Bears in Brief – Bears rally behind Nick Foles, topple Falcons 30-26
September 29, 2020
Another week of NFL football behind us, another win for the Chicago Bears to add to their still-perfect record. The Bears traveled to Georgia to face the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz stadium, seeking their third straight win. Until Sunday morning, there was no full guarantee that this game would even be played. News broke Saturday that Falcons’ rookie cornerback A.J. Terrell tested positive for COVID-19, and would not play the following day. There was a minor doubt that the game would happen as scheduled. Luckily, no one else on the team had tested positive, and the game was played on time.
Chicago received the opening kick, and for the second week in a row did not need to punt on their first drive. The sequence unfortunately ended in Bears kicker Cairo Santos missing a 46-yard field goal attempt. The Falcons quickly found the endzone after being set up by a 63-yard catch by receiver Calvin Ridley. The Bears kicked a field goal with their next possession, and the Falcons opted to do the same right after. Chicago was forced to punt their next drive, and Atlanta was then able to capitalize as running back Brian Hill found the endzone for the Falcons’ second touchdown of the day. The play of the half came when Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky took off and sprinted 45 yards downfield without a defender in sight. The explosive run set up a touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham which cut the Falcon’s lead to just six entering halftime.
Early in the third, Trubisky had to tackle Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson after throwing him an embarrassing interception that would lead to another Falcons’ field goal. When the Bears’ offensive unit next took the field, it was with quarterback Nick Foles at the helm. Trubisky had been pulled from the game. Foles looked great from the start, even though his first drive ended in this controversial “interception” As the fourth quarter began, Chicago was trailing Atlanta 26-16. From that point on, Atlanta just could not put up any more points. Meanwhile, everything was clicking for the Bears. Foles had commanded the offense to score 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, enough for the team to complete its third straight comeback victory. A late interception by Bears safety Teshaun Gipson extinguished any last hope for Atlanta to salvage the win. The final score was 30-26.
Halfway through the third quarter, I would not have guessed that Nick Foles would finish the game as Chicago’s quarterback. But when he took the field sporting an awesome tinted visor, and the TV graphic introduced him as Nick Foles: Super Bowl LII MVP, I was sold. Foles finished the game completing 16/29 pass attempts for 188 yards and three touchdowns, but as always, the box score doesn’t tell the full story. There really wasn’t any point where Foles looked lost or confused. He seemed to have a thorough knowledge of coach Matt Nagy’s offensive system, playing confidently the entire time. When two of his touchdowns were called back, rather than getting upset that his points were taken away, Foles made sure to find both of those receivers again. First, he threw a dart of a pass to Robinson, who shook a few defenders and ran 20 yards for the score. Late in the fourth quarter, while being tackled, Foles sailed the game-winning touchdown pass to Miller with hardly any time remaining. I was very satisfied with his overall performance, and I’m looking forward to the Nick Foles Era of Bears football.
I was skeptical when we signed him, but I have been very pleased with tight end Jimmy Graham this year. I was among those who criticized the 2-year, $18M contract he was offered by Bears GM Ryan Pace this year. Even though just three games have been played, I am ready to admit that I was wrong. Graham has been more than serviceable, earning targets over rookie Cole Kmet, who was drafted as a solution for the Bears’ lack of tight end depth. Graham has three touchdowns in three games, which is tied for the most among all NFL tight ends. In just three games with Chicago, he has the same amount of touchdowns as he caught last year with the Green Bay Packers. The 6’7 former college basketball player has proven that although he may not be the offensive threat he used to be, Graham is still a cheat code in the endzone. He is a perfect target when the offense is in need of a score at the five-yard line. Graham is 33 years old, and his skilled route-running days are behind him, luckily the Bears have Kmet for that. If all Graham can do is use his 38.5-inch vertical jump to snag touchdown passes week in and week out, he will be worth every dollar.
It is never fun when a game’s outcome is determined solely by the referees. Although the Bears rallied to earn this victory all themselves, the officiating did them no favors throughout the day. I mentioned earlier that Foles’ three total touchdown passes would have been five if Robinson and Miller’s catches weren’t overturned. Both plays were initially ruled as completions but ended up getting overturned. Upon further review, one could have made the argument to rule the plays as incomplete/intercepted, but there was not nearly enough evidence to overturn.
“In my history in the NFL, if it’s 50-50, it usually goes to the offense,” Foles said after the game. “This time it didn’t. That was interesting.”
The offense is not the only part of the team that is consistently victim to poor calls. The refs seem to love overturning takeaways by the defense. First Eddie Jackson’s pick-6 was called back last week, and now what would have been a key fumble forced by Khalil Mack was called back because a fellow defender collided with Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. The flags became frequent and frustrating, like this when defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was shoved into Matt Ryan mid-throw and got called for roughing the passer. In all, the Bears were flagged 10 times for a total of 80 yards. Sadly, this trend of poor officiating has become all too frequent, no matter how much the NFL says they’re trying to fix it.
Initially, I was surprised to see Foles enter the game. If you had asked me at the end of the first half, I would have described Trubisky’s performance as mediocre, possibly below average. He had made a few mistakes, but nothing that warranted being benched in my opinion. I knew he was on a short leash, thin ice, however you phrase it, I clearly misjudged just how slim his margin for error was. Looking back the decision was justified. Trubisky was struggling to handle a battered, subpar Falcons defense. He made some poor decisions, took a few bad sacks, and the interception was the last straw. In hindsight, I understand and agree with Nagy’s choice, and it clearly paid off.
For the third straight week, Chicago’s opponent did not have their best player. Falcons superstar receiver Julio Jones was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Including Jones, Atlanta had seven players listed as inactive on Sunday’s injury report, five of which were starters. This narrative of the Bears being a “fraudulent” 3-0 team has emerged based on the claim that they’ve barely beaten injured, poor teams. The Bears play a similar team in the Indianapolis Colts in that both teams have only played teams regarded as bad. The teams the Bears faced have a combined record of 1-8, a figure shared by all three of the Colts’ previous opponents. It is hard to get a read on this Indianapolis team this early in the season, and the Bears will play them without running back Tarik Cohen, who tore his ACL Sunday. If one thing is apparent, it’s that containing rookie running back Johnathan Taylor will be crucial to victory.
When the Bears lose their first game this year, it will definitely serve as a wakeup call, bringing fans back to earth and forcing them to realistically evaluate the team’s expectations. But for now, the Bears are in a great spot. They sit atop their division thanks to their first 3-0 start in seven seasons. They might have a reliable quarterback. I’m looking forward to enjoying the sound of the undefeated Chicago Bears for yet another week.
Santa Claus may not be real, but I’ll believe in one Saint Nick this season.