CHICAGO – A rain dance wasn’t exactly what they were doing, because they decided to celebrate off their feet when the clock struck zero on Sunday.
Players joyously hydroplaned across the soaked surface at Soldier Field with smiles streaming down their faces after a victory not expected by many outside of the Bears themselves.
But for the first time at Soldier Field in nine years, the scoreboard had them with more points than their opponents in a Week 1 game. A 19-10 victory over the 49ers, considered by some to be contenders for a Super Bowl championship after making the NFC title game last year, is a shining moment in what’s been a decade mostly full of opening week frustrations.
How much can be gleaned from this triumph is in the eye of the beholder, which were a little soaked once the contest on Sunday was over for those who were in attendance. The Bears showed resolve in the rain with a ten-point comeback in the second half, putting the game away before the showers turned into an all-out monsoon in the final minutes.
Ready to declare the Bears a contender and the 49ers and also-ran?
It’s way too early for any of that, of course, with 16 games still remaining. At the worst, it’s a little needed optimism for a franchise that’s not had a lot of it over the course of the last decade or generation.
But a very positive thing from the effort that can and should be absorbed by onlookers is the one thing that Matt Eberflus has preached to his players since he took over: Discipline.
That became a problem in the Matt Nagy era, particularly when it came to penalties, and it ultimately was a factor in leading to the coach’s downfall after a successful first season. In taking his first head coaching job of his career, Eberflus made that a priority for his new team and represents the “S” in his often mentioned “HITS” principle that guides his construction of the team’s culture.
That stands for “Smart” and the Bears were that for a majority of Sunday’s game.
They had just one turnover despite the slippery conditions – an early interception by Justin Fields – and committed only three penalties the entire game for 24 yards. It would have been less if not for the ill-advised move by Trenton Gill to try to dry a spot for a field goal late in the first half with a towel, leading to a penalty.
But that was only an unusual footnote thanks to the Bears playing as they preach and taking advantage of San Francisco’s mistakes. The 49ers kept a pair of second half drives alive for the Bears with penalties on third down that prevented them from getting off the field.
Justin Fields threw a pair of touchdown passes when those happened, and when Eddie Jackson picked off a Trey Lance pass, the offense went down and scored again.
Few penalties and taking advantage of the mistakes by the other team is a logical formula for success in the NFL, and the Bears’ new regime showed that ability to implement that early.
“Like we said from the onset, we were going to play smart, aggressive football. So you can still hit and do the things and play aggressive and finish plays and do it the right way, but you do it the smart, aggressive way,” said Eberflus when asked about his team’s discipline after the game. “If you go over the line, you see that where it’s just like hitting after the whistle, hitting quarterbacks out of bounds, all those types of things that beat you, you beat yourself that way, and we just don’t want to do that.
“We show guys the ramifications of that, how it hurts you as a football team field position-wise keeps drives alive, and we had that today. We had a couple sustained drives through penalties that we got that were against us, which I thought was really good.”
That’s also the first sign that there could be hope that this new regime could be great on much sunnier days in the future.