By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – If the Bears have hopes of entering the NFC North race, they now must do something never accomplished in coach John Fox’s tenure that began in 2015.
Through 38 games under Fox, the Bears have just two winning streaks, and each was of a meager two games. Both came in 2015 and failed to lead toward something better in a season that would end at 6-10. After a 27-24 overtime win against the Ravens on Sunday, the Bears are 2-4 and with a winning streak could climb back into an NFC North race that saw its dynamic change when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone Sunday. The Packers and Vikings lead the division at 4-2, with the Lions checking in at 3-3.
Upon returning to Halas Hall on Monday, the message was clear for the Bears.
“We control our own fate,” rookie running back Tarik Cohen said. “Through every game we play, we feel like it was up to us, a couple of plays went the other way and that’s the reason why we lost. A couple of things we didn’t do, and that’s the reason why we lost. And when we did some of those things right, the outcome is different. We feel like the game is always in our hands.”
Fox has remained steady with the same words of encouragement for his team ever since breaking training camp in Bourbonnais, telling his Bears that they’re better now. After a miserable 3-13 campaign a year ago, that kind of hope can go a long way.
On Sunday, the Bears pulled through with the help of three takeaways while earning their first road victory since 2015. It was the kind of game that has gone the other way for them far too often these last few years.
Now, the Bears must figure out how to build from here. The positive reinforcement is only the base of this goal. The Bears believe they’re a good team, but now they must show it.
Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky drew praise Monday for how he managed the game in Sunday’s win. He went only 8-of-16 for 113 yards and a touchdown, but what pleased Fox were the six throwaways. Trubisky has shown the kind of situational awareness in his first two starts that rookies often don’t display.
With Trubisky, the Bears have much greater function offensively. Jordan Howard looks like a Pro Bowl running back once again because defenses must respect Trubisky’s ability to get outside the pocket and create for his teammates. Safeties can’t cheat into the box like they did on Mike Glennon, because Trubisky can beat them over the top.
Trubisky simply gives the Bears a better chance at victory, as illustrated in overtime Sunday. With his offense just outside of field goal range on third-and-11, Trubisky stepped up in a crumbling pocket, found a patch of grass and fired a pass to Kendall Wright, who made the catch in traffic. It set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal.
At the least, the Bears have a formula for success on offense, even without playmakers at receiver. Trubisky can put them in position to win, but the Bears will only be competitive if they protect the football. Their three takeaways against the Ravens proved to be enough to overcome their own self-inflicted mistakes Sunday.
In 2015, the Bears were 28th in takeaways with only 17. Last season, they were dead last with just 11.
This Bears team had just forced three turnovers in five games before Sunday, when Bryce Callahan went diving for a Eddie Jackson pass breakup and earned the first interception of the season. In the fourth quarter, Kyle Fuller’s pass breakup landed in the arms of Adrian Amos, who ran it back 90 yards for a touchdown.
In 2016, the Bears probably weren’t as poor as their 3-13 record would indicate, but they failed to pull through in close games, and the season spiraled out of control on them. They’re hoping to flip the script in close games this year and finish games like they did Sunday.
Four of the Bears’ six games this season have come down to the wire, and they pulled through in two.
“Winning and losing can be contagious,” Amos said.
Victories haven’t spread through Halas Hall in a while, but the opportunity is there for the Bears.