The lowly Cardinals were absolutely begging the Bears to win Sunday’s game. This was on-their-knees, hands-beseeching-the-heavens supplication.
Arizona had built a 14-0 lead, but then reverted to its innate Arizona-ness, giving the ball away under pressure and following dumb penalties with dumber ones. Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford went from having his best half of the early season to being benched in favor of rookie Josh Rosen, who had the look of a musically challenged kid who has just been told to sing to the class.
So seeing their opponents offering them a game, the Bears finally said that, yes, if it weren’t too much trouble, they would take it.
The ugly way in which the victory played out wasn’t what the Bears expected when they flew to Arizona, but they’ll take the result, a 16-14 squeaker. The Cardinals stink, the Bears were a little better and guess what? They’re in first place in the NFC North with a 2-1 record.
It’s difficult to praise them for their exceptional second-half defense – and it was exceptional – without pointing out their first-half defensive lapses and the fact that Bradford was miserable. The Bears made him miserable, but he brought a lot of the misery on himself.
And it’s difficult to mention some of Mitch Trubisky’s nice statistics Sunday – 24 of 35 for 220 yards — without pointing out the unsightly stuff: a fumble, an interception, a 73.5 passer rating and too many misdirected passes.
On the other hand, the Bears are on top of the division.
The Land of First Place, a sunny place of prosperity, happiness and free ice cream, beckoned to them before the game. The Packers had lost. The Vikings had lost. For the longest time Sunday, the Bears beckoned back with the universal sign for, “We’re not quite ready for that.’’ It wasn’t a white flag exactly. More of a limp banner.
But then Eddie Jackson had an interception that helped set up a touchdown, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 14-10 in the third quarter. Sherrick McManis had an interception in the third. Khalil Mack, a terror on a football field, knocked the ball loose from a stumbling, bumbling Bradford in the fourth, and the Bears recovered. Two more field goals and a victory.
With enemies like the Cardinals, who needs friends?
The Bears’ defense finished with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Nice, but almost expected against a team as bad as the Cardinals, who had scored just six points total in their first two games.
Mitch was Mitch on Sunday. I think we’re to the point where we understand what that means. He was good. He was bad.
After two weeks of calling mostly short passes, the Bears finally allowed him to throw downfield Sunday, though that might have been a function of being down by two touchdowns at one point. Trubisky zipped a perfect pass to Trey Burton for a 25-yard gain in the second quarter. He dropped a beautifully timed ball to Allen Robinson down the right sideline for 39 yards.
But he also overthrew a wide-open Taylor Gabriel in the end zone in the second quarter. He threw across his body while running to his right in the third quarter, a terrible decision. Scientists are still trying to understand how the Cardinals failed to intercept it. He had several other passes that could have been picked off Sunday.
Are these the struggles that come with being an inexperienced NFL quarterback or are they signs of trouble? Too early to say, but given the pattern, it’s fair to predict we’re going to see more of the same for a while.
This can’t be denied: The Bears have yet to win a game because of Trubisky’s play in this offense.
“I’m happy with where he’s at,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. “There’s going to be some growing pains as we do this and it’s not going to happen overnight. We’re going to continue to work together and continue to just keep pushing forward until this thing clicks.’’
After the game, Trubisky stressed the need to get the ball in the end zone but reiterated what his coach said.
“We know we’re not even close to where we want to be on offense,’’ he said.
Where are the Bears as a team? They have a sometimes-dominant defense that looked sleepy to start Sunday’s game. They have an offense that struggles to score touchdowns. They won a close game against a poor opponent they had hoped to dominate.
Up one moment, down the next. Kind of all over the place. No, check that. They’re in first place. That’s where they are.