By Greg Gabriel–
(CBS) Over the past couple of years, Bears fans have been frustrated time and time again because their team let games slip away that they could’ve and should’ve won. That was almost the case again Sunday, but these Bears persevered and earned a 27-24 road win against the Ravens. It was the first road win for Chicago since Dec. 27, 2015.
This was a game that the Bears controlled from the start, but they almost gave it away by giving up two special teams touchdowns to the Ravens in the second half. One was on a 96-yard kickoff return and the other a 77-yard punt return. The kickoff return can be forgiven, because I doubt there was a person in the stadium who didn’t think that Ravens returner Bobby Rainey was down. The punt return, on the other hand, was caused by poor coverage by the Bears’ coverage unit.
Regardless of the special team’s blunders, there was a lot to like about the Bears’ win. The line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was easily won by the Bears. On defense, the Bears gave up only 291 yards of total offense. Other than one 30-yard run by Alex Collins, the Bears stopped the Ravens’ run game all afternoon. The Bears defense kept the Ravens off schedule most of the afternoon, and when Baltimore was forced to pass, Chicago put consistent pressure on Joe Flacco, causing numerous off-target throws. The Bears sacked Flacco three times and forced three Ravens turnovers. One was a fumble recovery and the other two were interceptions, one of which was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by Adrian Amos. The interceptions were the first two for the Bears this season.
The Bears’ offensive line did a wonderful job against one of the best run defenses in football. The Bears rushed for 231 yards, including 167 by Jordan Howard. The Bears also held a 5:36 advantage in time of possession, which is often a key stat in any game.
The Ravens defense was excellent in containing the Bears’ passing game by confusing rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky with numerous fronts and blitzes. Baltimore’s game plan was to keep Trubisky in the pocket and not let him get out on the perimeter to make throws. Except for one key play, the Ravens were successful. The key play was in overtime, when Trubisky scrambled right and threw a pinpoint pass while off balance to Kendall Wright for 18 yards. The throw set up the Bears’ winning field goal by Connor Barth. Trubisky has such outstanding physical traits that I doubt there are three quarterbacks in all of football who could make that throw. He has a lot of special characteristics, and as he gains experience, this team will continue to improve.
A win is always good, but these Bears (2-4) still a long ways away from becoming a contender for a playoff spot in any year, let alone this year. Most of the improvement needs to come on offense and special teams, as the defense is playing excellent football.
As Trubisky gains experience, the passing game will improve. The question is, just how much? Right now, the Bears don’t have the wide receivers that are needed to compete at a high level. Some of that is due to injury, but it’s an underwhelming, unproductive group regardless. The only way these receivers will improve and compete at a higher level is through hard work and solid coaching. While the run game is solid, the pass game has to improve for the Bears to win more games.
It’s rare that any team gives up two return touchdowns in a single game. Special teams play has to be disciplined, and if one or two players break their assignment, the big play is there. That’s exactly what happened Sunday. Again, if the Bears are going to have any kind of success, they can’t have those kinds of mental breakdowns. As we saw, the breakdowns almost cost Chicago a win.
Because of their limitations, the Bears have to play just about perfectly to come out on top against strong foes. Up next is a home game against the Panthers (4-2), who lead the NFC South. Carolina has a dynamic defensive unit that will also look to confuse Trubisky. It won’t be easy, but if the Bears play a strong game in all three facets, they’ll beat in the game late with a chance to win.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who’s an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.