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The Bears closed out Lovie Smith’s proverbial first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record following a 16-6 victory over the division rival Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. And they did it while following the “next man up” philosophy.

The victory was a crucial one for the Bears. They already lost a home divisional game to the Packers in the season opener. Losing a second, even at this early stage of the season, would have been a major setback.

By defeating the Vikings, paired with losses from the Packers and Lions, the Bears were the lone NFC North combatant to secure a Week 4 victory. They currently sit tied with the Packers atop the division. Also of importance, they are in a 6-team tie for second place in the conference.

Chase Daniel “next man up” as Vikings knock out Trubisky

The game nearly had disaster written all over it on the very first drive.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky took a nasty fall on his left (non-throwing) shoulder on just the sixth play from scrimmage. It happened on a third down play in which Trubisky rolled left out of the pocket and was sacked on the play. It would have brought up fourth down, but a defensive holding penalty prolonged the drive.

Because of the penalty, backup quarterback Chase Daniel did not have time to huddle with the offense on the sideline for a series. Instead, he took a few warm-up tosses and entered the game immediately.

“I’m going to have some time to warm up,” Daniel recollected after the game. “I didn’t see the defensive holding penalty, so I went over there to start throwing, and they’re yelling at me, ‘Get in! Get in!’”

To his credit, Daniel executed about as perfectly as you could hope for from a backup thrusted into action in the middle of a drive.

Daniel engineered a 9-play, 52-yard drive culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen for an early 7-0 lead.

Daniel showed poise in pocket, accuracy on delivery

It’s almost inevitable that from a fan base anxious about the slow development of its third-year quarterback, a quarterback controversy would brew immediately.

While I believe that to be nutty, I can at least see where it’s coming from.

Two of the biggest gripes about Trubisky — his lack of poise in the pocket and his accuracy on delivery — were not exhibited by Daniel in his relief duty.

On the contrary, Daniel showed tremendous poise in the pocket, standing tall and steady even amid a collapsing pocket at times. And outside a few throws here or there, Daniel even delivered the ball with better touch than we’ve seen from some of Trubisky’s tosses.

Daniel’s final line was 22 of 30 passes (73.3%) for 195 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, with a 101.4 passer rating. Clearly not spectacular, but efficient and effective.

The “eye test” isn’t always the best test for analysis

If you showed a layperson film of Daniel’s performance on Sunday and compared it to any of Trubisky’s first three games — outside Mitch’s three touchdown second-quarter performance against the Redskins — chances are the layperson would like what he saw from Daniel better.

But it’s not enough just to trust the eyes, because more goes into quarterbacking than “do his passes ‘look’ good?”

Trubisky is the Bears quarterback, period. He will go right back into the starting lineup as soon as he is healthy to do so. Outside of business reasons — he’s a first-round pick, the Bears need to see what they’ve got in him to determine if a lucrative contract extension is warranted, etc. — there are plenty of football reasons to put him back in the lineup.

The first reason is athleticism. Trubisky’s mobility compared to that of Daniel’s is like a race car flying around a track versus a Volkswagen Beetle spinning its tires in the mud.

Yes, I know that head coach Matt Nagy said after the game that the offensive game plan would not change much with the quarterback switch. But that’s coach speak. He might try to run RPOs with Daniel — and we did see the veteran get out of the pocket and pick up a first down with his feet on Sunday — but it has nowhere near the effectiveness that a Trubisky rollout does.

Secondly, we haven’t seen Trubisky take off and run as much this year as we did last year. But that’s by design. The Bears want Trubisky to stand in the pocket longer and complete his reads. That does not take away the fact that Trubisky has the ability to escape the pocket, pick up first downs with his legs, and prolong drives. I don’t see that ability with Daniel, which means if the Bears receivers don’t get open — a problem they’ve had this year — Daniel is as good as dropped for a sack. Just looking at his final stat line from Sunday — five carries, four yards — is enough an example as it is.

Bears defense also thrived with “next man up” against Vikings

Daniel wasn’t the only “next man up” backup to step in and contribute to the victory over the Vikings. Second-year wide receiver Javon Wims was pressed into action with Taylor Gabriel out due to a concussion. Wims hauled in 4 balls for 56 yards, with a long of 37. He was the quarterback’s second-favorite target after Allen Robinson.

Aside from the offense, the defense had to step up and fill the gaps as well.

The defense was without Akiem Hicks (knee), Bilal Nichols (hand) and Roquan Smith (personal) against the best running back in the NFL (through three weeks) and they still shut down the Vikings’ run game.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook finished with 35 yards on 14 carries. Nine of those yards came on one attempt.

Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski stepped in for Smith and picked up right where the starter had left off. Kwiatkoski led the Bears in tackles as well as tackles for loss. He also tacked on one quarterback hit and sacked Kirk Cousins once as well.

Perhaps one of the most impressive plays of the game came from Kwiatkoski. He split two offensive linemen on a screen pass and dropped the running back immediately after the catch.

With Nichols out, defensive lineman Nick Williams was pressed into action. He looked like a starter would on any other defense in the league. Williams was third in tackles on the team, dropped Cousins for two sacks, finished with two quarterback hits, and had two tackles for loss. Oh yeah … and he recovered a Cousins fumble on a Khalil Mack strip sack.

Mack leads the pack for defensive player of the year

Speaking of Mack, the fact that he doesn’t ever headline an article goes to show you how dominant he truly is. If any other player had the kind of performance that Mack displays weekly, it’d be one of the first things talked about after the game.

Instead, Mack routinely gets plaudits for his weekly dominance, but it’s almost an afterthought. That exemplifies how much a game changer he is. The fact that offensive coordinators scheme to take him out of games and yet he still has an impact on them is incredible.

Bears radio play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak had a word for (future Hall of Famer?) kick returner Devin Hester: ridiculous. I think it’s safe to say the word aptly describes Mack, too.

I could point to any number of things that Mack did against the Vikings to help his team pick up the victory, but let’s just leave it at one. When the two teams came out of halftime with the Bears up 10-0, the Vikings knew they needed some kind of spark. Something to help get their offense going after the Bears squashed them in the first half.

So, on the first play of the third quarter, Cousins drops back to pass — and Mack strip-sacks him and the Bears take away the ball. Unreal. Completely obliterated any chance at momentum the Vikings were seeking to obtain.

At this point in the season — and it’s still so early — Mack has to be considered the front runner for defensive player of the year. It’s difficult to put on game film and point to any other player who has as much impact as Mack does.

Bears defense has another late letdown — offense needs to step it up

My glass is half full, I assure you. In fact, it’s more like 75-80% to the brim. That doesn’t mean I can’t point out an area of deficiency that needs to be improved as the season drags on.

Through one quarter of the 2019 season, the Bears are averaging 16.5 points per game, ranking them 28th in the league. That very likely could drop to 29th if the Pittsburgh Steelers score at least 17 points against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football — a likely scenario.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl-caliber Bears defense is yielding just 11.2 points per game. For all intents and purposes, that’s the best in the league. Technically, the New England Patriots are better at 6.8 points per game. But the Patriots have faced the Steelers, Dolphins, Jets and Bills. And the Steelers, Dolphins, and Jets are three of only four teams to score fewer points than the Bears.

Meaning: the Patriots’ “points allowed” will be taking a big leap up starting in Week 9 with opponents like the Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, and Chiefs on the schedule.

But I digress.

Through four weeks of action, the Bears’ offense has scored just 6 fourth-quarter points. Meanwhile, the defense has allowed 26 fourth-quarter points. Which means only 9% of the Bears points have come in the fourth quarter. And 57% of the 45 points the Bears have allowed have come in the fourth quarter.

In other words, that kind of discrepancy is leading to games closer than they need to be — and a lot more near-heart attacks for me.

The Bears defense is getting tired in the fourth quarter, and I don’t just mean in the thin air of Denver. They’re doing almost all the work and they’re being left on the field for far too long. Backup quarterback or not, the Bears offense has to step it up and start closing out games.

Because when the Bears start facing teams with better offenses — the Saints, Chargers, Eagles, Rams, Cowboys, Packers and Chiefs are still looming on the schedule — the Bears can’t rely on their defense to shut them down for four straight quarters. Those teams will score points and it’s up to the Bears offense to respond in kind.

Bye week couldn’t come at a better time for Bears

With Trubisky added to the short list of injuries the Bears have accumulated the past two weeks, the approaching bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bears.

Yes, the Bears still have one more game remaining before the week off. They travel to London to take on Mack’s old team, the Raiders. I’ve seen enough NFL football to know that no game is a “gimme.” But the Raiders can be beat with Daniel at the helm. The Raiders are only averaging slightly more points per game than the Bears, something easily manageable for the best defense in the league.

Trubisky is having tests conducted to determine the seriousness of his injury. Assuming it’s nothing too severe, the Bears don’t have to be without him for too many games. It also gives other players a chance to rest up before what I’ve been calling the “Murderers’ Row” of opponents the Bears face coming out of the bye.

The Bears will face the Saints, Chargers, and Eagles following their bye week. Then, they have the Lions — who suddenly appear better than anticipated — as well as the Rams in Los Angeles. We’ll find out a lot about the Bears during that stretch before they head into maybe the toughest December imaginable.

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