The Bears kicked off the NFL’s 100th season by renewing their storied rivalry with the Green Bay Packers. While they didn’t allow a 20-point comeback to a hobbled Aaron Rodgers this time, the final result had a similar feel to last year’s season opener.
The Packers defeated the Bears, 10-3, in a low-scoring … oh, let’s call it a “defensive” affair, even though that might be giving it too much credit.
When the most excitement elicited from the home crowd came from Eddy Pineiro’s 38-yard field goal, you know something foul was afoot. I feel bad for the national audience who anxiously tuned in to watch the first meaningful football in seven months.
In a time slot typically reserved for the defending Super Bowl champion to make a curtain call, the NFL chose to go with the historic rivalry for the 100th season. And despite the high ratings, viewers were treated to a dud.
Fireworks were promised, but sparklers were delivered.
Both defenses played well, to be sure. I’d hate to detract from the plays made by the Bears’ stout squad and the Packers’ suddenly rejuvenated bunch.
But any semblance of offensive cohesion from either team was largely overshadowed by penalties and miscues. The amount of yellow laundry on the field reeked of two teams who valued the “protection from injury” over “preparation for prime time” during the preseason schedule.
Earlier this week, I wrote:
I understand the desire to preserve health by protecting players from preseason action. And I agree with that philosophy. But if it comes at the expense of players lining up in the wrong place, running the incorrect routes, or otherwise not knowing what to do, that’s a problem.
Penalties clearly result from a team that is not mentally prepared to play. And neither team seemed ready for the limelight.
Bears offense nowhere near ready
Let’s put this out on the table right off the bat: this Bears offense is nowhere near ready to be a Super Bowl contender.
And that’s a shame, because the defense has been ready for a couple seasons now. And the front office made multiple moves to upgrade a unit that couldn’t score enough when it mattered a season ago.
They drafted David Montgomery to give the team a more complete back than Jordan Howard. They signed Cordarelle Patterson to primarily improve a woeful kick return team but also to provide head coach Matt Nagy with another weapon in his offensive arsenal.
But the Bears did not seem to improve their offensive line, which looked overmatched and underwhelming against the Packers. The Bears managed just 46 rushing yards on 15 attempts. The offensive line allowed Mitch Trubisky to get sacked 5 times and had trouble keeping a clean pocket.
And, of course, who can forget the already-infamous series of penalties that backed up the offense into a 1st-and-40 situation to open the fourth quarter? Charles Leno was penalized twice in that string of flag flinging.
Trubisky took his lumps
It certainly wasn’t all the offensive line’s fault. There’s enough blame to go around.
Even when the line allowed enough time for Trubisky to step up and throw, the third-year quarterback struggled to take advantage. He seemed to connect well with Allen Robinson — one of the lone bright spots of the evening — to the tune of 7 catches for 102 yards. But he threw a bunch of other passes that were nearly picked or broken up by an aggressive Packers secondary.
NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth noted the improvement of Trubisky’s footwork early in the game. While this is certainly an important part of his development, the other things that Trubisky needed to improve this season — vision and accuracy — still have a ways to ago. This was perhaps best illustrated by his forced throw to Robinson in the corner of the end zone — in double coverage — that was picked off by former Bear Adrian Amos to effectively end the game.
Trubisky’s career at a pivotal moment
Trubisky is at a pivotal moment in his career. As mentioned, he is in his third year in the league and his second under Nagy’s leadership. If he doesn’t “take the next step” and show that he can shoulder an NFL offense, the Bears will be back at square one in the hunt for the elusive franchise quarterback that has plagued this organization.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Rams quarterback Jared Goff were picked in the 2016 draft — one year before Trubisky was taken by the Bears. Those two quarterbacks received contract extensions this offseason and got paid handsomely.
First Wentz got his extension, which included a record-setting $107 million in guarantees. Then Goff, who was taken one pick before Wentz, got his extension and set a new record with $110 million in guarantees.
The way the market works is that each new deal generally exceeds the last. The Chiefs Patrick Mahomes will get his payday, which will exceed both Wentz’s and Goff’s. Houston’s Deshaun Watson will likely get an extension from his team as well. Both of those players were taken after Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Both Mahomes and Watson are deserving of extensions. Right now, we can’t say the same about Trubisky.
This is why this is a pivotal moment for him. How he responds to this poor outing in the next 15 games will go a long way towards determining whether the Bears reach the postseason this season and if Trubisky gets that contract extension.
Nagy needs to help out Trubisky, Bears offense
Bears general manager Ryan Pace traded up in the draft to select Montgomery. The Bears raved about their rookie back throughout the offseason. They talked up his well-rounded acumen, his record-breaking tackle ability, and his receiving skills — which were momentarily on display on a 27-yard pass play.
So, why only six carries then?
It’s not as if he was overshadowed by free agent Mike Davis or scatback Tarik Cohen. Davis rushed five times for 19 yards and Cohen — who fumbled a handoff from Trubisky on the first play of the game for the Bears offense, which was nullified by a penalty — didn’t register a single carry.
Indeed, Montgomery garnered the most rushing attempts on the team. But six carries is woefully inadequate and wholly unacceptable.
At least Nagy acknowledged his neglect of the run game, saying afterward, “We ended up throwing a lot more than [rushing]. And for whatever reason we did, that’s not what we want.”
It would have been helpful for him to notice that during the game. Instead of putting Trubisky through the ringer, the Bears offense could have controlled the tempo of the game through the utilization of the run.
It confounds me that in a game that never escaped the bounds of a one-score lead, the Bears would allow Trubisky to throw 45 times while limiting Montgomery to just six carries.
Bears are underdogs again
It’s amazing what one loss can do to you.
The Bears will remain the “defending NFC North champions” until a new one is crowned at — or near — the end of this season. But in the eyes of the Packers organization, NFL film rooms, and the public at large, this division once again belongs to the Packers.
They have the best quarterback, an improved defense, and a growing mental edge. And they now have the ever-important one-game advantage in divisional record.
It’s actually better, I believe, for the Bears to embrace the underdog role. It should fuel their hunger for respect and makes them work that much harder. I don’t want anyone in the organization to get fat and happy about a 12-4, one-and-done playoff season from a year ago. I want them to stay hungry and strive to get better from week to week.
They say a lot can be determined from how a team responds to a loss. They say the biggest improvement comes from Week 1 to 2. We’re going to see what this team is made of as they prepare for Vic Fangio’s Broncos next week.