THE MORNING AFTER: Giving thanks for Ryan Pace
DETROIT – It’s becoming a tradition for fans of the team or the media that cover them, and it’s the simplest to get knowledge.
Each week, the Bears are making those who take interest in them look into the record books. Success has been a long time coming for the franchise, so new achievements are popping up by the week.
Thursday was another one of those occasions as they Bears beat Lions on a Thanksgiving afternoon in Detroit. Want to know the last time that happened? Well, a decent amount of the players weren’t even born yet.
That’s November 25, 1993, when the Bears beat the Lions 10-6 in a defensive battle at the old Pontiac Silverdome, broken open when Terry Obee caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Jim Harbaugh. It was part of one of the Bears’ weirdest seasons where they had winning streaks of three and four games along with losing streaks of two, three, and four games.
Some fans might discover that thanks to this star-crossed Bears’ squad, who are achieving something exciting as the weeks go by.
One might think that Ryan Pace was not one of those going through the history books as he watched the team’s 23-16 win transpire at Ford Field. He doesn’t really need one to look back fondly at what’s going on with his team at the moment.
Why? Because the players he gambled his career on are paying dividends.
Of course, there is Khalil Mack (2 first round picks) and Mitchell Trubisky (a few picks in trade and the second-overall selection) that have stood out all season long. Those are career-defining moves that could be part of a celebrated career or live in infamy should he not get back what he gave up.
There is the hiring of Matt Nagy, which continues to pay off as his offensive system and approach have worked wonders in an 8-3 start this season.
But there are other hidden moves that showed themselves in a yeoman’s effort over 60 minutes in Detroit, which came 84 hours after a momentous win over the Vikings. Small acquisitions that made a major difference toward assuring the team their first .500 season since 2013.
Most obvious was Chase Daniel, the backup acquisition made this offseason. To be fair, a healthy amount of input on this decision came from Nagy, who worked with the quarterback during his time as an assistant in Kansas City.
Yet Pace brought him to Chicago, and on Thursday that decision paid off. Daniel limited the mistakes, made a healthy amount of plays, and threw the ball 37 times despite not starting a game since before the general manager was even signed with the Bears.
Going 27-of-37 for 230 yards and two scores without a turnover? That will do.
“At this point in the career it’s really, truly not about the money, it’s about opportunities,” said Daniel of his first start since December 28, 2014. “And I felt really good about an opportunity here with Coach Nagy to back up Mitch (Trubisky), to help groom him along.
“And listen, like I said before, the job of a backup quarterback is to get the quarterback ready and to be prepared when your opportunity comes and I felt like I do that pretty well.”
No one has done that better than Pace’s fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft – and quickly he’s rising up the ranks of the best at his position in the National Football League.
Eddie Jackson picked up the game-winning points in a familiar way in the fourth quarter. For the second time in as many weeks, the safety picked off a Matthew Stafford pass and went 41 yards for the score. It’s the fifth touchdown of his still young NFL career, and the third to come via an interception.
It was a part of a three-tackle, two pass-break-up day for the safety, who was called the best in the league by Mack just a week ago. One could make an argument that Jackson is the best draft find for Pace in his tenure in Chicago.
“That this team is still building. You know, we’re really not paying attention to the outside,” said Jackson. “That coach told us we’re not the hunted no more, we became the hunter, so a lot of people want us and we just got to keep it going. Put blinder shields on it and keep working.”
Others Pace brought in are doing the same. Think of Tarik Cohen – the other fourth-rounder from 2017 – who scored a touchdown on a pass from Daniel then got help on a game-clinching third-down run by James Daniels (2nd round, 2018). The offensive lineman literally carried the running back the last two yards to victory.
The other player to catch seven passes with Cohen to lead the team was Taylor Gabriel, a free agent pickup from this season. He’s enjoying a career renaissance, already catching a career-high 51 passes this season.
You can point out others on the roster that were Pace finds that now have the Bears on pace for their first playoff berth since 2010. Nothing is guaranteed at this point, but the team has generated excitement from a fan base starving for success the better part of this decade.