As so often stated in this space, the NFL is not about being an artistic success, just a success. To wit: the Bears in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the New York Jets before a Soldier Field crowd of 61,397.
In the end, all that does matter is the “W,” and a major positive takeaway was that the Bears (4-3) won a football game in which they didn’t play overwhelmingly well, which is itself a critical NFL skillset. Playing without their best defensive player and a centerpiece of their passing offense, the Bears simply did what they had to do, which was to just get back to winning after disappointing losses to the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.
The outcome put the Bears in position to finish the first half of Matt Nagy’s first head-coaching season with a victory at Buffalo next Sunday that would give them as many wins as they managed in all of 2017.
It was not a dominating success, marred by what appeared to be a painful right-foot injury to guard Kyle Long late in the fourth quarter. Except for one 70-yard screen pass, the Bears barely outgained and had exactly eight first downs in the first half against a Jets (3-5) team allowing more than 25 points and 370 yards per game. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky was again missing open receivers and reacting poorly to pressure from an underrated and creative Jets front seven. Running backs were netting less than four yards per carry.
None of that ultimately mattered after the Bears shook loose from a 7-3 halftime lead and scored 17 points in the second half. Trubisky righted himself and the defense held the Jets to just seven yards in the third quarter and to one score in the fourth quarter.
“In the first half we weren’t really clicking; we were just a little off,” Nagy said. “But we came in at halftime and made a few adjustments."
As important in Nagy’s eyes, after the Bears responded to that one New York score with 11 minutes remaining with a touchdown of their own, with a 79-yard drive that regained control of momentum and the game when New York had closed to within 17-10.
“What I was most impressed with the offense was being able to respond after the touchdown that they had," he said. "It made it a seven-point game and we came back and had an eight-play drive for 79 yards and had five first downs.
“Those are the types of things I like to see from our offense, responding and growing. There’s going to be growing pains with the other stuff.”
The growing pains had inexplicably involved the defense, which failed to hold second-half leads in all three Bears' losses (Green Bay, Miami, New England). This time, the defense, which had forced four straight three-and-outs before the Jets scored on a 16-yard pass from rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to rookie wideout Chris Herndon, forced another punt and stopped New York to end the game.
The win makes the Bears one of eight NFC teams with at least four wins, not including the Packers (3-2-1), who went up early on the 7-0 Rams. Sunday’s Bears win ended a two-game skid with a victory that gave them a winning record at this point of a season for the first time since 2013. The result pushed the Bears ahead of Detroit after the Lions (3-4) were beaten 28-14 at home by the Seattle Seahawks.
With a Cody Parkey field goal from 32 yards and Jordan Howard’s two-yard touchdown with four minutes to play, the Bears have scored in every fourth quarter this season. The trend line points to a growing closer mentality on offense that is finally being supported by a defense that matched its lowest points-allowed total for 2018 despite rush-linebacker Khalil Mack inactive with an ankle injury.
After allowing 269 combined rushing yards to Miami and New England, the Bears held the Jets and tailback Isaiah Crowell, seventh in the NFL in yards and fifth in rushing average (5.7 yards per carry), to 57 total yards (25 for Crowell on an average of 1.9 yards per carry). It marked the fifth time, four of them victories, in seven games that the defense has held an opponent to fewer than 75 rushing yards.
“We were disappointed in ourselves for getting run on [269 combined yards the last two weeks],” linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “Our whole vibe this week was we were just going to come out and be aggressive, hit people, and if you hit-and-miss, you hit-and-miss.
“But we were going to hit you.”
The offense, which had consisted of little more than the 70-yard screen pass from Trubisky to Tarik Cohen in the first half, struck for 221 yards in the second half.
Trubisky, just 5-for-13 for 116 yards in the first half, completed 11-of-16 throws in the second on the way to finishing with his sixth straight game with 200 or more passing yards and his fourth straight with at least two touchdown passes. The game was Trubisky’s third in the last four with a passer rating north of 100 (102.7).
The offense’s total of 395 yards marked the fourth straight game with more than 390 yards, the first string of four games at that level since late in 2013, when the Marc Trestman offense topped 400 yards in four straight.
Deadly discipline lapses
The Bears began Sunday in the top five for fewest penalties per game, but discipline breakdown cost the Bears severely. On a third-quarter third-and-13, safety Eddie Jackson delivered a late blow on a defenseless receiver after the ball was incomplete, allowing the Jets to retain possession at midfield instead of punting from their own end. Four plays later, Darnold brought the Jets to within a touchdown on a touchdown pass to rookie wideout Chris Herndon.
Earlier, Long was flagged for unnecessary roughness away from a play that gained 20 yards on a completion to Kevin White and on which the Jets were guilty of roughing the passer. Instead of the Bears having the ball at the New York 20 with a first down, the play was nullified and two plays later the Bears were forced to punt.
But for a change from the past couple of games, the Bears overcame their own missteps as well as not having Mack on defense or wide receiver Allen Robinson (groin) on offense.
“It feels good,” left tackle Charles Leno said. “We wanted to see what we could do after going down two games, and we got a ‘W.’ We’re just trying to build from that.
"We’re a tough, resilient team and we’re just going to try to keep battling.”