It certainly wasn’t a pretty win, but it indeed was a big one. The Bears clawed back from an early 13-0 deficit to beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-19, Thursday night at Soldier Field.
The Bears were held scoreless for the first quarter and a half while the Bucs routinely drove the ball. Tampa Bay’s first four drives resulted in a field goal, punt, touchdown and field goal. The Bears, meanwhile, had a punt, interception, and punt on their first three possessions.
It looked like it was going to be another long, sloppy day for a Bears offense that can’t seem to get out of its way.
It wasn’t until the Bears got the ball back with about 7 minutes to play in the first half that the offense seemed to find its footing.
Bears finally hit the scoreboard late in the first half
After some early struggles, quarterback Nick Foles led the offense on a 10-play, 75-yard drive midway through the second quarter. He completed his first seven passes of the drive as the Bears entered the red zone at the two-minute warning.
David Montgomery lunged into the end zone two plays later, scoring the Bears’ first rushing touchdown of the season. It’s an astonishing notion, when you think about it. To not have a rushing touchdown through four games in the modern NFL really shows how much the Bears’ offense has struggled to get the ball into the red zone and convert it to 6 points.
On the ensuing possession, the Buccaneers ran just three plays when Brady threw a pass to rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn over the middle. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller timed his hit perfectly and knocked the ball loose. A flag was thrown on the play, but after the officials talked it over, they picked it up. Then the officials reviewed the play and determined that it was not an incomplete pass as originally ruled on the field. They determined that Vaughn had possession of the ball and fumbled it, giving the Bears excellent field position with a minute and a half to go.
Four plays later, Jimmy Graham struck again. The veteran tight end did what he does best, providing an excellent red zone target. Foles threw him a back-shoulder pass that Graham caught one handed for the go-ahead score.
Bears take lead into halftime, but come out flat — again
After what seemed like a blowout — or, at least, a one-sided affair — for much of the first half, the Bears surprisingly took a 14-13 lead into halftime.
Bears fans who have been paying attention all year knew what was coming next. It was even brought up during the television broadcast. And that’s this: the Bears have been dreadful in the third quarter this season.
Unfortunately, what was true for the first four games held true for this one: the Bears got shut out again in the third quarter. They remain the only team in the league who has not scored in the third period. They managed to gain just 39 yards on 11 plays against the Buccaneers.
That has to be a focal point for Matt Nagy and the offense moving forward. Whether they’re winning or losing at halftime, they can’t come out flat in the third quarter. It puts them into a hole and forces them to make all the comebacks they’ve made up to this point in the season. At some point that magic will run out and will come back to bite them.
Bucs and Bears trade field goals in the fourth quarter
The Buccaneers took a 16-14 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Bears were on the go. Foles engineered a 12-play, 59-yard drive that ended with a Cairo Santos 47-yard field goal. It was a huge kick for Santos, who has struggled with consistency on longer kicks. The Bears reclaimed the lead, 17-16.
The veteran Brady answered in kind, leading the Bucs on a 10-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a field goal, and the Bucs again took a 19-17 lead.
After the two teams traded punts on the next two series, the Bears were down to their final opportunity. Foles led the offense back onto the field to run their two-minute drill. They began at about midfield and needed a good 20-to-25 yards to get into range for a potential game-winning field goal.
The offense wound up getting 32 yards on 9 plays, setting up Santos for the 38-yard attempt. Santos drilled it through and the Bears led 20-19 with 1:13 to play.
Brady has a senior moment
Far be it for me to criticize the Great One, but the Bears finally got the best of Tom Brady.
Trust me, with more than a minute to play in the game, I probably felt what most Bears fans felt: oh, God, there is way too much time on the clock. Brady is going to march this right down the field and secure another epic fourth-quarter win.
On the first play of their drive, Brady easily connected with receiver Mike Evans for 12 yards. It looked way too easy and like an omen for what was to come.
The Bears defense, however, tightened up on the next handful of plays.
After a first-down incompletion to Evans, Brady connected with Vaughn for a four-yard gain on second down. The Bucs, without timeouts, went no huddle and rushed to the line. On third-and-6, Brady tossed an incomplete pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
That brought up fourth down, but somebody didn’t tell Brady.
On fourth down, Brady threw a pass to tight end Cameron Brate, which was broken up by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, who was tight in coverage. The Bears started to celebrate while the Buccaneers trudged off the field dejectedly. Brady, meanwhile, stood there with a perplexed look on his face while holding up four fingers.
Brady apparently thought the previous play was third down, not fourth down. But much to his surprise and dismay, the Bears had held him in check and closed out the victory with a kneel down.
Bears secured a big victory
No matter what you feel about the Bears’ early struggles on offense, they eked out an important victory.
Sure, skeptics will point out the numerous key injuries the Buccaneers had, but so what? This Buccaneers offense is still led by Brady and had a dangerous receiver in Evans. And the defense is stout and shut down the Bears’ run game.
Winning games in the NFL is not an easy task and the Bears already have four of them. They are inching their way toward the playoffs, but have several big opponents on the slate ahead.
To be competitive they will need to improve a run game that had just 63 rushing yards in the past two games. That’s not good enough to get it done, particularly because Foles and the Bears’ passing offense isn’t potent enough to carry the load by itself.
The Bears have some time to figure things out. Because they played on Thursday, they have an extra few days to rest up and put in a strong game plan against a very beatable Carolina Panthers team in Week 6.
After that, they have their toughest stretch of the season with games against the Rams, Saints, Titans, Vikings and Packers. They had better have the wrinkles ironed out by then.