1st-and-10: Are the Bears catching the Packers at a bad time?
The Packers’ loss to the Colts kept the Bears within striking distance in the NFC North. But the Packers are 5-0 after a loss under Matt LaFleur. And Aaron Rodgers is on an MVP pace.
The Colts did the Bears a favor Sunday by beating the Packers in overtime.
Then again, maybe not.
The Packers’ loss helped keep alive the Bears’ sinking hopes of winning the NFC North; the Bears (5-5) can move within a game of the Packers (7-3) with a victory Sunday at Lambeau Field. And the Bears are rested and healthier coming off a much-needed bye.
But this also puts the Bears in a tough spot. Facing the Packers when they’re coming off a loss is an unenviable position, especially at Lambeau. The Packers have never lost consecutive games under coach Matt LaFleur; they’re 5-0 after a loss in his two seasons.
After their previous losses this season, they beat the Texans 35-20 (after leading 21-0 at the half) and dominated the defending NFC champion 49ers 34-17 (after leading 21-3 at halftime and 31-3 after three quarters). Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, not surprisingly, was outstanding in both games, throwing four touchdowns without an interception in each. In fact, in his last three games after a loss, Rodgers has had passer ratings of 147.2 (vs. the 49ers), 132.4 (Texans) and 125.4 (Giants), with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions.
That sets up an intriguing duel between Rodgers and the Bears’ defense, which has kept Rodgers in check in their last three meetings: a 78.3 passer rating with just two touchdowns and one interception. Rodgers threw for just 203 yards over both games last season, both of them Packers victories.
After three relatively subpar seasons (passer ratings of 95.4, 97.6 and 97.2), Rodgers is in contention for his third league MVP award. He’s on pace for 4,622 passing yards (his highest total since his 2011 MVP season) and a career-high 46 touchdowns, with a league-leading 115.8 passer rating (also his best since 2011). He turns 37 on Dec. 2.
2. The Packers game presents a particular challenge for Bears coach Matt Nagy after Colts coach Frank Reich (and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus) did a masterful job of turning Sunday’s game around with apparent halftime adjustments.
After Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to end the first half, the Colts held the Packers to two three-and-outs in the third quarter and just 68 yards on 15 plays until the final 1:25 of regulation. The Colts’ offense, which averaged 3.3 yards per rush in the first half, averaged 6.6 in the third quarter (86 yards on 13 carries) to fuel a 14-0 run that tied the game.
The Bears have scored an NFL-low seven offensive points in the third quarter this season and have been outscored 62-14 overall in the third quarter.
3. The Rams’ victory over the Buccaneers might have helped the Bears’ playoff cause because the Bears would win a tiebreaker with the Bucs (7-4) but not the Rams (7-3). The Bucs host the Chiefs (9-1) on Sunday, then finish with the Vikings (4-6), Falcons (3-7), Lions (4-6) and Falcons again.
With the Seahawks (7-3), Bucs and Cardinals (6-4) ahead of them for the two wild-card spots in the NFC, the Bears likely will need to finish 10-6 to have a shot, which means they’ll need to beat the Packers home or away and sweep the Lions, Texans (3-7), Vikings and Jaguars (1-9).
4. For What It’s Worth Department: The Bears are 0-2 after the bye under Nagy, losing to the Dolphins 31-28 in overtime on the road in 2018 and to the Saints 36-25 at home in 2019.
They did gain 467 yards against the Dolphins, but that was Nagy’s fourth game as coach, when the league was still adjusting to his offense. In fact, that was part of a four-game stretch against the Bucs (483 yards), Dolphins, Patriots (453) and Jets (395) in which the Bears led the NFL with 449.5 yards per game.
Things have changed since then. After last year’s bye, the Bears were stymied by the Saints, gaining 85 yards on their first 34 plays as they fell behind 36-10 before rallying for 167 yards in garbage time for 252 total yards. A bye in Week 11, though, could provide a bigger boost. Or not.
5. Bears linebacker Roquan Smith has reached the fun-to-watch stage of his career — a status he could solidify against Rodgers and the Packers. It has been a long time since Brian Urlacher’s chess matches with Rodgers enhanced Bears-Packers games, but Smith is headed in that direction.
His 15 tackles for loss are second behind the Steelers’ T.J. Watt (16) this season and most among inside linebackers in the NFL.
6a. The Bears’ inability to play “complementary football” was more evident than ever against in their loss to the Vikings when they wasted both Cordarrelle Patterson’s 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and Anthony Miller’s 32-yard punt return to the Vikings’ 46 with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter.
The Bears, in fact, are now 0-7 in games where they return a kick for a touchdown since Lovie Smith was fired after the 2012 season. Under Smith, they were 17-4 in games when they scored on a kick return. And Smith’s offenses were no great shakes, either — ranked 23rd or lower in yards eight times in his nine seasons.
6b. Although viewers hear crowd noise throughout the TV broadcasts of games, the actual stadium silence after a big play this season is weird and awkward. And it seemed to play a part in the Bears’ inability to parlay the momentum of Patterson’s touchdown into a victory against the Vikings.
“We were in great position to take over,” Nagy said of the momentum swing after the Bears took a 13-7 lead to open the second half.
The Bears’ sideline clearly was invigorated, but without the usual deafening crowd response, the edge dissipated quickly.
Theoretically, that’s why road teams have an easier time this season. But road teams’ record through 11 weeks (75-85-1, .469) is actually worse than it was last year at this time (78-81-1, .491).
7. The Bears also are wasting the best run of field-goal kicking since the Robbie Gould era. Cairo Santos has made 14 consecutive field goals, the longest streak since Gould kicked 17 straight to start the 2015 season (part of 18 straight overall).
In fact, including PATs, Santos has made 27 consecutive kicks, the Bears’ longest streak in a season since the PAT became a 33-yard kick in 2015.
Santos and Eddy Pineiro have combined for 26 consecutive kicks dating to last season. So after Bears place-kickers made 132 of 156 kicks (84.6%) in a 40-game stretch through Week 11 of last season, they have now made 56 of 59 kicks (94.9%), including 28 of 30 field goals (93.3%) in the Bears’ last 16 games.
8. Malik Willis Watch: The former Auburn backup quarterback (a nephew of former Bears linebacker James Anderson) completed 13 of 32 passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 44 yards in Liberty’s 15-14 loss to North Carolina State. Willis previously had thrown four touchdowns passes without an interception in victories over Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Colts tight end Trey Burton caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers in the 31-28 overtime victory against the Packers. Burton had two catches for 25 yards in the game and has caught 20 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in seven games this season.
10. Bear-ometer: 8-8 — at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (L).