Sometimes football teams need a lightweight on their schedule to push around. A team that isn’t really going to beat them but will give them an opportunity to make things right, to cure what ails them. A sparring partner, if you will.
The Bears got just what they needed when the New York Jets came to Soldier Field for a Week 8 contest. After back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Patriots, a 24-10 victory over the Jets was just what they needed to stop the bleeding.
The Jets brought rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to town to face one of the league’s toughest defenses. What did not help was the amount of injuries the Jets had piled up.
Starting running back Bilal Powell was lost for the season with a neck injury — which could possibly end his career. Darnold’s favorite target, Quincy Enunwa, missed the game with an ankle injury. And fellow wide receiver Robby Anderson was absent as well. In short, the only viable option at Darnold’s disposal was veteran Jermaine Kearse.
There were no tears shed for the Jets from the Bears’ locker room, that’s for sure. All-world linebacker Khalil Mack missed his first career regular season game as he nurses what could be a high-ankle sprain. Wide receiver Allen Robinson was held out with a groin injury.
Bears allowed Jets to hover for far too long
Just because the Jets offered the Bears a chance at a “make-good” game, that did not mean it’d be a cakewalk.
The Bears scored just two touchdowns through the first three quarters and never quite pulled away until the end of the game. The offense, which was a Top 7 scoring unit prior to the game, seemed to be listless and plodding. The Bears went through a stretch of four consecutive drives that concluded with a punt.
Near the end of the first quarter, the Jets brought the house on a blitz. Mitch Trubisky threw a well-timed screen pass to an open Tarik Cohen, who sprinted untouched for a 70-yard score.
If not for that Cohen touchdown, who knows how long it would have taken the Bears offense to hit the scoreboard. They did not score again until the third quarter.
Bears pass rush was almost nonexistent
As I tweeted before the game, it was still incumbent upon the defense to apply some pressure on Darnold.
There are no gimmes in the NFL, but this is about as close as it gets for the #Bears. They need to go out and prove it. Jets have injuries in the backfield but it shouldn’t matter anyway. Bears run D is stout. Pass rush has to make life miserable for the rookie Darnold. #NYJvsCHI
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) October 28, 2018
Unfortunately, that pass rush never really got to Darnold. The Bears defense registered just one sack on a corner blitz from Bryce Callahan. It could have been his second sack of the day if he hadn’t whiffed on one earlier.
You can’t whiff on a corner blitz. Terrible. #NYJvsCHI
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) October 28, 2018
Leonard Floyd continues to be MIA after failing to record a sack for the seventh straight game. Floyd had been limited this season by playing with a club on his fractured hand, but that’s no longer an excuse. He has to show up — if not in the sack column, at least in the backfield while pressuring the quarterback.
The Bears clearly miss Mack’s presence on the field. When he’s on the field, if he isn’t sitting on the heads of quarterbacks, he’s at least commanding double- and triple-teams to free up his teammates to rush the passer.
Despite no pass rush, Bears stifled Jets offense
To be clear, the game never was in doubt. It would have been nice to witness a blowout in the same manner as the beatdown of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a month ago. But, nevertheless, the Jets couldn’t get anything going offensively.
As it has come to be expected, the opponent could get nothing going on the ground against the Bears’ No. 3 run defense. The Jets managed just 57 rushing yards on 24 carries and put all the pressure on Darnold to pick up the slack.
The rookie didn’t fare much better than his run game did. Darnold completed just 14 of 29 pass attempts for 153 yards and a touchdown. The Jets punted eight times in the game and managed just two scoring drives.
Bears waited until fourth quarter to display urgency
The Bears offense looked methodical throughout the game, but not in a good way. The run blocking continued to struggle and Trubisky misfired on a number of throws. I felt the play calling lacked any kind of creativity and the Bears simply weren’t executing what Matt Nagy dialed up.
This led to a number of stalled drives, including one in the first quarter that ended with a missed 40-yard field goal by Cody Parkey.
I will never accuse a professional athlete of not trying — at least, not for the entire duration of a game. There will be select plays when you can point out a player who is “loafing.” But it is not out of the realm to claim a team seems to lack urgency.
The Bears looked like they weren’t playing with that urgency until late in the game.
The problem that many teams face is the danger of being sucked into competing at the same level as one’s opponent. And as the Jets continued to flounder for much of the game, the Bears seemed to follow suit.
As long as the Jets weren’t scoring, the Bears offense didn’t seem to treat every possession as if it mattered to the outcome of the game.
If you DVR’d the game, go back and watch the fourth quarter and compare it to the first three. It wasn’t until the Jets scored a touchdown after an 8-play, 75-yard drive to open the fourth quarter that the Bears offense finally woke up. That Jets touchdown closed the gap to 17-10, and it was just the kick in the pants that the Bears needed.
On the ensuing drive, the offense fired on all cylinders. The Bears matched the Jets’ scoring drive with an 8-play, 79-yard drive of their own.
Trubisky completed a 23-yard pass to rookie Anthony Miller on the drive. He also scrambled for a 12-yard pick-up. Jordan Howard rushed four times for 34 yards, including a 24-yard burst. He capped off the drive with a two-yard plunge into the end zone.
The Bears were methodical — in a good way this time — in marching down the field, picking up four first downs along the way and putting a stamp on their eventual victory.
The Bears were short-handed, to be sure. But they needed to pick up their sense of urgency to avoid any kind of upset.
Bears back in first place
The victory over the Jets, paired with losses from the Packers and Vikings, have placed the Bears back in first place in the NFC North.
One week after facing the undefeated Los Angeles Rams, the Packers face another tough road challenge against the Patriots. There’s potentially a good chance the Packers slip below .500, but I wouldn’t count on them bending backward.
The Bears have to take care of business against the Bills next week. Like the Jets, the Bills are a “should-beat” team, but it’s certainly not a gimme. Buffalo will be coming off a short week — what genius inside the NFL front office thought it was a good idea to put them in a Monday Night Football contest with the Patriots? The Bears will be on the road this week and it is my hope that the sense of urgency will kick in a lot sooner this time.
The Bears could — and should, frankly — be sitting at 5-3 this time next week.