A day after the first game in NFL history in which both teams scored 50 or more points, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked if he thought Monday night’s Los Angeles Rams-Kansas City Chiefs thriller was a watershed moment for the league.
“I thought 1958 Giants and Colts was the big game,” Fangio said. “I don’t know. I think it’s just we live in such a one-week news cycle in the NFL. Let’s see what happens next week.”
Fangio’s quip was a fantastic response — that 1958 Giants-Colts NFL Championship game is regarded as “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and is credited with the sport’s massive popularity growth. Sixty years later, a wildly entertaining 54-51 game in front of a primetime national audience may not have been a watershed for the NFL — but it certainly was indicative of the passing-crazed direction in which the sport is going.
“The score isn’t what I’d like to see as a connoisseur,” Fangio said.
While the Rams and Chiefs combined for 105 points and 1,001 yards, the outcome of the game was still significantly influenced by defense. Rams defensive end Samson Ebukam had two touchdowns, and Aaron Donald — Khalil Mack’s biggest competition for defensive player of the year honors — still managed to wreck portions of the game. The Rams intercepted Patrick Mahomes three times, including twice on the final two possessions to clinch their three-point win.
The point here is this: It’s not necessarily that either team played “bad” defense. It’s that, to be successful as a defense against one of the NFL’s best offenses, you have to generate turnovers, because even the most middling offenses can generate yards and points. The Rams won largely because they generated five turnovers while the Chiefs only had two.
We don’t know what the Bears’ defense would do if given the chance to play either of these teams, though we’ll find out in Week 14 when Los Angeles comes to Soldier Field for a Sunday Night Football date. That’ll be a fascinating test for where the NFL stands in 2018: What can the league’s best defense in the Bears do against one of its three best offenses in the Rams?
What should give the Bears some optimism is their penchant for creating turnovers — Fangio’s group leads the NFL with 27 takeaways, two more than the Cleveland Browns and seven more than the Rams, who rank fourth. No team in the NFL is better at both keeping opponents out of the end zone and creating those critical turnovers.
And how that plays out in a few weeks might actually be more of a watershed game for the NFL than the one we saw Monday night.
Matt Nagy, to say the least, enjoyed Monday night’s game a little more than his defensive coordinator did.
“This could be a time where people look back,” Nagy said. “… Now, people were excited. When you get teams in the NFL that both have records as good as they are – 9-1 going against each other. One’s NFC, one’s AFC. It’s always going to be a big lead-up. And then you have an unbelievable coach with tons of experience versus an unbelievable coach with not a lot of experience — that’s what people like.
“It was great, in my opinion, great for the league. There were still a lot of great defensive plays in there. It’s just, shoot, to see those defensive touchdowns, the interceptions, there were fireworks. And I think that’s what people like.”
Illegal and dirty, or just illegal?
The Bears certainly weren’t happy with Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith for delivering an illegal hit on Mitch Trubisky on the play on which he injured his shoulder, but there weren’t any public cries of him being a dirty player coming from Halas Hall this week.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Nagy said. “Again, it is football. It is an illegal hit. You always want to look at things from both sides and you hope it’s not malicious. But when it’s a late hit, then it can be challenging for you. But it’s, again, there are just so many variables that go into it. Mitch is a tough kid. So we’ll just see what happens.”
Chase Daniel — who is all but assured to start Thursday against the Detroit Lions — sounded a little more perturbed when asked about the hit.
“I knew it was a very late hit, something that I don’t think should’ve happened,” Daniel said. “It’s sort of crazy how it happened — it shouldn’t have happened like that.”
Still, as former quarterback Donovan McNabb pointed out on “SportsTalk Live” Tuesday, the way Trubisky slid — headfirst, not feet first — opened him up to be hit the way he was by Smith. And safety Eddie Jackson, who didn’t take a second look at the hit, said it’s difficult for defenders to try to determine a quarterback’s intent when he has the ball in his hands.
“It’s tough as a defender trying to come in because you’re not really knowing if a guy is gonna slide or stand up,” Jackson said. “Especially with Mitch, he can get you, now. But that’s our quarterback. We always want to take up and try to play clean. But it’s tough in split (second) decision-making.
“But Mitch is our guy, man. He’s going to bounce back for sure.”
Bears officially bring aboard Bray
The Bears announced Wednesday afternoon, as expected, they signed quarterback Tyler Bray from their practice squad to the 53-man roster. Bray will back up Daniel, who’s expected to start, against the Lions on Thanksgiving. Trubisky did travel with the Bears to Detroit but is listed as doubtful, and the move to sign Bray makes it even more unlikely Trubisky plays Thursday.
To make room for Bray on the 53-man roster, the Bears released cornerback Marcus Cooper.
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