Bears

High-octane Bears offense grounds Jets

348766.jpg

High-octane Bears offense grounds Jets

Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
Posted 3:09 PM Updated 6:40 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The New York Jets may have backed into the AFC Playoffs Sunday, qualifying by virtue of the Jacksonville Jaguars losing. The Bears needed no such help and showed why they are already the champions of the NFC North.

Shaking off a succession of first-half jolts that saw the Jets pile up 24 points in the first 30 minutes, the Bears turned loose their offense in the second half to down the Jets 38-34 for their seventh win in their last eight games.

We talk a lot about finishing, said coach Lovie Smith. And thats exactly what we did.

The victory kept the Bears (11-4) very much in the competition for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

The win was the Bears third of 2010 against a team with a winning record, having taken down the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles in Soldier Field. It also gave the Bears a 5-3 home record. Not since Lovie Smiths first year (2004) have the Bears failed to reach .500 in Soldier Field.

This was the kind of offensive explosion that the Bears envisioned when they brought in Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Including a Devin Hester return touchdown last Monday against Minnesota, the Bears scored 40 and 38 points in the span of six days, their biggest two-game onslaught of the Lovie Smith era.

Jay Cutler threw three touchdown passes in the first nine minutes of the third quarter and ran two yards for a score in the second quarter, his first rushing TD in 26 games. The Bears were outgained but were efficient both running and passing, the hallmark of the play that has carried them to seven wins in their eight games since their Sunday off back on Halloween.

Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, one for a touchdown, and added 56 yards on four pass receptions.

The defense, rocked in the second quarter that included a touchdown return of a Cutler interception, turned back the Jets on a Chris Harris interception with 58 seconds remaining to preserve the win.

The guys are extremely excited, Harris said. It was one of those games where you dont care how you get it done; you just have to get it done.

Pendulum football

It was a game of dramatic swings. The Bears dashed to a 10-0 edge, then stumbled around while the Jets scored 21 straight points and led 24-17 at halftime.

The Bears scored 14 points in less than five minutes at the outset of the third quarter to lead 31-24 and got on top of the Jets 38-31 with a 21-point quarter of their own.

From the second quarter on we lost some momentum, said center Olin Kreutz. People think its all the quarterback but its not; its all of us. We came in at halftime and just said we need to get back to executing our assignments.

Weve said all year if we could improve little by little and be playing our best ball now, thats what we wanted to do. Hopefully we keep doing that.

Cutler threw touchdown passes of 40 yards to Johnny Knox and 25 yards to Hester. The first followed a head-shaking fake punt by the Jets that failed miserably and gave the Bears the ball in Jets territory and the offense was able to turn that into points.

Cutler struck again to Knox for 26 yards and a score against cornerback Antonio Cromartie to become the first Bears quarterback since Erik Kramer in 1995 to pass for three touchdowns in one quarter.

Going into the game I dont think anyone would have predicted a game like that, with two outstanding defenses, Smith said. You never know; each game takes on its own personality.

The Bears failed to score in the fourth quarter as New York scored on a Nick Folk field goal just as the quarter began. The Jets reached the Chicago 35 midway through the quarter but were driving north into a wind, could not attempt a field goal, and never seriously threatened again.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

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

10-22johnfox.jpg
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.”

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

A year to the day after breaking his leg, Eddie Jackson becomes breakout star of Bears' defensive renaissance

Oct. 22, 2016: Alabama safety Eddie Jackson’s season, and with it his college career, came to an end after he suffered a broken leg in a win over Texas A&M.

Oct. 22, 2017: Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson became the first defensive player ever to have two turnover-return touchdowns of 75 yards or more in an NFL game in a win over the Carolina Panthers.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Bears’ defense is so hot right now, getting the takeaways that alluded them last season, making the lives of opposing quarterbacks a living hell and keeping opposing offenses completely out of the end zone.

Sunday, Jackson became the breakout star of a defensive renaissance that’s returning “Monsters of the Midway” status to this unit. In the first quarter, he picked up a Panthers fumble and ran back 75 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, he came down with a tipped Cam Newton pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown.

“He’s like germs,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said of his rookie teammate, “he’s everywhere.”

Most folks believed the Bears made a very good pick by selecting the Crimson Tide safety in the fourth round of this year’s draft, but of course there were injury-related questions after the broken leg brought a premature end to his college career just a few months prior.

Well, any doubts have since been wiped away, with Jackson earning a starting spot in the revamped Bears secondary out of training camp and then starring Sunday with two of the biggest plays the Bears’ defense has made all season.

Defensive plays like that, defensive takeaways, defensive points. Those are things that weren’t in abundance last season. Fast forward to now, and Jackson and his teammates are writing a brand-new script.

“That was something that we came into this year with on our mind, was getting more turnovers, especially in the secondary, forcing more turnovers,” Jackson said. “We always knew, whoever forces the first turnover, then they’re going to start rolling in. (Adrian) Amos told me before the game, ‘I told my dad you were going to get one today,’ and it happened.

“That’s just how it works: We force one and they just keep coming.”

That Bears secondary, of course, looks a lot different than it did a season ago, when the team ranked second from the bottom in the NFL in interceptions. A key cog in the remodel was Jackson, who despite his lack of NFL experience has brought plenty of experience from as successful a football program as you’ll find at any level.

All that winning in Tuscaloosa — three straight SEC titles, three straight trips to the College Football Playoff and a national title to cap the 2015 season — has given Jackson a unique perspective, one that’s proving quite valuable to this Bears defense.

“He has fun playing ball, and you like that college-like funness that he brings to the game,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think it started at his college, his mindset coming from Alabama. He’s actually teaching some of us, telling some of us how it was at Alabama. And that’s a winning program, so I think that adds to our defense.

“He really just preaches: ‘Don’t settle, keep wanting more.’ And we’ve been carrying that out onto the field.”

Jackson didn’t even realize that his monster day came on the one-year anniversary of his collegiate injury, expressing surprise when informed of that during his postgame press conference before waving off the notion that his comeback has been that big a deal.

“I’ve dealt with adversity before, and that’s one thing I can credit Alabama on,” he said. “They help you fight through adversity. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life, so that was just a little minor stepping stone. I came here (to the Bears), it’s a great organization, great training staff and great teammates. So they did a great job keeping me up, keeping me going.”

While he brushed off his comeback from that injury, it’s still obviously on his mind. The pinned tweet at the top of his Twitter page references his return from that broken leg.

Jackson’s coaches and teammates have seen what he can do for a while now, the obvious reason that the fourth-rounder was a starter out of camp. But now he’s broken out, showing Bears fans and football fans across the country the type of big playmaker he is.

“He’s a tremendous young guy as well as a young player,” head coach John Fox said. “I think we saw it early on. … Eddie showed those things to the coaching staff and to his teammates early on, and now you all get to see it.”

So as the Bears defense continues to look more and more like Bears defenses of old, fans can expect Jackson to continue to be in the right place at the right time. And next time, they’ll have a similar reaction to the one Trevathan had when he saw Jackson come up with the ball on Sunday.

Asked what he was thinking, Trevathan pointed forward toward the imaginary end zone and replied with a certain cartoon bird’s instantly recognizable catchphrase.

“Beep beep!”