If the Bears’ Week 1 defensive stop was defined by what D’Andre Swift dropped — the ball in the end zone with six seconds left — then Sunday’s was punctuated by what side judge Don Willard pulled from his pocket.
As the clock expired, Willard threw a flag toward Giants wide receiver Golden Tate, who had been blanketed by Bears safety Eddie Jackson on an incomplete pass from the 10 with the Bears up by four.
Tate wanted pass interference — and he got it. On himself. Willard ruled that Tate shoved down slot cornerback Buster Skrine earlier in his route.
“It was a nervous moment — not sure how the penalty was going to go,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said after the Bears’ 17-13 victory against a depleted Giants team at Soldier Field. “But relieved to see we got one toward our side.”
The Bears’ defense has ended the last two games with a feeling of relief — not dominance. It has hung on to win, but the degree of difficulty remains concerning.
The Giants played three quarters without all-world running back Saquon Barkley, who was carried off the field and carted off the sideline after being tackled by Jackson on the first play of the second quarter. The Giants fear he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
They played a half without Sterling Shepard after he limped to the locker room at halftime with an injured toe.
Against a Giants team whose 16 points in Week 1 were the third-lowest in the NFL, the Bears gave up a 95-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. They allowed two second-half field goals, both on short drives after Mitch Trubisky interceptions, and gave up 50 yards on the Giants’ last drive before it stalled.
“It’s almost as if we flipped — we flipped the game,” Hicks said. “We played hot — hot! — early, and we’re kicking butt, and we’re taking advantage of the plays we can take advantage of, and we get a little ease to it.”
The Giants didn’t have a first down in the first quarter. The Bears pitched a first-half shutout, forcing two takeaways, then held the Giants to one first down on their first two drives of the third quarter.
On the Giants’ last three drives, though, the Bears allowed 14 first downs. The drives ended in a touchdown, a field goal and that final stop.
“Very similar to us being in Detroit last week, right?” Hicks said. “Our backs are against the wall. We’re fighting to stay alive, to win the game.”
The Bears have reason to be optimistic, though.
On his first snap of the season, outside linebacker Robert Quinn — who signed a five-year, $70 million deal this offseason — forced Giants quarterback Daniel Jones to fumble.
Asked about the spark Quinn provides, Hicks used two words: “blazing good.”
“He’s somebody that can come off the edge with such ferocity and speed that, you know, he changes the math for the offense,” Hicks said.
The Bears envision Quinn, Khalil Mack and Hicks being the most dominant trio of their kind in the league. After not being healthy in practice at the same time all preseason, each sacked Jones.
Two plays after Mack’s fourth-quarter sack, Jackson jumped in front of tight end Kaden Smith, picked off a pass and ran the ball 54 yards for a touchdown. He was whistled for interference, though. The flag was late but correct. Jackson had bumped Smith’s left shoulder before the ball arrived.
The Giants kept the ball and eventually kicked a 37-yard field goal to pull within four halfway through the fourth quarter.
Jackson got a better result the next time a flag floated in his direction.
“The motivation is to win by any means necessary,” said safety Deon Bush, who intercepted Jones in the second quarter. “Everybody has plays that they wish they could have back in the [last] drive, but, ultimately, we got the stop and we got the win.
“That’s our main goal every week.”