Lots of ways to look at the Bears after their 27-24 overtime over the Ravens in Baltimore, the first road win for the Bears since late 2015. Taken in the context of a season still short of its halfway point, they didn’t exactly clarify definitively whether they’re a bad team with occasional good days, or a team that threatens to be better than expected.
Either way the Bears suddenly could find themselves being a meaningful factor in an NFC North that on Sunday saw the Green Bay Packers (4-2) lose Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone and a game to the Minnesota Vikings (4-2), and the Detroit Lions (3-3) crushed by the New Orleans Saints.
The best perspective, one that in fact parallels and even rivals the growth and development of rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky for collective significance, may be that the Bears found a way to win.
To a bigger point, though, the crucial playmakers were overwhelmingly their own draft choices – Trubisky (8-for-16 passing, 113 yards, a touchdown, ZERO interceptions, 94.0 rating), running back Jordan Howard (36 carries, 167 yards), nose tackle Eddie Goldman (six tackles, one for loss), Adrian Amos (90-yard touchdown interception return), Kyle Fuller (three passes defensed, six tackles). Add in defensive end Akiem Hicks (three tackles, one sack) and you have a game won by players who represent the developing foundation of the franchise.
The growth of Trubisky is a prime directive for the 2017 season. But so is Goldman’s. And Howard’s. And Fuller’s. Because if Trubisky progresses but the core does not rise with him, the Bears will have a good quarterback and little more. The Saints and Archie Manning. Or using another position, Joe Thomas and the Cleveland Browns. More than Trubisky matters.
A cliché, but critical for a team that too often found ways to lose, and this game was there for the losing, the Bears blowing an 11-point lead in the final four minutes.
But they didn’t lose. This is the fourth of their six games that the Bears were in position to win, offensively or defensively, on a final possession (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Baltimore). When the Bears keep games close, they are 2-2. And in the two they lost – Atlanta, Minnesota – they were less beaten by the opponents by themselves with dropped passes (vs. Falcons) or mis-thrown ones (vs. Vikings).
Trubisky is a sub-50-percent passer through his first two NFL games but a handful of his incompletions in Baltimore were very, very significant. They were indications of the decision-making that is the reason coaches turned to him. On a handful of occasions, Trubisky lofted passes that barely stayed in the field of play but were exactly what coaches want the rookie to do rather than force throws into too-tight windows
On Sunday he became the first of 11 rookie quarterbacks to beat John Harbaugh's Ravens.
On the not-so-good side:
Coach John Fox had a team meeting early last week and it wasn’t pleasant. Insiders say Fox was fed up with the stupid football being played. The question, however, even after Sunday’s overtime win over the Ravens, in which the Bears squandered an 11-point lead with a little more than four minutes to play, is who was paying attention and who wasn’t. Because not everyone is getting it.
The defense forced and recovered a fumble in the first half and supplemented that with its first interception for 2017 when Bryce Callahan snatched a ball off the hands of Breshad Perriman and returned it 52 yards to set up the halfback touchdown pass by Tarik Cohen.
Trubisky and center Cody Whitehair have some shotgun-snap issues to resolve but the Bears had just two penalties through the first three quarters, neither on the offense. Then Zach Miller was flagged for holding in the fourth quarter and the first possession of overtime effectively was undone when Bobby Massey. Jordan Howard going out of bounds allowed Baltimore time in regulation occasioned flashbacks to Marion Barber.
Worse, special-teams breakdowns gave the Ravens 14 points, one touchdown when no one thought to touch down Bobby Rainey, who got up and completed a 96-yard kickoff return; and another when punt coverage allowed a 77-yard punt return to Michael Campanaro.
Cornerback may be a priority in next year’s draft but Kyle Fuller continues playing suspiciously like a first-round defensive back (which he of course was). The Bears declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Fuller’s rookie contract last April – understandable given Fuller’s decline over the past two seasons – but no one should be surprised if the Bears make a play to retain Fuller with either an early extension or a push ahead of free agency
Fuller delivered a textbook one-on-one tackle of 251-pound Ravens tight end Ben Watson and followed that later in Sunday’s second quarter with a pair of superb pass defenses to force Baltimore to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal situation. And it was Fuller’s technically perfect coverage on Chris Moore that caused the deflected ball that went 90 yards the other direction on Adrian Amos’ first career interception
Prince Amukamara is on a one-year deal and Callahan is a restricted free agent. The Bears have a major positional need, and a chance to keep one of their own draft choices who’s now been three years in the Vic Fangio system.