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.”

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 eluded 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!”

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

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USA TODAY

Return of the Monsters of the Midway: Bears defense has huge day in win over Panthers

Are the Monsters of the Midway back?

You wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that way after watching yet another strong performance from the Bears’ defense in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field.

Highlighted by Eddie Jackson’s pair of 75-yard turnover-return touchdowns, the Bears’ defense had a second straight highlight-reel display on Sunday. In addition to Jackson’s takeaways, the defense also added a fourth-quarter interception for a third takeaway, sacked Cam Newton five times and kept the Panthers completely out of the end zone.

For those keeping score at home: That’s two full games without allowing an offensive touchdown.

And they did it all while constantly being on the field. Thanks to Jackson’s touchdowns, the Bears’ offense got to stay on the sideline more than usual, the Bears’ offense possessing the ball for fewer than 7 minutes in the first half and only 21 minutes and 25 seconds on the game overall. And when the offense did take the field, the results were poor, meaning a quick turnaround for the defense.

The overworked defense didn’t always keep the Panthers from marching down the field, but the Panthers never found the end zone, Newton’s inaccuracies assisting the terrific play of the Bears’ defense, which technically forced four turnovers, if you count a third-quarter turnover on downs.

And that’s all before mentioning that the defense supplied almost the entirety of the Bears’ scoring output for the day on Jackson’s first-quarter fumble-return touchdown and his second-quarter interception-return touchdown. Both went 75 yards as Jackson, playing a year to the day from the end of his collegiate career with a broken leg at Alabama, became the first defensive player ever to have two 75-yard-plus return touchdowns in an NFL game.

If you’re having flashbacks to the last decade, when Lovie Smith’s defenses had a habit of being bigger scoring threats than the offense, you’re not alone. Twitter lit up with Mike Brown comparisons for Jackson.

Great day for the rookie, great day for the defense.

No offense to be found

Meanwhile, the Bears’ offense did next to nothing on a day when the defense was excellent.

Mitch Trubisky was mostly silent in his third career game, the obvious exception being his 70-yard heave to Tarik Cohen. Trubisky’s deep ball landed in his fellow rookie’s hands, and Cohen did the rest scampering all the way down to the 5-yard line.

Of course, the Bears’ offense failed there, unable to cover five yards in three plays for a touchdown. Trubisky attempted to rush in on third down, racing to the pylon and diving for the score. It was initially ruled a touchdown, but a replay review determined he was down short of the goal line. The Bears settled for a field goal on that drive, and it was the only scoring drive the offense engineered all day.

In the end, the numbers were disgusting. The Bears accumulated just 153 yards, picked up just five first downs, went 2-for-11 on third downs and scored just three points. Trubisky barely even threw the ball, completing just four of his seven passes for 107 yards.

Good thing the defense was so good — and scored 14 points — because the offense was practically non-existent.