In-season accomplishments are incomplete benchmarks at best, but the Bears’ 34-22 win Sunday over the Detroit Lions had the feel of more than simply another victory for a team that in nine games has matched its best full-season win total in any of the previous four seasons.
The win, in which the Bears (6-3) exploded to a 26-0 lead before Detroit scored with one minute remaining in the first half, then overcame their own sloppiness in the second, was at the expense of a division rival, the first in more than two years. It was against the ever-enigmatic Lions (3-6), whose three 2018 wins were decisive ones over the three teams who’d beaten the Bears – Green Bay, Miami, New England, by an average of 12 points – and who’d beaten the Bears in nine of the 10 matchup games since Lovie Smith left after 2012.
“It feels good,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller. “It feels good to get any win, so we’ll take that. We’ll take that style, learn from it, get better and keep going.
It was also the first time quarterback Mitch Trubisky directed a win over a division opponent. He’d lost his first two against each of Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota, with the Vikings (5-3-1) coming to Soldier Field next Sunday night after an off-week.
While the Bears maintained their position atop the division with Sunday’s victory, to stay there for the next time they meet the Lions, in Detroit on Thanksgiving, they remain tasked with winning or slipping behind the Vikings, the last NFC North opponent the Bears defeated (Oct. 31, 2016) before Sunday. In any wild-card scenarios, still meaningless at this juncture, only the Bears and Carolina Panthers have as many as six wins, other than division-leaders Los Angeles, New Orleans and Washington.
The win also was the second time the Bears have “stacked” wins this season, a third straight for the second time this year. What that really means is, of course, up to the Bears: The last time the Bears won three straight twice in the same season (2010) they finished a touchdown short of the Super Bowl. But a 6-3 record itself means little: The 2012 Bears stood 8-3 and missed the playoffs.
But Sunday was marked by an unofficial marker the Bears need. Their win was led by their “best” players, the ones in which the organization has made its biggest investments of draft and financial capital:
Trubisky: 23-of-30 passing, 355 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s, 148.6 rating, the third 100-plus rating in the last six games. “I thought Mitch had his best game of the season,” said coach Matt Nagy. “Without a doubt ”;
Allen Robinson: 6 catches on 8 targets, 133 yards, 2 TD’s, first multi-TD game since Sept. 2016. “He made a huge impact,” Trubisky said. “He’s so hard to cover one-on-one. I’m going to continue to look for him.”
Khalil Mack: 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss. “Our defense becomes better when he’s in there,” Nagy said. “But our defense is pretty good when he’s not in there”;
Roquan Smith: team-high 10 tackles, 1 pass defense, a sack, third time in five weeks leading Bears in tackles.
The overall result continued a growing power statement by the Bears, who scored 23 or more points for the eighth time in nine games, missing only in the 16-14 win over Arizona. The Bears limited quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense to 305 yards, the sixth of nine opponents failing to net 315 yards against a Bears defense that produced four sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The game marked just the third time in nine games that the Lions were held under 315.
On offense, through the end of the first half the Bears had scored on six straight possessions extending back into the final two at Buffalo. The last five of those were touchdowns, including TD drives of 75, 86 and 71 yards the first three times they had the football against the Lions. They might’ve run that string of scoring possessions to eight on Sunday but for kicker Cody Parkey missing field goals of 41 and 34 yards on successive possessions in the third quarter.
Defensively, before the Lions’ touchdown just before the end of the first half, the Bears defense had allowed just two touchdowns in the previous 30 possessions dating back into the fourth quarter of the New England game. The unit sacked Stafford six times, this in the wake of Minnesota sacking him 10 times last week.
“It’s excellent to see both sides of the ball dominant,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “Our offense, running down the field, you want to tell them, ‘Don’t score so fast, we just came off! But I think the offense has something real nice going and our defense is playing at a high level.”
Not so high on special teams. In addition to his field-goal gaffes, Parkey missing two PAT’s – all four kicks hitting an upright, and the missed field goals coming on successive possessions after the defense forced a first-down Detroit turnover.
“It can mess with you a little bit,” Nagy said. “We have trust in him, we know he’s going to make them and it’s just one of those days… . My trust is not shot at all with him.”
Compounding problems on ‘teams: After the Lions scored in mid-fourth quarter, the Bears twice failed to control an onside kick, once on an illegal-batting call against Anthony Miller for swatting the ball out of bounds, and then failing to pick up the re-kick. Detroit turned that into a touchdown and 34-22 score. The defense was able to turn aside a two-point conversion try which appeared to drain any remaining drive from the Lions.
Running to nowhere
If there was one nagging concern in a game where the Bears built a four-score lead, it was the continuing inability to run the football with any appreciable success. Jordan Howard accounted for just 21 yards on 11 carries (1.9 ypc) and the offense finished with 54 yards only because Trubisky was able to carry or scramble for 18 yards on three attempts.
Adding to the unsettled feel, the Bears had committed to the run even before the game, opting to keep five backs and three tight ends active. Yet the Bears were still unable to take control of game against the 31st-ranked run defense, averaging a combined 2.5 yards against a Detroit group that had been allowing 5.1 yards per carry before Sunday.
“We need to figure something out there,” said Nagy, blaming neither the running blacks or the blocking as the cause. “As we get going, as the weather gets nastier, we have to be able to run the football. It’s plain and simple.”