Bears in Brief – Bears show out in prime time, defeat Bucs 20-19

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Bears in Brief is a weekly column by Opinion Editor Anthony Marsicano in which he recaps Bears games and provides his own insight

Anthony Marsicano, Opinion Editor

The Bears played their first of four prime time games scheduled this year on Thursday night. They took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with new quarterback Tom Brady at the helm. For Chicago, their starting QB would be Nick Foles for the second consecutive week. The last time these two faced each other was Super Bowl LII, where Foles led the underdog Philadelphia Eagles to victory over Brady and the defending champion New England Patriots. With both of these quarterbacks in their first year with new teams, the historical significance of this rematch between the two was exactly why the NFL made this a Thursday night game.

 

The Bears won the coin toss and chose to defer, giving possession to Tampa Bay to start the game. The Buccaneers killed the first 5 minutes with a lengthy drive, making it to around the 30-yard line before a dropped pass on 3rd down forced them to settle for a field goal. The Bears took over and were forced to punt after a terrible overthrow by quarterback Nick Foles to a wide-open Allen Robinson on 3rd and 2. On their next possession, Foles threw a few nice passes, but then Robinson tipped a pass right to Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis who made a 34-yard interception return to give Brady the ball. They seized the opportunity as Brady found receiver Mike Evans for a touchdown at the end of the quarter. Chicago got the ball with roughly six minutes left, and that is when the offense went to work. They utilized short passes to grind their way to the endzone, where David Montgomery scored the team’s first rushing touchdown all season. The Bucs only had the ball for 17 seconds before Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller forced a fumble with the best hit of the year so far on receiver Ke’Shawn Vaughn. With less than a minute remaining, Jimmy Graham impressively snagged a touchdown pass with one arm. 

 

The Buccaneers open the third with a somewhat lengthy field goal drive. After that, neither team could get so much as a field goal, and the quarter eventually ended without another score. Starting the fourth with good field position, a forced fumble quickly complicated things. Facing 4th and 24, Chicago called for their kicker, Cairo Santos. The second-string kicker nailed the 47-yard field goal, a season-high for him. Tampa Bay drove all the way to the 11-yard line, but facing a tough decision on 4th and 1, they chose the safe option and chipped in the 25-yard field goal. Each team would punt on their next possession, leaving the ball in Foles’ hands with roughly two minutes left. The QB threw some perfect passes on the drive, but it was this one to Montgomery to gain a first down and field goal range. Chicago winded the clock down a bit, slowly gaining some insurance yards before again calling upon Santos, who connected on what would be the game-winning kick. The Bucs then turned the ball over on downs and Chicago won 20-19.

 

Likes

2020 has been a strange year for kickers. The position was not exempt from the particularly large wave of injuries this year, with several starters including Chicago’s own Eddy Pineiro all missing time. Several reliable kickers have been missing kicks on multiple occasions. Bears kicker Cairo Santos isn’t perfect himself, missing a field goal in each of the two games previous to this one. The Bears signed Santos to temporarily replace Pineiro, their starting kicker, after he suffered a groin injury just prior to the season. Pineiro had an up-and-down first season with the team last year, making 23 of his 28 attempted kicks. Fans will remember him drilling a game-winning field goal in Denver, and also missing a kick when put in a similar situation against the Chargers. With expectations lowered, Santos has been more than serviceable. Though he did miss two field goals, he has been perfect on extra points. A consistent kicker is a true asset for a team; and Pineiro only converting 3/7 attempts from 40-49 yards last year brought his reliability into question. Santos had a great game Thursday night, making all four of his kicks, including a season-long 47-yard field goal, as well as the game-winning kick from 38 yards. No one is sure exactly how long his tenure with the Bears will last, but Santos was undeniably a key factor in Thursday’s big win, and I’ll be somewhat less nervous watching kicks from now on.

For the first time in a while, the Bears’ defense looked dominant. The Buccaneers were considered one of the NFC’s top offenses this year, averaging 32 points per game before being held to just 19. Bears cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Jaylon Johnson are solidifying themselves as one of the league’s best duos. Johnson continues to impress statistically, he is second in the league in passes defended, first in forced incompletion percentage among rookies, and is the second-highest graded rookie cornerback. He’s solidifying himself as an absolute steal in the 2020 draft. Fuller has had a decent season and remains one of the league’s most underrated corners. This year, he has recorded an interception and a forced fumble, both of which came in crucial moments.

The defense continues to shine outside of the cornerback position as well. The Bears suffered two key losses when defensive linemen Nick Williams and Eddie Goldman signed with the Lions and opted out of the season, respectively. Despite this, the defensive line showed minimal signs of regression. Bilal Nichols, Brent Urban and James Vaughters have each made the most of their allotted snaps, keeping the unit elite. Linebacker Roquan Smith has been a huge help as well, he is tied for 4th in the league in solo tackles and 3rd in tackles for loss. The effect of Robert Quinn has been evident all year, with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks benefiting from the attention Quinn draws. Entering Thursday, Hicks was tied for the fourth-most sacks in the league with 3.5. After the game, Mack tied his teammate for fourth place, accumulating two sacks, two hurries, a QB hit, and a batted pass during the game. The play that best exemplified his dominant performance the best was when he sacked Tom Brady and then threw a 300 lb offensive lineman to the ground like it was nothing. There really isn’t a Bears defender whose play I would describe as poor. Some will complain that safety Eddie Jackson has not been playing at the level he did in 2018. This is a misconception, the truth is that he just isn’t having as flashy of a season. Brady and Tampa Bay targeted the former All-Pro safety zero times. This shows that Jackson still carries a reputation in the NFL, and he is as good as he’s ever been.

 

Dislikes

The Bears won this game despite the efforts of head coach Matt Nagy. My usual grievances with him remained the same; he did not use Cole Kmet and has a few questionable play calls on 3rd downs. But these issues take a backseat to my main problem with the coach this week: his clock management. Allow me to set the stage. The Bears have the ball with one minute and 28 seconds remaining in the game. The Bucs have one timeout remaining. A run play forces the Buccaneers to use their third and final timeout, which would greatly hinder their offense if they were to get the ball back. Instead, Nagy calls a pass play. Foles targets Allen Robinson but the pass is broken up by Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The decision by Foles was not a bad one. He had pressure coming and if the ball was caught, the Bears could kneel the clock down and kick a 20-something yard field goal. Nagy’s decision allowed the Bucs to save their timeout for a play and get the ball back with a little over one minute left. Though that may seem like a very small amount of time, Tom Brady has the most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in NFL History. He has been in this situation dozens of times, it is perhaps when he is the most dangerous. Thankfully, due to the Bears’ defense and some confusion by Brady and the Bucs, they ended up turning over the ball on downs. Who benefitted from this the most? Matt Nagy. The narrative would be undoubtedly different had Brady led his team to a score.

 

Recap

The Chicago Bears are 4-1. No one except for biased fans like me would have predicted them to have this start (although I had them losing to the Bucs and beating the Colts). The media for the last few weeks has done nothing but attempt to discredit the Bears, calling them a fraudulent team. You play who is on your schedule, and the Bears have done just that. So far they had beaten easy teams, but this week they secured a statement win over a team most consider a Super Bowl Contender. Sure you could point to Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette not playing for Tampa Bay due to injury, but a victory is a victory. As much as they may want to, it becomes harder and harder for the media to bash a team that keeps winning. 4-1 is no easy feat in the NFL, and the Bears must now receive the respect they have earned. Rightfully so, they’ve moved up in the power rankings, ESPN has them at 13, CBS at 9. Perhaps my favorite stat is that the Bears currently have more or the same number of wins in 2020 than every team that beat them last season.

 

The Bears have a long week to rest and plan for the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are led by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who used to meet the Bears twice a year when he played for the division rival Minnesota Vikings. Carolina is 3-2, suffering one of their losses to the very same Buccaneers team the Bears beat on Thursday. I am excited to see what our offense can do this week. They seem to be improving constantly under Foles, and they should continue that streak against a defense ranked way lower than the Colts and Bucs were. Carolina is hot too, they have not lost since they started the year 0-2.  The game should come down to our defense and whether or not they can contain weapons like Mike Davis, DJ Moore, and Robby Anderson. Fortunately for Chicago, the Panthers will be playing without their best player Christian McCaffrey, who is the consensus best running back in the NFL right now. I anticipate this game to be another close one.