THE MORNING AFTER: A glimpse of the past & future in a win

Bears Report

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 19: Inside linebacker Roquan Smith #58 of the Chicago Bears reacts after his sack during the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Soldier Field on September 19, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

CHICAGO – If it felt like you went back in time in the second half of Sunday’s game at Soldier Field, you wouldn’t be alone. If you felt like you got a glimpse of the future, that would be true as well.

Both were on display during the Bears’ home opener against the Bengals, the first contest in front of fans on the lakefront in nearly two years. A 20-17 win could have been a bit more decisive had it not been for a few late errors, but over the course of 60 minutes, fans got to see something old and something new that could lead to positive things down the road.

Like it has many times in the past from the franchise, it began with the defense, who turned back the clock a couple of years in the second half.

Three-straight Bengals possessions resulted in three-straight Bears interceptions. Smell like 2018? You bet, because that’s how the Bears managed to be the top defense in the league that season.

It’s something that’s been missing from the unit since Vic Fangio left to take the Broncos job after that season, with Chuck Pagano’s defenses unable to replicate those turnovers. Sean Desai’s unit couldn’t pull that off in their first game but did so in a flurry on Sunday afternoon against Cincinnati.

A fumble forced by Eddie Jackson in a strong comeback game after a rough opening against the Rams started it off. Roquan Smith’s first career “Pick 6” was followed by Jaylon Johnson’s first interception, then Angelo Blackson got one on the next drive thanks to a deflection by Alec Ogletree.

Not bad for a unit that was heavily criticized after an error-prone effort in a Week 1 loss to the Rams.

“That’s it, you just have to keep coming, and we knew they were going to keep coming,” said Johnson of the defense. “Every team in the NFL has the ability to come back and has the ability to make plays.  It was just getting after each and every play, each and every down.  

“We have to finish a lot better, and that was our mantra just keep attacking.  We have a lot of making up to do, and we were attacking every play we could.” 

As the defense was doing their thing, Justin Fields got to do his for a much longer period of time due to an injury to Andy Dalton. Initially expected to take a handful of snaps, the quarterback ended up playing more than a half in his first major action of his still-young career.

There were growing pains, including losing the ball on a sack, though he did get it back, two false start penalties and his first career interception in the fourth quarter that helped Cincinnati get back in the game.

But as he did in Week 1, Fields also had his moments and nearly had his first career touchdown throw in the fourth quarter but Allen Robinson couldn’t come up with a great thrown ball. The future was on display for the first time in a regular season game at Soldier Field, and if Dalton’s not ready, it could be again for the coming weeks.

“I mean, yeah, it was crazy. I mean, you’re constantly told, be ready, you never know what may happen and it happened,” said Fields of the extra duty after Dalton’s injury. “Of course handy came out and then I just got thrown in. So I think I was pretty prepared but they were definitely mistakes made out there and I’m just going to go watch the film and learn from those mistakes.”

This way he can improve in the future, which was there along with the past to help the Bears get their first win of 2021.

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