CHICAGO – I originally wrote this lead to read it was impossible to tell which side of the ball for the Chicago Bears was more impressive Sunday night at Green Bay, the offense or defense.
But that was at halftime of the Bears 24-23 loss to the Packers and by the end of the game it certainly wasn’t true.
The offense was versatile, explosive, exciting and productive as Matt Nagy took his bag of tricks he’d been hiding throughout the preseason and dumped it out all over Lambeau Field.
But once most of Nagy’s best moves were visible in plain sight, Green Bay’s new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine began to make adjustments and quarterback Mitch Trubisky was forced to focus more on avoiding big mistakes than setting off huge explosions.
After running 19 plays for 146 yards in the first quarter, the Bears managed just six yards on 10 plays in the second quarter.
They did come out of the locker room at halftime and open the third period with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that netted three points, but their only other third period possession was a three-and-out for eight yards and they opened the fourth period with a three-and-out for just nine yards.
Once the surprise was over it was clear that Nagy is definitely on to something and general manager Ryan Pace has significantly upgraded the toolbox he has to build it with, but there is a lot of work left to do.
And for all the wise guys who couldn’t get to the end of the first quarter without chirping about how brilliant Nagy was for passing on the exhibition season I’m not sure why we have to have that conversation again, but if you do you probably ought to wait a few more weeks until we really know the answer.
The defense was clearly the better unit for the Bears, dominating the entire first half and sending Aaron Rodgers to the locker room on a cart with 9:05 to play in the first half.
Akiem Hicks appeared to be taking on the Packers all by himself early as Packers guard Justin McCray was helpless in his efforts to stop him while the Packer were using any help they might have otherwise given McCray to try and stop the newest member of that Bears defense, Khalil Mack.
But Mack was not to be denied, getting a strip snack and recovery off backup DeShone Kizer.
After the Bears offered one of those three and outs following the fumble, Mack left nothing to doubt intercepting Kizer thanks to a huge rush from Roy Robertson-Harris and taking it to the end zone for a 17-0 lead.
With Mack well on his way to his second NFL Defensive MVP Award before he’d completed his first half as a Bear, Hicks, Robertson-Harris, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan and rookie Roquan Smith all chipped in plays to show how special this Bears defense is eventually going to be.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the after party.
The Packers came out of the locker room with Aaron Rodgers back under center, went to their no-huddle offense and quickly began to wear the Bears pass rush out.
Was it Mack’s lack of a preseason that stole a quarter step from him late in the game? Was it the lack of the entire team’s preparation in the exhibition slate that allowed the Packers to dominate the second half, storming back from a 20-0 deficit to lead 24-23 with three minutes to play?
Again, a different conversation for a different time.
The bottom line is after one of the best halves of football the Bears have played in decades, the Packers were able to reduce the offense to nothing but Jordan Howard in the second half and the defense simply wore out.
This one is going to sting terribly for the next eight days until they take the field again next Monday night vs. Seattle.
What we learned at Green Bay is this is a much improved football team that isn’t ready for prime time yet, but just may be a little sooner than we expected.