The Bears laid an egg in their season opener, falling to the Los Angeles Rams, 34-14, on Sunday Night Football.
As Krusty the Clown once lamented: “What the hell was that!?”
I don’t know too many people outside the most ardent Bears fans who were giving the team much of a chance to upset the Rams in prime time. As much as I wanted them to prove everybody wrong and hightail it out of Los Angeles with the victory, it just wasn’t meant to be.
But just because I wasn’t expecting a victory, that didn’t mean I was expecting a complete and utter defensive failure.
I’m flat out discouraged and somewhat fearful that the Bears defense we knew in 2018 just isn’t going to return. There was some hope that would occur with Vic Fangio protege Sean Desai taking over for the departed Chuck Pagano at defensive coordinator. But in Desai’s first official night on the job, the defense could have looked the worst it has at any point over the past three seasons.
It’s important to remember that just because the Bears competed against a familiar face in Matthew Stafford, it was not the same Detroit Lions outfit the Bears have bested for much of Stafford’s career. Stafford is a part of the best team he’s ever had with an offensive-minded coach who knows how to pick apart opposing defenses.
And these Rams are no joke. They’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Even so, it’s difficult to ascertain whether the beatdown we saw on Sunday night had more to do with the caliber of the opponent or the quality of the Bears defense. I guess we’ll find out more as the season progresses – there are plenty of good quarterbacks and offenses remaining on the Bears’ schedule.
For those Bears fans who want to tar and feather Matt Nagy and send the head coach packing, Sunday’s loss would not be their best collection of evidence to use at his public trial.
Sure, you can argue with Nagy’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-15 rather than settling for a 48-yard field goal attempt. Had they made the field goal, it still would have been a two-possession game, though, with the prospect of the Rams’ offense coming back on the field for more. I, however, have no problem with Nagy’s aggressiveness in going for it on multiple fourth downs.
Similarly, for those Bears fans ready to buy quarterback Andy Dalton a one-way ticket out of Chicago and turn over the offensive reins to rookie Justin Fields, there’s not a lot you can pin on Dalton as a reason the Bears lost to the Rams.
Let’s be clear: Andy Dalton did not cost the Bears the game. The defense did.
And whether or not you feel Fields is ready to play (I do) and that he gives the Bears a better chance to score more points and win (I suspect he does), you just can’t pin the loss on Dalton or say he did anything to lose his job based on his performance in Week 1.
I like Nagy’s plan for Fields. I suspected he would bring in the rookie for select packages to get his feet wet. And while Fields didn’t play in sustained drives, he did come in and play five snaps, even scoring a rushing touchdown.
I couldn’t imagine a scenario where Fields spent all season on the bench waiting for Dalton to get hurt or completely fail. And then for Fields to come into a game completely raw and unprepared. That’s just not how you develop quarterbacks these days. The young men have to play, and Fields is getting that opportunity in small chunks. I’d imagine that his snap count will only increase as the weeks go by until he takes over full time.
I was pleased with the offense’s performance in all ways except the most important statistic: points scored. Scoring 14 points will not win a lot of games this year, so they have to finish more drives.
But the most vociferous Nagy detractors who claim the coach can’t ever change and should permanently give up play calling must have been pleasantly surprised with the balanced offensive approach.
Running back David Montgomery got 16 carries for 108 yards and a touchdown, while teammate Damien Williams garnered 6 rush attempts for 12 yards. As a team, they ran the ball 26 times. Clearly, because they were losing, they had to throw more at the end of the game. But the play calling was pretty balanced throughout.
Yes, I know, the skeptics among you will say, “Big deal. Let’s see if he keeps it up all season.” And I agree. We need to see a bigger body of evidence that Montgomery will continue to be the big factor that he has proven he can be. But Sunday was a good first step this season.
The Bears will head to Soldier Field next week for their home opener. They’ll take on a much-improved Cincinnati Bengals team that knocked off NFC North division rival Minnesota in Week 1. I think it is a much more winnable game than this past week was. And it is certainly an opportunity for the offense to take the next step.
The bigger question to me is: can this defense show any signs of improvement and stop the promising young core of quarterback Joe Burrow, running back Joe Mixon, and receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd?
If they can’t, we just might see Fields thrust into full-time action a lot sooner than expected this season.