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.”