Bears’ victory was much more of a trial than it should have been
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Here is the Bears’ performance on Sunday boiled down to its base elements: Way more of a struggle than it should have been and, oh, yeah, they’re 11-4. A period snuffing out an exclamation point.
Not everything has to be beautiful, and the Bears’ 14-9 dismissal of the pesky San Francisco 49ers on Sunday certainly proved that point.
You know what is beautiful, though? The 11-4 record. The Bears have that going for them. It’s the very good news coming out of an afternoon that can only be described as meh.
“They gave us a battle, and it was not easy at all’’ is how coach Matt Nagy saw it.
Nothing changed for the Bears on Sunday. The Saints and the Rams, the teams in the NFC with better records, also won. The Bears’ postseason position remained the same. If the playoffs were today, they would play a first-round game at Soldier Field. They’ll need help next week to get a first-round bye.
In terms of on-field storylines, not much changed, either. There was no escape from the Bears’ defense, and there was just enough output from the Bears’ offense. As usual, times two.
I don’t know about you, but about midway through the third quarter, I was longing for the start of the playoffs. Yes, I do know that there will be all sorts of meaning to the Bears’ final game, on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. But they were facing a bad team, and there were times, especially on offense, when it looked as if the only function of their shoulder pads was to accentuate their shrugs.
Nagy made a conscious decision in the third quarter to give up on the razzle-dazzle stuff and go the meat-and-potato route. The plays he called in to quarterback Mitch Trubisky were of the dink-and-dunk variety.
The Bears had already used up their supply of good fortune. A penalty against the 49ers had wiped out a terrible Trubisky interception in the end zone in the second quarter, and a replay erased an Allen Robinson fumble in the third. The 49ers came into the game with a 4-10 record and a triage unit of injuries. Why mess with fate against a down-and-out team?
So prudence prevailed. The Bears ran 11 plays after the overturned fumble, 10 for nine yards or fewer, including a two-yard touchdown run by Jordan Howard that gave them a 14-9 lead with 4:14 left in the third quarter.
“Just take what the defense is giving us,’’ Trubisky said of the change in philosophy.
That was your football game, except for, you know, a melee on the Bears’ sideline after 49ers safety Marcell Harris hit a sliding Trubisky in the fourth quarter. It led to the ejections of Bears receivers Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy, as well as 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman. The highlight was the sight of injured Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long, in street clothes, arms extended, trying to get everyone to get along. Blessed are the very large peacemakers.
All of it ended the only way it could have in an eye-roller of a game, with Robinson fumbling for real this time, and the 49ers recovering. The Bears’ defense stopped them at midfield to end the threat of a lost day because that’s what the Bears’ defense does.
Akiem Hicks knocked down three passes by Nick Mullens at the line of scrimmage. That’s what he and the Bears’ defense do.
Trubisky finished 25-for-29 for 246 yards. The yardage was boosted by a 43-yard bomb that Robinson dived for in the first quarter. The accuracy came from all those short passes Nagy called.
The Bears can win with this conservative approach in the playoffs, but it’s not in Nagy’s nature to change into wingtips now. It’s impossible to see him getting away from the fancy stuff at this point in the season, and for the sake of continuity, it would be tough to argue for him to change. This is what the Bears have known all season. Trickery is their comfort zone.
But the defense is so good that the version of Trubisky we saw for much of the second half would help them more in the postseason than the version that rashly tried to a backward pass to Tarik Cohen in the second quarter, leading to a fumble.
Half of me wants to say to Nagy, “Easy there, tiger;’’ the other half says it’s ludicrous to think this cat is going to change his stripes.
The final regular-season game will matter. If the Rams lose to the 49ers, and the Bears beat the Vikings, the Bears will get a first-round bye.
“We’ve got to play to win, and I kind of like that,’’ Nagy said.
I’d kind of like to see the playoffs start today, but I see his point.