In Sunday’s perfunctory 24-10 victory over the Jets at Soldier Field, the Bears got back to playing the kind of aggressive defense that helped them start the season 3-1 but had been in short supply in back-to-back losses.
By winning for the first time in October, the Bears improved to 4-3, dropped the Jets to 3-5 and proved how dominant their defense can be. Of utmost importance to the Bears’ defenders in uniform, was showing they could shut down an opponent without OLB Khalil Mack, who sat out to allow his sprained right ankle to heal. The notion that Mack was the only reason for the team’s early success seems to rankle some of his teammates.
“Obviously Khalil Mack is a great addition when he is on the field, but we showed that we don’t necessarily need him to win a game,” said Aaron Lynch, who started in place of Mack. “We were ready from the beginning for him not to play, so there was no reaction besides the fact that, ‘OK, now it’s time to turn it up.’ ”
DL Akiem Hicks was arguably the Bears defensive MVP in each of his first two seasons in Chicago, including last year when they were No. 10 in yards and No. 9 in points allowed. He said the defense isn’t about any one player.
“I don’t want to go back and forth about what any particular guy does on this defense,” Hicks said. “I want to talk about our entire defense, as a whole and how dominant we have been and how dominant we will continue to be for the rest of the year. You always want to (rally) for your guys, especially when they’re down, so you do your best and play to the best of your capabilities. (But) don’t forget, we were a top-10 defense before.”
The defense was smothering in all phases of Sunday’s game, especially through three quarters, when the Jets managed just 98 yards of total offense. After the Bears went ahead 17-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Jets put together a 75-yard drive in garbage time. Yet the visitors still finished with just 207 total yards, the lowest yield of the season for the Bears, who allowed an average of 461 yards in the losses to the Dolphins and Patriots.
So, after backsliding for two weeks, the defense succeeded Sunday in Job One, eliminating the run. The Jets were not about to put the game in the hands of rookie QB Sam Darnold, who was missing his top two receivers – wideouts Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa. So they ran the ball 18 times in the first half but managed just 37 yards (2.1-yard average).
For the game the Bears allowed just 57 rushing yards, their second-best effort of the season, and it created a different mood in the locker room than after they allowed 269 rushing yards in the previous two games.
“The different vibe was because we were kicking peoples’ asses in the run,” Lynch said. “That team rushed on somebody for 300-plus yards, and we got beat up in the rushing game the last two weeks. (Sunday) we were kicking butt on the run. When you can beat the run, everything else is great.”
The Jets ran for 323 against the Broncos in Week Five, including 219 yards on 15 carries from Isaiah Crowell, who finished with just 25 yards on 13 carries vs. the Bears.
When the Jets did throw the ball, they clearly wanted to play it safe, keeping Darnold away from the Bears’ pass rush by having him throw mostly short to intermediate routes.
The Jets’ offense produced just one play of 20 yards or longer, a 29-yard Darnold–to-Deontay Burnett connection that set up their only touchdown with 7:52 remaining. That cut the Bears’ lead to 17-10, but they immediately responded with the game’s final TD 4:02 later to clinch the victory.
As satisfying as it was for the Bears to snap a two-game losing streak, a little perspective is in order.
The Bears beat a bad team that was playing on the road and was short-handed because of injuries, especially on offense.
Anderson and Enunwa had more than one-third of the team’s targets and 31.4 percent of the receptions through the first seven games. The Jets were also without one half of their 1-2 RB combo after Bilal Powell was placed on injured reserve with a potentially career-ending neck injury earlier in the week.
The Jets shot themselves in the foot with three false-start penalties in the first 11 minutes and picked up their fourth just 3:07 into the third quarter.
“Especially when the crowd wasn’t that loud, those were just concentration things,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “It was pretty much a different guy every time.”
The Jets also committed two neutral-zone infractions, the second of which turned a third-and-goal from the nine-yard line into a third-and-goal from the four, which resulted in a TD pass from Trubisky to rookie WR Anthony Miller.