost three-quarters of the season in the books. How the front office ultimately evaluates Fields’ performance on Monday night will be interesting. For now, fans are left debating the same topics through the bye week.

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

3. It was another good night at the office for the majority of general manager Ryan Poles’ draft picks.

I’ll admit, there have been multiple moments over Poles’ first two years in the league where I’ve wondered if he’s the right guy for the job. He’s played it relatively conservatively in free agency while making multiple big splash moves through trades. With just seven wins in 29 games, it’s easy to look at the record and want him gone after Week 18, especially if you add in his handling of the team’s key free agents.

But if you zoom out and look at the entire picture, it’s easy to see a roster that is growing and has plenty of rising talent. Sure, the Chase Claypool trade will be a black eye that Poles holds onto for a while. You could even argue that how he handled the offense in 2022 put Fields in a position to fail. All of that can be true while also acknowledging that he’s added plenty of talent to a roster that desperately needed it.

Moore and Montez Sweat stand out as the two big acquisitions for Poles, and for good reason. His first two draft classes have started to come on, as well. Kyler Gordon, when healthy, has started to play at a high level. Jaquan Brisker has been up and down but has shown enough promise to feel optimism about his future. Finding a starting left tackle in the fifth round of the draft in Braxton Jones is what sends the 2022 draft class into the “good” category for me, though. Adding in Jack Sanborn as an undrafted free agent helps too, as well as a quality reserve in Ja’Tyre Carter.

This year’s draft class is starting to show plenty of promise, too. Darnell Wright looks like a future Pro Bowler at right tackle. Gervon Dexter’s growth over the last month or so has been extremely encouraging. Tyrique Stevenson has all the makings of a good boundary corner, and Terell Smith has shown flashes when he’s been on the field. Roschon Johnson should, at worst, be a good depth piece at running back. The same can be said for Tyler Scott at receiver and Noah Sewell at linebacker.

In free agency, T.J. Edwards and Demarcus Walker have played up to their contracts so far. Walker’s sack numbers haven’t shown through, but his versatility and pressure numbers have been good enough. Even Justin Jones has come on a bit as the season has progressed. I’m still not overly impressed with Tremaine Edmunds, but Nate Davis, when healthy, has played well at right guard. All in all, the majority of the team’s playmakers are in the form of Poles’ acquisitions.

The next step in his process needs to be locking down a few more players. Two names to start with: Jaylon Johnson and Cairo Santos.

4. Following Week 5, the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears all sat at (1-4). Since that point, it’s been an interesting follow with a mixed bag of results.

In Week 4, the Bears gave the Broncos their first win of the season after blowing a 21-point second-half lead. Two weeks later, the Bears and Vikings squared off in a matchup of (1-4) teams, and the Vikings came out on top. Throwing out expectations, all teams arrived at the same record at the same point in the season. After all, they say it’s not how you get to adversity but how you respond to that, right?

The Broncos are winners of five straight games. It started off with a 19-17 victory against the Green Bay Packers. Along the way to their five straight victories, they’ve beaten the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Vikings, and the Cleveland Browns. All of this despite giving up a whopping 70 points to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3. Many questioned the hiring of head coach Sean Payton, while others called for the job of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. During their current five-game run, they’ve completely turned their defense around, giving up just 16 points per game. Quarterback Russell Wilson looks revived in Payton’s offense. Heading into Week 13, they sit just a tie-breaker out of the seventh and final Wild Card spot.

In Minnesota, things could not have started off much worse. First, it was losing Justin Jefferson to Injured Reserve for what will end up being seven games after Week 5’s tough loss. That was followed by losing quarterback Kirk Cousins at the tail end of Week 8. Yet, they find themselves at (6-6) and in the mix for a playoff spot.

Then there’s the Bears. Despite blowing a pair of leads in historic fashion, they find themselves as a .500 team over their last eight games and (4-8) overall heading into their final five games of the season. Although it was an ugly game on Monday night, the difference between (3-9) and (4-8) should be notable enough to maintain jobs over the bye week.

General manager Ryan Poles can stand up in front of the media and give his head coach the most beaming of reviews. Head coach Matt Eberflus can defend his job each week by giving indirect answers pointing to broken examples. At this point, it still feels like the deck is stacked against this coaching staff. For as big of a headline as Fields’ future is in Chicago, the same should be said for this coaching staff. Monday night’s victory will provide temporary relief, but there’s still quite an uphill climb to reverse a lot of bad vibes this team has created throughout the year.

5. Wide receiver DJ Moore continues to show his immense value this season, as he broke the 1,000 yard mark just 12 games into the season.

As noted above, there’s been no bigger addition to the 2023 Bears than Moore. His value to this offense so far this season cannot be overstated. Whether it’s Fields or a rookie quarterback in 2024, Moore’s value to any offense is worth its weight in gold.

On Monday night, Moore was once again the team’s leading receiver with 11 catches for 114 yards. His biggest play came on the big 36-yarder that ultimately sealed the game for the Bears. Even so, his value isn’t measured just in big plays down the field. It’s in his blocking and his ability to create extra yards after the catch. That’s something this offense has been missing. A reliable receiver who isn’t just showing his value in one particular way. Heading into the final five games of the season, Moore is on pace for career-highs in catches (99), yards (1,421), and touchdowns (9). With Moore and Cole Kmet, the Bears are an upgrade or two away at the receiver position from having one of the best groups in the league. That’ll be an asset to whoever lines up under center in 2024.

6. Regardless of what Eberflus’ fate is at the end of this season, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy cannot return in 2024.

I’m not sure what else needs to be said at this point about Getsy and this offense. It feels like since the start of last season; there have been far more questions than answers when it comes to his playcalling and overall leadership of this offense. Sure, there are times when Fields makes his life harder. Especially when he’s holding the ball too long or missing open receivers down the field. Even so, Getsy’s ability to adapt and stay the course with those changes has been a big issue.

On Monday night, the offensive game plan was clear. Get the ball out quickly and make the Vikings pay for blitzing so often. The problem? There are multiple ways to attack a blitzing team. Yet, Getsy chose one way, and it became predictable quickly.

Of Fields’ 37 pass attempts, 21 of those were at or behind the line of scrimmage. That led to career lows in air yards per attempt (2.4) and air yards per completion (1.9). The Bears now hold two of the three lowest air yards per attempt games this season. No matter how you feel about this offensive line and their overall production, this is unacceptable in today’s NFL.

Far too often, it seems like Getsy is out-coached by opposing defensive coordinators. He lacks adjustments outside of half-time and has a tendency to revert to back play-calling habits. One thing is for sure: the “marriage” between Getsy and Fields is not working. It has worked for small stretches through 29 games, but by and large, it’s not something that can continue. Getsy is calling his offense like Aaron Rodgers is behind center. That works great with a veteran Hall of Fame quarterback. It does not if you have a touchdown-to-checkdown quarterback who likes to take shots down the field. Whether it’s Fields or a rookie in 2024, the front office cannot feel comfortable with Getsy being tasked with another year of quarterback development.

Syndication: The Tennessean Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

7. The Carolina Panthers fired Frank Reich on Monday morning after a (1-10) start. It’ll be interesting to see what type of boost they experience with interim head coach Chris Tabor at the helm.

Early on Monday morning, multiple sources reported the firing of Reich after just 11 games. This comes on the heels of a dreadful start in Year 1. This also becomes the second head coach in consecutive years that they have fired in-season. Some may use this situation as a reason for the Bears firing Eberflus, but I’m looking at this particular trend from a different perspective.

Back in February, Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer engaged Bears general manager Ryan Poles in trade-up discussions. All of this, in large part, is due to the influence of owner David Tepper. In his own words, Tepper described the trade-up situation as one they wanted to make sure happened. Originally, the Bears had a three-way deal with the Houston Texans and Panthers in place. Houston would have traded up one spot to No. 1 overall, while the Panthers would have slid into the No. 2 spot. The Texans stalled on the deal and eventually pulled out. That led Fitterer to pull the trigger on the deal that ended up taking place, which sent receiver D.J. Moore, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick, and No. 9 overall in 2023 to the Bears.

Tepper spoke about the deal to reporters after the blockbuster deal went down. He detailed his thought process and overall influence on the trade. He believed that the receivers were not as important to a quarterback’s development as the offensive line and believed they had the right head coach in place with Reich at the helm. Later in the draft process, there were multiple reports that Tepper pushed the front office and coaching staff into taking Bryce Young over C.J. Stroud. To be fair, most had Young as the top quarterback in the draft, but Reich’s influence should have played a bigger part than the owner of the team meddling in football operations.

Eleven games into Year 1 and Reich was fired on a Monday morning. In my opinion, the entire situation has been a complete disaster. Carolina’s receiving corps has not been good enough, and that shouldn’t come as a shock. Their offensive line has not performed well either, in large part due to injury. Even so, pulling the plug on a brand new coaching staff this early into their first year (after firing Matt Rhule mid-season in 2022) isn’t exactly the sign of a stable organization. The Panthers will have an attraction to certain head coaching candidates when the hiring cycle spins up in January, but I do not believe it’ll be quite as influential as others believe. This is an organization that has not seen a winning season since 2017 and has made a lot of wrong decisions in that time frame. The evaluation of Young will play a big part in how attractive this job is, but the instability of firing head coaches mid-season in back-to-back years will not help them. Since Tepper bought the team in 2018, they’ve gone through six head coaches (including interim roles). Stability will be key for many of these top candidates in January.

More importantly, I’m interested to see how much of a boost this team will see over the final six games of the season. Right now, they sit as the league’s worst team at (1-10) with four of their six remaining games against divisional opponents. The NFC South is the only division in football without a team over .500 heading into Week 13. It’s possible that the Panthers could find a way to rattle off two or three wins down the stretch and ultimately play the Bears out of a Top 2 pick. While that still seems unlikely, it’ll be worth monitoring, especially over the next two to three games. That’s usually when teams play their best football under an interim head coach.

One last “fun” note: Two of the four teams the Bears have beaten this year have fired their head coach in-season. While I don’t believe losing to Chicago was directly tied to these firings, it’s still interesting to think about.

8. Week 12 draft order update: Sunday’s results provide plenty of clarity on the Top 3.

Heading into Week 13, the top of the draft order is becoming clear, thanks to a few key matchups.

  1. The Carolina Panthers (1-10): They took their 10th loss of the season on Sunday with another lackluster offensive performance. Not only did they drop to (1-10) on the season, but they gave the Tennessee Titans a nice boost with their fourth win of the season. Of Carolina’s six remaining games, four of those are divisional games, including two against a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team. The good news for them? They play in the worst division in football. Still, it’s hard to see them winning more than a pair of games down the stretch. It’ll be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Thomas Brown can get this offense going without the influence of Reich at the helm.
  2. Arizona Cardinals (2-10): In what appeared to be a winnable game on paper, Arizona was blown out at home by the Los Angeles Rams by a 37-14 score. Kyler Murray’s return has not provided the offensive spark some had hoped for. More importantly, their defense is struggling. They appear to have hit that rebuilding “wall.” Of their five remaining games, their Week 15 matchup against the Bears stands out as their most winnable. It’s quite possible that the Cardinals might be about out of wins.
  3. New England Patriots (2-9): Shockingly, The Patriots were favored going into their Week 12 matchup against the New York Giants. Unfortunately for them, they dropped an ugly 10-7 contest, in which they missed a game-tying field as time expired. Week 7’s shocking 29-25 victory over the Buffalo Bills was not the turning point many believed it would be. Since that point, they’ve gone (0-4), and their offense continues to get worse. Whether it’s Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe, there’s not much hope at the quarterback position. Head coach Bill Belichick lost his first NFL regular season to a rookie quarterback on Sunday. All of this, despite an (18-0) start on that front. This is yet another team where it’s hard to see a winnable game over their final six games. The Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, or New York Jets appear to be the most likely win (or two) left on their schedule, if any.

The Bears sit as one of seven four-win teams heading into Week 13. They hold a 1/2-game lead for the fourth overall pick due to their lesser strength of schedule. With just five games remaining in the season, the odds of the Bears ending up with two top-five picks remain high, but a favorable end to the Chicago’s schedule could change the back half of that projection.

9. NFC North Lookaround: The Green Bay Packers shocked the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving and slid back into the Wild Card chase.

Don’t look now, but the Packers are just one game out of the seventh seed in the NFC Wild Card race. Green Bay is in a three-way tie for the eighth seed but holds the tie-breaker over both the Rams and New Orleans Saints due to a head-to-head sweep. They’ve won three of four, including an impressive 29-22 victory on Thanksgiving against the Lions.

All of a sudden, the Lions are struggling a bit. They allowed the Bears to dominate the majority of the first 56 minutes in Week 11 and were controlled for most of Thursday afternoon, too. Don’t look now but the Vikings are just one game back of first place and have both of their remaining matchups with the Lions remaining over the final five weeks of the season. What once appeared to be a runaway division title for Detroit has all of a sudden become a race that’s worth keeping an eye on down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Bears are sitting firmly in the basement for the second straight year despite their fourth win of the season.

Chicago and Minnesota will enjoy slightly shortened bye weeks after their Monday night affair. Detroit will head to New Orleans for an important matchup against the Saints and the Packers will host an (8-3) Kansas City Chiefs team who appears to be hitting their stride.

10. Week 13/14 look ahead: A Week 13 bye week, followed by a home matchup against the NFC North leading Detroit Lions

Chicago will have a much-needed bye week starting on Tuesday. It seems somewhat unfair that they waited this long for a break and didn’t even get a full two weeks between games. At the same time, I think I speak for most fans when I say that I’m ready to get the remainder of the season over with and see how things play out this off-season. At this point, changes seem imminent this off-season, but unless they shock us all this week with an in-season firing of their head coach, it seems like those changes will be waiting until January.

Assuming nobody gets fired, fans can enjoy a second-straight Sunday of watching football without the stress of the Bears before a Week 14 matchup against the Lions. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lions can get back on track against the Saints this Sunday. They’ve had back-to-back lackluster performances and will need to get back on track if they plan to wrap up their first-ever NFC North title this season.

Until then, enjoy the bye week!