With all eyes on Mitch Trubisky, Bears’ defense takes a big step
The Bears’ defense seems destined to operate in the shadow of Mitch-mania, but Akiem Hicks and company took a bigger step forward than even rookie Mitch Trubisky in the Bears’ upset of the Ravens .
The Bears held the Ravens’ offense to three field goals and no touchdowns in a 27-24 overtime victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The defense, which came into the game with two takeaways in the first five games, had three against the Ravens, including safety Adrian Amos’ 90-yard touchdown on an interception return.
It was only the second time the Bears’ defense had three takeaways in a game in 38 games under coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The only other time was against the Buccaneers in Week 15 in 2015 — the last time the Bears won a road game before Sunday.
But while the interceptions were the marquee plays, the defense also did the little things right that made the difference. The Ravens had a chance to win in regulation with a first down at their 44 with 12 seconds left. But the Bears forced the ensuing pass play inside — a 16-yard pass from Joe Flacco to Mike Wallace to the Bears’ 40 — and time ran out as the Ravens rushed to spike the ball.
The Bears appeared doomed in overtime after Pat O’Donnell shanked a 28-yard punt that gave the Ravens possession at their 40. But defensive end Mitch Unrein stopped Javorius Allen for a two-yard gain on second-and-four, and a strong rush by linebacker Leonard Floyd and Hicks forced an incompletion and a punt. The Bears won on the next possession.
“You’ve got to be able to take whatever situation you get and make something out of it, and that’s the approach we took,” Hicks said. “As a defense, we said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go out there and kick butt.’ ”
The trick now is to sustain that kind of performance. And while that has been problematic in recent years, it’s worth noting that the Bears did not appear to lose a defensive starter after losing almost one per week to either injury or suspension in the first five weeks of the season. They’re going to need some good fortune to build on their tenuous momentum.
2. Big plays come in bunches. Bryce Callahan’s 52-yard interception return was the Bears’ longest since Lance Briggs’ 74-yard touchdown return against the Cowboys in 2012 — a span of 5,137 defensive plays. It took just 36 defensive snaps for Amos to eclipse that with his 90-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Before Callahan’s big return, the Bears’ longest interception return since firing coach Lovie Smith was Khaseem Greene’s 49-yard return against the Vikings in 2013.
3. The returns by Callahan and Amos marked the first time in documented franchise history that the Bears had two interception returns of 50 or more yards in a game. The 142 combined yards are more than the Bears had on interception returns for the entire season in 2016 (73), 2015 (103) and 2014 (141). The only other time in franchise history they have had more interception return yards in one game was in 1964, when J.C. Caroline (1-79), Bill George (2-28), Roosevelt Taylor (1-26) and Dave Whitsell (1-16) combined for 149 in a 38-17 victory over the Rams.
4. The list: The Bears’ longest interception returns: 1. Richie Petitbon, 101, TD (1962); 2. Roosevelt Taylor, 96, TD (1968); 2. Clyde “Bulldog” Turner, 96, TD (1947); 4. Charles Tillman, 95 (2005); 5. Todd Bell, 92, TD (1981); 6. Adrian Amos, 90 TD (2017).
5. The Bears lead the NFL in rushes for negative yardage with 30 after their 10 negative carries against the Ravens. Jordan Howard is tied for the NFL lead (17) with the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi and the Lions’ Ameer Abdullah. Bears rookie Tarik Cohen has 13.
But give credit to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for sticking with the run, and to the offensive line for gaining strength through the adversity. The Bears have been dominant on the ground in overtime this season, rushing for 146 yards on 11 carries, an average of 13.3 yards per carry. The rest of the NFL is averaging 2.8 yards per carry in overtime (34-95). In the previous five seasons, NFL teams averaged 4.2 yards per carry in overtime.
6. At this time last season, Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman was recovering from a high ankle sprain; he ended up playing in just four more games in 2016. This season, he’s picking up steam as a force in the middle. The third-year pro had six tackles, including one tackle-for-loss, against the Ravens.
“His job description is not as flashy as a quarterback or a receiver,” Fox said. “But those guys, they’ve got a tough task in there — they’re taking on 700-pound blocks sometimes [when] they’re getting double-teamed. It’s tough sledding, and he’s done a good job. Knock on wood, he’s been healthy this year, which has really helped our defense.”
7. One of Cohen’s best attributes is that he has been the same guy whether he’s the hero or the goat. He was typically glib Monday after throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Zach Miller on a halfback option against the Ravens. Can he also throw deep?
“I feel like my deep ball is the best thing I’ve got,” Cohen said. “I don’t feel my short throw is as accurate. My deep balls are all going to be on the money.”
So, with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, is he going to lobby for more opportunities?
“I’m just sayin’, numbers don’t lie,” he said.
8. Tyre Brady Watch: After being named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list last week, the 6-3, 208-pound wide receiver from Marshall had five receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns (two and 46 yards) in a 35-3 rout of Old Dominion.
9. Ex-Bear of the Week: Though Josh McCown outdueled Tom Brady in defeat, Jay Cutler gets the honor after throwing two third-quarter touchdown passes that sparked the Dolphins’ rally from a 17-0 deficit in a 20-17 road upset of the Falcons. Cutler was 19-for-33 for 151 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 76.7 rating.
10. Bear-ometer: 6-10 — vs. Panthers (L); at Saints (L); vs. Packers (W); vs. Lions (W); at Eagles (L); vs. 49ers (W); at Bengals (L); at Lions (L); vs. Browns (W); at Vikings (L).
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.