It was a dreary affair.
My cat, Bear, hides under the bed when he’s not feeling particularly well. I know this is pretty common for cats, but I love Bear and I don’t like it when he’s under there. In the second quarter, when the football game was unwatchable, I spent a few minutes laying on the cold wood of my bedroom floor, petting him as he purred. This seemed to me, at the moment, a far better use of my time.
Then halftime happened.
And the Chicago Bears that emerged from the locker room bore little resemblance to the team that went in fifteen minutes earlier. The offense, which looked like it was trying to operate in a phone booth over the first two quarters, expanded from sideline-to-sideline and let their athletic quarterback maneuver his way through the game.
5 plays, 72 yards, touchdown.
10 plays, 84 yards, touchdown.
5 plays, 21 yards, touchdown.
The defense had been doing their job. The offense finally showed up for work. And in those three drives, each uniquely odd, Matt Eberflus established, without argument, the Bears have a capable professional in the head coaching gig. Pioneering sports talker Mike Francesa has always defined the role of NFL head coach as having two tasks: giving players a plan for success and motivating them to execute that plan.
Agree with the particulars or not, and I certainly had questions in the first half, the Bears had a definitive plan to handle the 49ers. And that plan involved something that’s been wanting in Chicago for years: self-awareness. They knew they couldn’t just lineup and block the talented Niners front. They also knew they lacked the weapons outside to win one-on-one battles. So, they ran a scheme designed to eat up clock and keep the game manageable. At the half, the game was manageable, and it allowed Eberflus’ hand-picked offensive coordinator to open things up and involve the outside guys.
Were the Bears helped by San Francisco penalties? 100%. But the Bears also played as clean a game as possible in that regard, committing only three penalties for 24 yards, as compared to the 12-99 on the other side. They won the penalty battle. They won the turnover battle. They won the blown-assignments-leading-to-big-plays battle. They won Sunday in all those categories that often reside in the “Coaching” column. They don’t have the established program of the San Francisco 49ers, or the assemblage of talent. Those come over time. But Sunday, in the second half, they were clearly the better football team. The reason was the head coach.
There will be highs and lows this season; that was always going to be the case with new schemes and a young team. But the Bears will now be able to build their 2022 season on the foundation of an inspiring Week One victory. They saw it on the practice field all summer long. Now they’ve seen it during a Biblical rainstorm on the lakefront, on a Sunday where the score counts. The athletes in the meeting room seats have confirmation the man in front of the room knows what he’s doing.
And so do we.