There was a moment in the first quarter of Sunday’s tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers when the Chicago Bears looked like the Chicago Bears again. After Kyle Fuller picked off Philip Rivers, most of the defense gathered for a delightful performance of the Cha Cha Slide, led by Prince Amukamara. They were having fun, taking comfort in that fact that they are still a dominating force that on Sunday would hold the Chargers to just 231 total yards.
Then the rest of the game happened, and the Bears lost 17-16 when Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired. But this loss, and this season which is officially in disaster mode, was not Pineiro’s fault. Nor was it the fault of a Bears defense which still ranks in the top-10 despite losing disruptive defensive end Akiem Hicks to an elbow injury.
Sunday wasn’t the type of signature Bears defensive performance we were treated to every week last season, when the unit consistently terrorized the quarterback and seized every turnover opportunity. But the defense did its part, stymying Melvin Gordon, who only had 31 rushing yards. Khalil Mack also had a nice sack.
This game was also a needed change of pace for a defense that had been gashed on the ground in recent weeks because the offense had no ability to keep them off the field with sustained drives. But on Sunday Matt Nagy finally utilized his powerhouse running back, David Montgomery, which kept the defense well rested. For a while, the flow looked like a sliver of last year’s formula. Then the Bears were firmly back in the present.
The defense watched as Mitch Trubisky ended the third quarter with an interception and began the fourth with a fumble that the Chargers converted into a touchdown. The defense watched again as Trubisky actually drove Chicago into field-goal range on the final drive leaving enough time to attempt another run, which could have improved the field, position or heck, even led to a score. But Nagy insisted on kicking it right away. Miss. Bears lose again.
At this point, the Bears owe Mack and Eddie Jackson and Danny Trevathan and the entire defense an apology. Chicago now sit at 3-4 in the cellar of the NFC North without much hope given their quarterback and perplexing playcalling this season. The defense hasn’t been perfect; you’ll hear players like Mack or Trevathan talk about tackles they didn’t perfectly execute or how they still “believe in this team.” But they know the reality. They see the undefeated San Francisco and New England with crushing defenses and must salivate.
In case you haven’t heard it before, the Bears selected Trubisky in the 2017 NFL draft ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. And yes, instead of watching Trubisky look like a deer in headlines, it’s a fun exercise to close your eyes and dream of Mahomes or Watson paired with this defense.
Then reality hits and Bears fans have to watch their team waste a season waiting for Trubisky to make some incremental progress. Meanwhile, the organization is wasting this special collection of defensive talent. Mack is 28 and in his prime. Some guys are older, some are younger. Even with Trubisky’s contract, which some Bears fans are trying to buy out, Chicago’s front office has made the numbers work. That likely won’t be the case starting this offseason.
Unless Trubisky makes a massive transformation or the Bears pull off some blockbuster trade before the Tuesday deadline, this team is wasting more than this season. It’s painful to watch. Imagine how Khalil Mack must feel.
Stat of the week
A lot of 49ers performed in an electric 51-13 win over the Panthers but no one dominated quite like the rookie Nick Bosa, who has been a beast this season. After the game, Richard Sherman continued lobbying for the young pass rusher to get Rookie of the Year consideration. Defensive Player of the Year should be in the conversation as well.
MVP of the week
Cooper Kupp’s magical season continued Sunday with seven catches for a whopping 220 receiving yards and a touchdown in a 24-10 Rams win over the Bengals. It was Kupp’s fifth game of the season in which he topped 100 yards and the most receiving yards by any Ram in one game since Isaac Bruce in 1997.
Kupp feasted all day but it was his 65-yard score on a brilliantly called and executed double-reverse fleaflicker in the second quarter that altered the momentum of what was then a tied game.
Quote of the week
“Keeping a completely healthy player from being on the field isn’t protecting anyone.” – Cardinals linebacker Cassius Marsh
Arizona linebacker Cassius Marsh went down at the end of a Michael Thomas run in the first quarter and was soon ruled out of the game with a concussion. Marsh’s public disagreement was stunning because it came from the locker room mid-game in the form of a now-deleted tweet. (Marsh will be receiving a letter from the NFL since players are not allowed to post on social media during a game.) But Marsh’s words also illustrate a sad reality in the NFL that, despite the emphasis on safety, players know their worth is tied to being on the field.
Video of the week
There are no superlatives left to describe Adam Vinatieri’s career, and the collection of moments he’s accrued since joining the NFL in 1997 would fill a palace. The 46-year old (he turns 47 in a month) added to the list with a clutch 51-yard field goal to seal a gripping 15-13 victory for the Indianapolis Colts over the Denver Broncos. Vinatieri’s smooth kick keeps the Colts atop a tight AFC South. More importantly, it was a lovely reminder that life in sports, or in general, doesn’t have to disintegrate at 40.
Elsewhere around the league
— Drew Brees made his return from injury and despite a shaky overthrow to start, he settled in nicely and led the Saints to a convincing 31-9 win over Arizona. Brees finished with very Brees-like numbers: 373 yards, three TDs and an interception. Have to wonder what Teddy Bridgewater could net the Saints from some team desperate for an upgrade at quarterback (ahem, Bears).
— The Patriots now stand at 8-0 after beating the reeling Browns 27-13. Through their first eight games the Pats have a +189 point deferential which is tied for third-best in NFL history. In other words, they are ridiculously dominant.
— A usually mellow Joe Flacco was furious about his team’s decision to punt on fourth and five at the Colts 48 with a 1:40 left and a one-point lead “Well, c’mon, I just look at it like we’re now a 2-6 football team, and we’re like afraid to go for it in a two-minute drill, you know?, Flacco told ESPN. “Who cares if you give the ball back with a minute, 40 seconds left? They’ve obviously got the field goal anyway.’’ He’s not wrong.
— Given that the Broncos have lost three games in the last 30 seconds, first-year coach Vic Fangio may be on the hot seat. But it’s hard to imagine any seat hotter than Dan Quinn’s in Atlanta. The Falcons are now 1-7 with road games in New Orleans and Carolina in the next two weeks.
— Deshaun Watson put on another show Sunday in a 27-24 win over Oakland. Watson was almost flawless, putting up 279 yards and three TDs, and displayed his incredible body awareness and heart on a mindboggling touchdown pass to tight end Darren Fells. In not-as-sunny Texans news, JJ Watt tweeted that his season is over after suffering a torn pectoral against the Raiders.
— Talking of Watson’s brilliant touchdown throw, Aaron Rodgers came up with a half-decent effort for the Packers agains the Chiefs during Sunday Night Football:
— The Jets quietly released Kelechi Osemele on Saturday after a bizarre dispute over whether or not Osemele needed shoulder surgery for a torn labrum. The Jets injected him with Toradol before his last two games but Osemele declared he could no longer play in so much pain and after a third outside opinion, decided to get the shoulder surgery (which the Jets would not authorize). This saga will continue as Osemele is filing grievances in an attempt to recoup his salary and fines for missing practices. But at the surface it’s safe to say that the Jets are in their own category of utter ineptness, particularly when it comes to medical matters.
— The Dolphins did not lose on Sunday! (They play Monday night.)