1st-and-10: What’s not to like about Matt Eberflus’ Bears debut?

It’s too early to celebrate the dawn of a new era, but even skeptics have to admit that Eberflus’ season-opening upset was notable for two things: There was no fluke factor, and there were minimal red flags.

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Equanimeous St. Brown (19) beats 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga (29) for an 18-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter Sunday at Soldier Field. Bears won, 19-10.

Bears wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (19) had one catch against the 49ers, but it went for an 18-yard touchdown.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Two wide receivers open on the same play in the fourth quarter of a close game? This must be the dawn of a new era at Halas Hall. 

Justin Fields’ 18-yard touchdown pass to Equanimeous St. Brown that gave the Bears the lead with 12:45 to play in a 19-10 win over the 49ers on Sunday at Soldier Field was an embarrassment of riches to Bears fans who have suffered through a generation of disappointing, frustrating and often discombobulated offenses. 

Byron Pringle was so wide open crossing over the middle on the third-and-two play that fans in the stands and reporters in the press box were pointing it out in real time. But as they were doing that, Fields was pulling the trigger to hit an open St. Brown in the end zone. 

In Green Bay, that’s called Sunday. But in Chicago, it’s a revelation — a play that works even better than designed. The euphoria was reminiscent of Matt Nagy’s coaching debut in 2018, when quarterback Mitch Trubisky drove the Bears 86 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown against the Packers at Lambeau Field that seemed to signal an offensive renaissance. 

But that was on the first drive of the game. The Bears scored just three field goals after that initial burst, losing 24-23, and the Nagy era became one big, teeth-pulling struggle on offense. 

This time, the brightest moments came at the end instead of the beginning. The Bears outscored the 49ers 19-3 in the second half. In Nagy’s debut, the Packers outscored the Bears 24-6 in the second half. 

It’s too early to celebrate a new era, but even skeptics have to admit that coach Matt Eberflus’ season-opening upset was notable for two things: There was no fluke factor, and there were minimal red flags. 

The Bears made adjustments on offense and defense that worked. They were disciplined — only three penalties, none of them on offense. They handled inclement conditions. They were efficient on both sides of the ball. 

Almost every facet they controlled that contributed to their victory is repeatable. They got some breaks but made the most of them. And although they can’t count on an opponent imploding with penalties like the 49ers did, the Bears’ imperfect performance — there was very little that was above average — left room for growth. 

Let the record show that Bears fans were also feeling pretty good after Nagy’s debut and a little giddy after Marc Trestman’s debut in 2013 — a 24-21 victory over the Bengals on a touchdown pass by Jay Cutler in the fourth quarter. This is still a rebuilding year until further notice. 

But even fate seems to be moving its huge hands for Eberflus’ Bears. In that 2018 opener against the Packers, cornerback Kyle Fuller dropped a sure interception in the fourth quarter that would have all but clinched the game. This time, 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson — a Nagy-era Bear — dropped a pick in the third quarter with the 49ers leading 10-0, and the Bears scored a touchdown two plays later. 

Mother Nature also smiled on them for a change. The Bears have had some of their worst moments in bad weather at Soldier Field — a 33-6 loss to the Packers in the wind and slop on Halloween night 1994 on “Monday Night Football”; a blowout loss to the Patriots in the snow in 2010; losing Cutler and a showdown with the Texans in the rain and mud in 2012. This time, a fourth-quarter deluge that turned Soldier Field into a quagmire in the final five minutes couldn’t have been better timed. 

Is it possible that somebody up there likes the Bears? There’s no better time and place to find out than in prime time in Week 2, at Lambeau Field and against Aaron Rodgers. 

2. The Packers are coming off a dreadful performance in a 23-7 loss to the Vikings in their opener. For what it’s worth, Rodgers is 8-0 with 22 touchdown passes and no interceptions (120.0 passer rating) after a loss in the last three seasons, so . . . 

3. After an impressive debut marked by discipline and effective adjustments on both sides of the ball, Eberflus saw his star rise even more Monday night when Broncos first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett had a game-management meltdown in his debut against the Seahawks. 

With the Broncos trailing 17-16 with 4:02 to play and Russell Wilson at quarterback, Hackett used none of his three timeouts, and the Broncos ended up running the clock down for an unsuccessful 64-yard field-goal attempt with 20 seconds left instead of giving Wilson a chance to convert a fourth-and-five.

It’s only the start of the season, and Eberflus figures to have his own challenging moments — it literally happens to the

best of them. But while Eberflus’ success still is most dependent on getting the quarterback right, Hackett’s failure in a moment of extreme decision was a reminder of how difficult and valuable game management is, and highlighted Eberflus’ encouraging early handle on that critical part of the job.

4. That said .... the last time the Bears won their season opener at Soldier Field was Trestman’s debut in 2013 — the victory over the Bengals. Their renewed focus and discipline was being heralded then, too. 

The Bears, in fact, had the sixth-fewest penalties in the NFL that season, including just one false start in the first nine games. But they had seven false starts in the last seven games — a sign of fatigue or diminishing focus — and it was all downhill under Trestman in 2014. 

5. Never underestimate the mediocrity of the NFL. 

6. The Bears looked like a well-coached team on multiple fronts Sunday. Their defense held the 49ers to 4.0 yards per play in the second half (38 plays, 152 yards), after allowing 6.2 in the first (29-179). 

“We changed things up on the back end, tried to give them a little different thing to look at and try to have more vision on the quarterback,” linebacker Nick Morrow said. “You could tell they were chasing certain things that we were doing. So we had to get out of it and gives ourselves a little more of a chance on some of the perimeter runs.” 

7. Red Flag Department: The Bears averaged just 2.7 yards per carry (37-99) against the 49ers. David Montgomery gained 26 yards on 17 carries. His 1.5-yard average was the lowest of his career (46 games, including playoffs). 

8. Trivial but not trivial: The Bears converted a third-and-six play for the first time since the 2020 season when Fields, avoiding a sack, flipped the ball to Montgomery for a 16-yard gain in the first quarter. The Bears were 0-for-15 on third-and-six last season. 

Overall, they converted five of 14 third-down plays (35.7%) on Sunday, but their average distance was 7.1 yards. First down was the culprit; the Bears averaged 2.9 yards on 22 first-down plays (31st in the league in Week 1). 

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack had three sacks, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble and six tackles in a 24-19 victory over the Raiders. The 31-year-old Mack had six sacks in seven games with the Bears last season before missing the final 10 games with a foot injury. 

The Chargers’ defense under former Bears linebackers coach Brandon Staley already suits him. 

“The coverage guys were doing an excellent job,” Mack told reporters after the game. “It has been a while since I got coverage sacks.”

10. Bear-ometer: 8-9 — at Packers (L); vs. Texans (W); at Giants (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Commanders (W); at Patriots (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Dolphins (L); vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at Jets (W); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (W); vs. Vikings (W).

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