THE MORNING AFTER: The Bears’ defense remains who we think they are
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The danced around a celebrated, joyous over their reversal of fortunes, with echoes of Dennis Green dancing through their heads.
If you’re a die-hard Bears fan, you know what I’m talking about. There is no refresher course needed.
“They are who we thought they were, and we let them off of the hook.”
The legendary news conference featured the last coach of the Arizona Cardinals, who finally lost his cool after this team lost their big halftime lead to the undefeated Bears on October 16, 2006. A 20-point lead disappeared in a barrage of turnovers, defensive touchdowns, and one incredible return by Devin Hester.
It was a 24-23 Bears’ victory that proved to be a watershed moment in the team’s last NFC Championship season. On that day, that team ended up being who fans thought they were, a squad with an incredible defense that had its offensive flaws, and would go as far as the former unit would take them.
Now we move forward 12 years, and in many ways it’s the same. During a remarkable comeback, the Bears’ are who we thought they were, and once again the defense got the Bears off the hook against the Cardinals.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we’re winning games because of our defense,” said head coach Matt Nagy after his second win as head coach, one that puts his team in first place in the NFC North.
He’s right, because this is a defense team, right here and right now.
After a bad start that included a fluky collision between Danny Trevathan and Ricky Sears-Jones that left the Cardinals’ receiver wide open for a touchdown, and two Mitchell Trubisky turnovers, the defense single-handedly took the game over.
Khalil Mack, like usual, started it off by knocking the Cardinals out of field goal range with a seven-yard loss on a sack following that interception. Then came a Eddie Jackson interception, then one by Sherrick McManis, who made a nice catch on Sam Bradford’s low throw.
Mack then ended another drive deep into Cardinals’ territory with a strip sack of Bradford, and like the other two turnovers, the offense turned into points. Bryce Callahan finished the effort with his third career interception off Josh Rosen, who replaced the injured Bradford, but it could have been even bigger, since Jackson’s interception touchdown was called back due to offsides.
In any event, the four turnovers in the final 30 minutes that helped the Bears to a 16-14 win. That’s also the amount of turnovers they had in the second half of that 2006 contest.
“It was four?” said Mack when told of the Bears’ amount of turnovers in the second half. “Wow. You’re in the moment, doing everything you can to make sure you’re in a position to win. That’s what you saw.”
Get used to it, because this is probably how it will be for a while. For the moment, that’s OK.
While Arizona’s offense is far from elite – they scored just six points in their first two games – this Bears defense has the moxie to be one of the best – if not the best – in the NFL. Mack’s presence has solidified the pass rush that was inconsistent through the years, and Vic Fangio’s unit this year finally has the knack for the turnover that was missing in his first three seasons. Of course, this all comes as one of the best pass rushers last season, Leonard Floyd, continues to play while recovering from a broken hand.
At the moment, they are first in the NFL in forced fumbles with seven and tied for third in the league in interceptions.
Meanwhile the offense is going through noticeable growing pains in the new system under Nagy and the continued development of Trubisky. Moments are there, but the bad as a many as the good, and finishing drives is a problem. But as they did in Monday’s win over the Seahawks, the defense is ready and able to take charge, continuing to build this Bears team’s reputation as a defense-first squad.
“We feel that. That’s what we want,” said Trevathan of the defense’s ability to change the course of a game quickly. “We know the offense is going to give us a spark at any time. They have some electrifying players out there, and (head coach Matt) Nagy’s dialing up the plays. We just know on defense what our responsibility is and why they gathered us here, and why they pay us is to play and hold it down, and bring a championship back to Chicago.”
Doing the way that we think they will for a while in 2018.