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1st-and-10: With fingers crossed, Bears surviving NFL’s war of attrition

The Bears came out unscathed after a torturous day of injuries Sunday — Saquon Barkley was one of seven players who suffered a torn ACL. Diligent conditioning and training help. But even that still leaves them at the mercy of the football gods.

Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is out for the 2020 season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is out for the 2020 season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Seven plays after Giants running back Saquon Barkley suffered a knee injury when Bears safety Eddie Jackson drove him out of bounds early in the second quarter Sunday, Bears running back David Montgomery left the game after getting flipped into the air and falling on his head.

Barkley is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Montgomery was back on the field by the start of the third quarter — and had 76 total yards, including 59 yards on 11 carries, after returning.

Every NFL season is a war of attrition, but winning that war seems even more important in 2020 after several key players suffered serious injuries in Week 2. Barkley, 49ers defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin and Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton were among seven players to suffer torn ACL injuries, according to David Chao, the former Chargers team doctor who analyzes sports injuries for outkick.com.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (high ankle sprain) is out for at least a month. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (torn pectoral muscle) is out for the season. Washington guard Brandon Scherff (MCL sprain) is out 3-5 weeks, and Colts safety Malik Hooker (torn Achilles) is out for the season, according to NFL Network.

Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain) and running back Raheem Mostert (knee sprain), Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (hamstring), Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) and Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones (groin) did not finish Sunday because of injury. Most are likely to miss games.

The Bears are on the opposite end of that spectrum. Besides another Montgomery scare, slot cornerback Buster Skrine, who suffered a finger injury against the Lions but still played Sunday, was shaken up and left the game after tackling Giants running back Dion Lewis in the third quarter — and returned three plays later.

While more than half the league — 17 teams at least — lost a starter to injury Sunday, the Bears came out clean. “Nothing significant,” coach Matt Nagy said in his opening remarks to the media Monday. “After you see everything that was going on [Sunday] with different teams, you feel pretty fortunate. So we want to keep that going.”

After injuries helped fuel the Bears’ regression last season, Nagy has credited head trainer Andre Tucker and the Bears’ training staff for being diligent in addressing additional injury concerns due to the COVID-19 season.

But even they have to be keeping their fingers crossed. Montgomery already has suffered two injuries that looked potentially long-term — he suffered a groin injury when he slipped in practice on Aug. 26, was expected to miss 2-4 weeks and returned to practice exactly two weeks later.

The 2-0 Bears are undefined at this point after shaky victories over the 0-2 Lions and Giants. But with opponents dropping interceptions and game-winning passes, a deflected pass going straight to the right tackle and officials getting the crucial call in the end zone right, they have the schedule and the football gods on their side. But this war is far from over.

2. Mitch Trubisky played better against the Giants than his final numbers showed — 190 passing yards and a 78.0 passer rating — but his inconsistency is still disconcerting in the big picture.

It’s one thing to be inconsistent from game to game — that often can be a matter of playing the Ravens’ defense one week and the Dolphins’ the next. But Trubisky has been hot and cold in the same game against the same opponent.

His passer ratings by half this season are 58.3, 138.5, 136.1 and 17.1. Regardless of Trubisky’s culpability there, that’s not likely to be a survivable trend for a playoff contender.

The defense — unimpressive so far despite being tied for third in points allowed (18.0 per game) — figures to respond to the challenge of a better opponent, as it will have to do Sunday against the Falcons. Trubisky and the offense haven’t shown the same propensity — they did last year against the Cowboys (a 31-24 victory), but that’s about it.

3. Did You Know? Since 2018, Trubisky is the only full-time starting quarterback in the NFL without a passer rating in the 90s. In 31 starts (excluding the Vikings game last year when he was hurt in the first quarter), Trubisky has had a passer rating of 102.7 or better 11 times and a rating of 86.3 or lower 20 times. There’s no middle ground.

The list of quarterbacks closest to Trubisky in fewest games in the 90s is interesting: Jameis Winston (1 in 25 starts) is a backup with the Saints, Ryan Tannehill (2 in 23 starts) failed with the Dolphins but resurrected his career with the Titans and Jared Goff (3 in 34 starts) has played in a Super Bowl but has been eclipsed by Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson as the next big thing.

4. Glass Is Half Full Dept.: The Bears’ improved running game provides the best hope that Trubisky and the offense can take the next step. The Bears gained 135 yards on 32 carries (4.2 average) against the Giants after gaining 149 yards on 28 carries (5.3 average) against the Lions.

It’s the first time the Bears have rushed 25 or more times with an average of 4.0 yards or more in back-to-back games since 2018, against the Patriots (25-134, 5.4) and Jets (34-179, 5.3) in Weeks 8-9.

It remains to be seen how real that improvement is. The Lions and Giants were 21st and 20th in rushing defense last season, but 10th and fourth in yards allowed per carry.

5. Outside linebacker Robert Quinn beat Giants rookie (and fourth overall pick) Andrew Thomas for a strip-sack on his first play as a Bear, but also impacted several key plays, including Deon Bush’s interception and Daniel Jones’ incompletion on the last play of the game.

Quinn had a dubious start after signing with the Bears. He was slowed in training camp after dealing with a personal issue, then missed the opener with an ankle injury. But in 25 snaps Sunday, he showed the potential of a defense with himself, Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks on the field at the same time. If Eddie Goldman had not opted out because of COVID-19, that ceiling might be at another level.

Quinn and Mack might be the Bears’ best pass-rushing duo since the heyday of Richard Dent and Dan Hampton in the mid- to late ‘80s. For what it’s worth, the Bears haven’t had multiple players with 10 or more sacks since Dent (12.5) and Trace Armstrong (11.5).

6. The Bears seem to have linebacker Danny Trevathan on an unusually short leash as the 30-year-old veteran tries to play himself out of an early-season funk. Trevathan, who looked rusty against the Lions, played only 31 of 64 snaps (48%) against the Giants.

Nagy said it was a matter of substitution packages, but that has never curtailed Trevathan’s snaps before. In fact, Trevathan played in 97.3% of the defensive snaps when he was healthy last year. He has played in 93.1% of the snaps in his four previous seasons with the Bears.

The Bears just signed Trevathan to a four-year, $28 million contract with $12 million guaranteed in 2020 — over re-signing the younger Nick Kwiatkoski or the less expensive Kevin Pierre-Louis. It seems a little early to make Trevathan a situational player. He’s supposed to be the opposite.

7. The List: Mel Kiper’s 2017 NFL Draft quarterback ratings: 1. Trubisky, North Carolina; 2. Mahomes, Texas Tech; 3. Watson, Clemson.

8. You could almost see the wheels turning in Nagy’s head when he noted Jackson’s “great effort” in returning an interception for a touchdown — a play that was nullified by a pass-interference penalty on Jackson.

If Nagy ever gets the offense back into “fun play” mode, Jackson figures to contribute on offense, especially after another example of his open-field prowess with the ball in his hands.

Jackson was rated the No. 48 wide receiver prospect in the nation by scout.com coming out of Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, though he signed with Alabama as a cornerback. And even without the nullified touchdown Sunday, Jackson still has five touchdowns in 15 touches in the NFL — on returns of 76, 75, 65, 41 and 27 yards.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week Award: Washington’s Pierre-Louis, who started the last three games of the 2019 season in place of Roquan Smith, had a career-high 15 tackles (10 solo), a tackle for loss and a forced fumble in a 30-15 loss to the Cardinals. His 91.3 rating by Pro Football Focus ranked second among defensive players in Week 2 — behind Giants cornerback James Bradberry (91.6).

Honorable mention: Mostert had an 80-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the 49ers’ 31-13 victory over the Jets. His 23.09 mph was the fastest speed for any player in the last three seasons, according to Next Gen Stats. He also had a 67-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty.

Mostert, who played on special teams in two games with the Bears in 2016 before being waived, had eight carries for 92 yards before suffering a sprained knee.

10. Bear-ometer: 9-7 — at Falcons (L); vs. Colts (W); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (L); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).