Bears

Given a two-score lead, John Fox and the Bears didn't pass on their opportunity to grind out a win

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USA Today

Given a two-score lead, John Fox and the Bears didn't pass on their opportunity to grind out a win

The last time a team won while completing four or fewer passes was Nov. 13, 2011, when Tim Tebow competed two of his eight passing attempts as the Denver Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 17-10. On Sunday, Mitchell Trubisky completed four of his seven passes in the Bears’ 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. 

The common denominator between those two games: John Fox coached both.

“This is a team game,” Fox said. “Sometimes it’s going to be one-sided in one way or another. I’ve seen that before. But at the end of the day, you have smiling faces in the locker room and they fought hard for that victory.”

The Bears’ offense, for large swaths of a windy afternoon at Soldier Field, couldn’t move the ball. Jordan Howard was bottled up for 65 yards on 21 carries as the Panthers stacked the box on 57 percent of his runs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Panthers were hoping to make Trubisky beat them, or at least try to beat them. But the rookie bought into the Bears’ conservative gameplan for him and, with a 14-point lead for most of the game, wasn’t going to force anything. 

“We’re just finding ways to win games,” Trubisky said. “We had more pass plays called, I was just pulling them down, being conservative and taking sacks. I was just trying to play smart, protect the football and get out of here with a win.”

Trubisky was sacked four times, preferring to hang on to the ball for a loss than risk throwing an interception that could’ve swung momentum in Carolina’s favor. 

The strategy put considerable strain on the defense, which had to play 69 snaps and gut out stops on minimal rest after the Bears went three-and-out on five consecutive possessions to begin the second half. But Vic Fangio’s group was up to the challenge, and countered fatigue with motivation to keep smothering Carolina’s offense and be the engine to drive this win. 

Wins have been few and far between since the Bears hired Fox in 2015; these back-to-back victories over Baltimore and Carolina represent only the third two-game winning streak in his tenure in Chicago. But a win like Sunday’s is what the Bears signed up for when they hired a defensive coach in Fox and a highly respected defensive coordinator in Fangio. No matter how the lead is gained, once it’s there, don’t make mistakes to lose it. 

Those mistakes happened last week, when after taking a 17-3 lead the offense fumbled three times (losing two) and the Ravens scored on both a kick and a punt return. And those mistakes were eliminated on Sunday, even if it was because the strategy was to mostly take away the offense’s ability to make them. Eventually, the training wheels will come off for Trubisky — either sometime this year or in 2018 — but the Bears don’t appear ready to remove them yet. 

The Bears know the offense still has to be better, even if Trubisky is only being asked to manage the game for now — “I don’t think anybody’s happy with how we played offensively,” tight end Zach Miller said. But he added: “We’ll take a win any day of the week.” And improving and making adjustments off a win — especially one by two touchdowns — is a lot more fun than off a loss. 

“It’s not always going to be perfect,” Fox said. “You have to give the other team some credit. But I thought as a football team, we played well today, and it was enough to get a decisive win.”

With Connor Barth waived, trying to make sense of why the Bears signed him in the first place

With Connor Barth waived, trying to make sense of why the Bears signed him in the first place

The Bears addressed an open wound at the core of their special teams with the waiver of kicker Connor Barth and signing of former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Not to spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror, but a question still lingers, the kind of inevitable second-guessing that follows any failed personnel decision, because so many of those moves made a lot of sense at the time: What were the Bears thinking when they opted at the end of the 2016 preseason to replace Robbie Gould with Barth?

An easy question to ask at this point, with Barth missing a game-tying field-goal try from 46 yards to leave the final Bears-Lions score at 27-24 on Sunday. It’s also easy to forget that Gould’s exit traced to a missed 36-yarder for a win over San Francisco to reach .500, followed a week later by a 50-yard miss for a tie to reach overtime against Washington. Even though Gould made his final seven field-goal attempts of that season, he missed two PATs during the 2016 preseason, reopening a confidence wound and sealing the deal, because when the head coach loses confidence in a player, that player is gone.

Easiest to forget, particularly right now, is that Barth converted 15 of 16 field-goal attempts in 2014 with the Denver Broncos — coached by John Fox. Barth was successful that year on four of his five attempts from beyond 40 yards, a range at which Sunday’s miss against Detroit left him 6-for-10 as a Bear.

Jettisoning Gould two years into the four-year, $15 million contract he signed in late 2013 wasn’t entirely about money. But it remains head-scratching if only because Gould was successful on 84.6 percent of his field goals in 2015. But in fairness to Fox, general manager Ryan Pace and Bears evaluators, Barth had been successful on 86.5 percent of his field goals (115-for-133) in the five seasons before the Bears signed him.

After critical missed field goal, Bears waive Connor Barth and sign former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

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USA TODAY

After critical missed field goal, Bears waive Connor Barth and sign former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos

After Connor Barth's critical missed field-goal try in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions, the Bears moved on to a new option at kicker.

The team announced Monday afternoon that it waived Barth and signed former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Santos, a Tulane product who the Bears met with just last week, spent parts of the past four seasons with the Chiefs, including three games earlier this season. Santos has made 89 of his 105 field-goal attempts in his career and 125 of his 130 extra-point tries.

Santos was waived by the Chiefs earlier this season after being placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals and a perfect 6-for-6 on extra points in the three games he played with the Chiefs earlier this season.

Barth's accuracy was a problem throughout his season and a half with the Bears, but perhaps no miss was bigger than what happened Sunday. After Mitch Trubisky drove the Bears into position for a game-tying field goal, Barth's 46-yard attempt with eight seconds left was far right, and the Bears lost the game 27-24.

In two seasons with the Bears, Barth missed 10 field-goal tries in 26 games. He was 11-for-16 so far in 2017 after going 18-for-23 in 2016.