Bear Down, Nerd Up: What exactly is Jimmy Graham doing here?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bears tight end Jimmy Graham, here scoring last year against Tampa Bay, played sparingly in the season opener Sunday in Los Angeles.

    Bears tight end Jimmy Graham, here scoring last year against Tampa Bay, played sparingly in the season opener Sunday in Los Angeles. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com
Updated 9/14/2021 6:25 PM

The Bears opened their season at Los Angeles for the first time since 1950 on Sunday. Considering how things went, they're probably OK with letting another 70 years pass before their next opener there.

The offense was not good. The defense was much worse. Two days later, the Bears are probably still seeing Matthew Stafford chucking deep balls in their sleep.

 

Let's take a look at Game 1 in Bear Down, Nerd Up.

Snap decisions

Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham played 14 of the Bears' 69 offensive snaps (20%) Sunday.

Second-year tight end Cole Kmet, as expected, saw the most action among Bears tight ends with 51 snaps (74%), while Jesse James saw nine snaps (13%).

Bears fans might be scratching their head a little bit looking at Graham's salary compared to his snap count.

Before they restructured his contract just weeks ago, the Bears could've saved about $7 million by cutting Graham over the offseason. That money could've been used to invest in, say, a veteran offensive tackle or a veteran cornerback -- two areas where the team is clearly lacking.

Instead, they restructured his contract to lower his cap number to $5.3 million, according to OverTheCap.com, but tacked on several void years. There's no doubt Graham has had a decorated career in the NFL, and there's no arguing that he was a touchdown machine in 2020. But is it going to be worth the return on investment in 2021?

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Graham was brought here to be the bridge until Kmet was ready for a full workload. Kmet is handling nearly a full workload now. Yes, Graham is always going to be a valuable asset in a locker room. But one could make the argument that money might've been better spent elsewhere.

The 34-year-old did have a historic moment Sunday, catching the 700th reception of his career in the third quarter. He became the sixth tight end to do so. The others are Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Shannon Sharpe and Greg Olsen.

Graham joined Hall of Fame tight ends Gonzalez and Gates as the only three tight ends to have more than 700 career receptions, 8,000 receiving yards and at least 80 touchdown receptions.

Stafford at it again

Stafford has had a number of really good games against the Bears, a team he has now faced 21 times. But Sunday night might've been the best.

His 156.1 passer rating was a career best. His previous high against the Bears was 120.2 in a game Nov. 19, 2017, at Soldier Field. His 76.9% completion percentage was also his best ever against the Bears. His 12.3 yards per attempt were also a career high.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Running wild

Running back David Montgomery seemed to pick up where he left off at the end of last season. He ran for 108 yards on 16 carries Sunday.

He became the first Bears running back to rush for 100 yards or more in the season opener since Matt Forte did so against the Packers in 2015. Forte had 141 yards on 24 carries in a 31-23 loss.

Montgomery scored a rushing touchdown in the final minute of the first half. He extended a streak of seven consecutive regular season games with a touchdown dating to Week 12 last season.

Montgomery, who left the game for a brief period with a finger injury, doesn't sound concerned about his number of touches in the game.

"I just want to be available for my teammates," Montgomery said. "However we need to get a win or win in general, I'm down to do. If it's me not getting the ball and just blocking, let's do it."

Speaking of rushing TDs

Justin Fields' touchdown late in the third quarter was a special moment for the rookie.

It was also a milestone for the Bears. It marked the first rushing touchdown for a Bears rookie quarterback since at least 1960.

Fields executed a perfect read option, beating linebacker Leonard Floyd around the edge to find the goal line.

"That's a regular read-option," Fields said. "So it's basically reading the end. He froze up a little bit and I thought I could beat him around the edge, so I just tried to get the ball in the end zone."

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