The Chicago Bears stepped up into a higher class of football on Sunday and were met with a rude awakening.
Despite playing one of their best offensive games of the season, their defense just couldn’t keep up with the prowess of the Dallas Cowboys as they fell, 49-29.
The Cowboys offense, led by Dak Prescott, did pretty much whatever they wanted against a Bears defense in its first action without veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. They opened the game with an 11-play touchdown drive and proceeded to score touchdowns on their first four drives. It was 28-7 midway through the second quarter before you could say, “Boy, those orange helmets and jerseys sure are ugly.”
The Bears defense had no answers for the Cowboys’ run game. Backup running back Tony Pollard, who might actually be better than veteran Ezekiel Elliott at this stage in Elliott’s career, rushed for 131 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 14 carries. Prescott himself scrambled for 34 yards and a score on five rushing attempts.
And even when Prescott took to the air, the Bears defense struggled. Prescott completed 21 of 27 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He had a 114.5 passer rating.
For as poorly as the defense played, you’ve got to give credit to the Bears offense for taking yet another step — against one of the best defenses in the league, no less.
Justin Fields was efficient, completing 17 of 23 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a 120 passer rating. He also rushed 8 times for 60 yards and a score. This is the kind of quarterback play you hope for from a young signal caller. He didn’t put up monster passing numbers, but they were extremely solid and it’s also a product of the Bears being one of the best rushing teams in the league.
Despite their defense setting them back early, the Bears scored on three of their five first-half possessions, including two touchdowns. And then in the second half, they scored an early touchdown to draw within 5 points.
Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the second half.
Down by 12 midway through the third quarter, David Montgomery fumbled on a third-and-long pass play. The ball was picked up by Micah Parsons. Rather than touch him while he was on the ground, Fields decided to display his athleticism and jump clean over him, which allowed Parsons to get up and rumble 36 yards for a touchdown.
The Bears, to their credit, responded with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, chewing up more than 6 minutes of game clock. But that’s where the good times would end.
The Cowboys scored yet another touchdown on the ensuing drive. The Bears turned the ball over on downs on their next drive — in which Dante Pettis inexplicably caught a 2-yard pass on 4th-and-11. And then the Bears punted on their final attempt to salvage the game, in which backup quarterback Trevor Siemian came in for Fields to close out the game.
There was hope following last week’s win against New England that the Bears could come in and make this a game. And for a brief moment when the score was 28-23, you felt they might have turned the corner. But I think it was evident throughout the game just how outclassed the Bears were.
These kinds of games serve as a litmus test for where the Bears are compared to some of the better teams in the league. Clearly, the rebuilding Bears have a ways to go to get back into playoff competition.
Could they still back their way into the playoffs this year? Of course, particularly in a bad NFC. But they’re not likely to go very far, or even win the wild card game.
One has to wonder, given their offensive performances over the past two weeks, what kind of team this can be when general manager Ryan Poles gets to unleash the almighty dollar next offseason and buy some much-needed pieces to fill the puzzle.
They already have a good running team. Can you imagine how much better they’d look with some pass-blockers and pass-catchers on offense, and some pass-rushers on defense? (Yes, obviously the lack of run-stoppers has been one of their biggest weaknesses this year and will have to get corrected as well.)
But given that the bar has been set so low this season, I’m not all that frustrated by what we saw against Dallas on Sunday.
As always, the real test will be how this young team responds to adversity, and whether they can stack another good offensive performance next week against the Dolphins.