Defense delivers again to push Chicago Bears to victory
The Chicago Bears' defense should be familiar with compensating for the team's sometimes sputtering offense, but in Sunday's 16-14 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals it also had to overcome its own poor start.
The defense ultimately did just enough -- including 4 takeaways and 4 sacks -- to vault the Bears into first place in the NFC North at 2-1. The Cardinals plummeted to 0-3.
But it's fair to wonder how much more of the burden the defense can carry. Even head coach and offensive playcaller Matt Nagy acknowledged as much after his team scored the game's final 16 points.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize we're winning games because of our defense," Nagy said after 38 pass plays produced just 194 net yards (5.1 yards per play).
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky again mixed good plays with bad and finished with a 73.5 passer rating, completing 24 of 35 passes with 1 interception and no touchdowns, and he also lost a fumble that turned into the Cardinals' second TD.
"We got fortunate with our defense, because field goals just don't win you games," said Nagy, whose team settled for 3 of them, including one after the offense failed to reach the end zone despite having the ball first-and-goal at the Cards' 4-yard line. "As a staff and as players, we need to get better in the red zone right now. That's OK right now because we got (the win). Now we've just got to keep working through these."
Buried in a 14-0 hole before the first quarter had ended, the Bears' defense stiffened and held the Cardinals to zero net yards in the second quarter. But the Bears' offense managed just 3 points before halftime and then went three-and-out to open the second half.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack, still in his first month with the Bears, knew the dire straits the team was in.
"You've got to know in those situations that you can't let their offense score any more points," Mack said. "They had momentum early, and we had to take it away from them."
Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, fresh off winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his 2 sacks in Week 2, said he didn't lose faith in a defense that has already established itself as one of the NFL's best.
"I'm always confident," Trevathan said. "Just trying to tell the guys, 'This is our series, right here. Let's win the series.' And we've got some guys who listen and home in, and they love the game of football and they want to win."
Then the Bears' defense really got going. It forced turnovers on each of Arizona's first four second-half possessions, and the sputtering offense needed all of them.
Safety Eddie Jackson's first interception of the season early in the third quarter set up a 67-yard touchdown drive that kicked the comeback into gear and cut the gap to 14-10. Backup cornerback Sherrick McManis picked off Sam Bradford on the next possession, and Cody Parkey's 41-yard field goal made it a 1-point deficit.
Then, with the Cardinals responding and just outside the red zone, Mack sacked Bradford for the second time and forced a fumble that Trevathan recovered. Parkey's 43-yarder provided the winning points with 4:31 remaining.
"They had a lot of momentum then, and they were (driving) in our territory, and that kind of sucked the juice out of it," Trevathan said. "I tried to get on it as fast as I could, and that play just created a chain reaction. Everybody wanted to work; everybody wanted to make a play."
Nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan preserved the slim lead by picking off rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, who had replaced the benched Bradford, making it 4 straight takeaways. Finally, McManis sacked Rosen to end the game and complete the improbable comeback.
McManis would never have had the opportunity to make such a huge impact were it not for injuries. The nine-year veteran is a special-teams wizard, but he was playing defense only because starting cornerback Prince Amukamara had been sidelined with a hamstring injury earlier, and backup Marcus Cooper was inactive with a similar ailment.
The Cardinals rolled up 96 yards on their first two possessions, each of which ended in the end zone. The first went 75 yards, and the blame could all be placed on the defense. The second required just 21 yards after Arizona recovered Trubisky's fumble. But the Bears allowed just 125 total yards over the final three quarters.
It may not have been the most picturesque victory, but Nagy was pleased by the way it turned out and by what he learned about his team.
"For being such a young team, they're very resilient," he said. "These are situations, pieces of adversity that we're responding through right now, and not every team in the NFL can say that. It's a credit to those guys for sticking together.
"You could go in that locker room right now, and you couldn't tell which side played well and which side didn't play that well."
You could if you watched the game, though.
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.