- Cairo Santos, K
- Darnell Mooney, WR
- Roquan Smith, LB
There are only two possible outcomes for this game.
Outcome #1. The Bears win and nobody cares. (Maybe some young players flash and that will be exciting, but honestly, who cares?)
Outcome #2. The Bears lose and it becomes impossible for Matt Nagy to coach the team for the remainder of 2021. (Honestly, I’m not sure Nagy or Pace will still be employed Friday if this is the result Thursday. When I floated the scenario to someone in the building they responded with the simple, “Buckle up.”)
Chicago Bears 20, Detroit Lions 16
I always like the Chicago Bears.
But let’s be honest: it’s quite difficult to like the Bears in this spot. The Bucs are inevitably going to score a bunch of points and the way to beat them is to score more. Does anybody believe a Matt Nagy offense can win a shootout, even with a rookie quarterback who looks like he’d thrive in that situation?
The Bucs are scoring 32.5 points per game. A great Bears defensive effort should be able to keep them in the 24-8 range. So the Bears will need 30. Do they have it? Doubtful.
I’ve always thought the great documentaries fall into two categories. The content docs captivate you with information. Alex Gibney is the master of this form (Enron, Client 9, Going Clear, etc.), but the binge-worthy, true crime doc drug – of which I must admit an addiction – has elevated the medium from high art, coffee shop conversation to pop culture phenomena. (Tiger King felt like the most talked about documentary in the history of the country.)
The form docs are a trickier enterprise. Whether it’s Errol Morris’ interrotron locking into the eyes of Robert McNamara or DA Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall witnessing Elaine Stritch’s cast recording breakdown or Barbara Kopple’s penetrating look at the coal miners of Harlan County, the form docs seem to change the way we look at the world by changing the way that world is framed for us, the viewer. (Great recent examples are 2019’s American Factory and Minding the Gap.)
The great music docs almost exclusively fall into this latter group. Sure, The Sparks Brothers was an intriguing look at an intriguing band, and History of The Eagles was endlessly entertaining, but ultimately those films are limited by how much the viewer actually cares about the work the band produced. (In both the aforementioned cases, my level is somewhere near zero.) The great music docs – The Last Waltz, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Stop Making Sense – captivate you with the originality of their storytelling.
What is so stunning about Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground is how intimate the experience feels. (It definitely helps that I saw it in a theater and not on my couch, with the ability to pause and take piss breaks.) The filmmaker’s decision to rest the faces of his subjects on screen for extended periods of time had a near-hypnotic effect. You find yourself studying Lou Reed and John Cale as younger men. You find yourself searching their faces for clues to a puzzle that’s never been solved. And all the while they are mapping out their journeys to the band. It’s thrilling.
I’ll write more about this film in the year-end piece. But I want to use this space to encourage you to see the film. (It is on Apple+ if you can’t find it in a theater near you.) Whether you like the band or not – and I do not – it’s one of the more remarkable documentaries every produced.
It wasn’t a particularly unique affair. The Bears have lost this game to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers plenty of times. If you need additional details beyond which is provided below, search the archives and find all the recaps of those games.
Those are the only five players with more sacks on this early season than Robert Quinn, the early frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL. (Being that he “played” most of 2020, he’s probably not even eligible for the award but symbolically the point is made.) A second look at the players above Quinn reveals an even more significant truth.
Garrett has 6 sacks, but recorded 4.5 in a single game, against the Chicago Bears. Jones has 5 sacks, all coming in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Hunter had 3 of his 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Only Hargrave, Watt, and Robert Quinn have delivered as pass rushers in each of the first four games of the 2021 season. They have been the most consistent performers off the edge, with Quinn’s teammate Khalil Mack a half-sack behind and right there in the same conversation. But Quinn’s appearance on this list is something of a revelation, and a shocking revelation at that. Let’s follow the timeline.
Now, through four games of the 2021 season, Quinn has 4.5 sacks and could easily have 2-3 more. He’s well on his way to the double-digit sack campaign the Bears paid him to reach. But from a gameday perspective, Quinn’s reemergence is going to allow the Bears to stay competitive in at least 75% of the games they play this season. With a secondary comprised of Jaylon Johnson, a mediocre Eddie Jackson and a bunch of street guys, the only hope for this defense is a multidimensional pass rush and Quinn is finally providing that needed second dimension opposite Mack.
This will also allow the Bears to start Justin Fields without him needing to throw 50 passes a game to stay competitive; a completely untenable situation with the offensive line as currently composed.
I always like the Chicago Bears.
And the Justin Fields era is here!
There will be two distinct camps emerging on social media over the coming days. Camp one will be the ecstatic, “Fields is gonna light up the league” types. Camp two will be the reserved, “all rookie quarterbacks struggle” types. While I firmly reside in the latter camp, I understand the emotions of the former. Most living Bears fans have only seen quarterback play ranging from mediocre to unprofessional. Pleading for patience may be prudent, but it’s also easy to understand any fan who says, “Screw patience, I want a star quarterback!”
But Sunday is not about Fields’ long-term future in Chicago. This Sunday is about next Sunday and the Sunday after that. Matt Nagy and the Bears need Fields to deliver the kind of performance that closes the book on the Andy Dalton era. That doesn’t mean some splashy statistical affair. It just means a performance wherein the kid displays that he’s got things under control.
It’s not an easy task. This is a good Cleveland defense in a hostile building. Fields will see coverages and pressures the Browns have never put on tape, and likely that he’s never seen before. But he’ll need to handle all of it and leave no doubt as to who is the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.
The 2021 season probably won’t be one the Bears highlight, but it could be important for determining the future of the franchise. They have an odd mix of veterans and young players, all needing to prove themselves. They have key positions that didn’t have battles, but also don’t have sure things locked in.
We know Justin Fields is ultimately going to be the straw that stirs the drink, hopefully for the next two decades. But the Bears need to determine two things: (a) who will be surrounding Fields and (b) how will they make life easier for the quarterback.
With that, here are the ten most important Bears of 2021, other than Fields, of course.
10. Akiem Hicks
Hicks flashed greatness last year, then seemed to run out of gas.
His job was different last year without Eddie Goldman; teams were able to focus more on him in the running game. But then you’d see the spurt; he’d throw a guard three yards back and take out a running back in the backfield.
Hicks is in a contract year and the Bears have to know what he has left before deciding what to do.
9. Sam Mustipher
Mustipher was a legitimately good center last year and could be a building block going forward. The team didn’t consider replacing him. He needs to reward that confidence.
8. Darnell Mooney
If teams are going to take Allen Robinson away, Mooney needs to make them pay. The wide receiver needs to take a significant step in his sophomore season.
No reason to bury the lede.
If Justin Fields were the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears from Week One, I would predict this team to win 9-10 games and make the playoffs. But he’s not the starting quarterback. And that prediction is impossible to make.
This team’s offensive line will not be as bad as many predict, but the unit is still one of the most flawed on the roster. They’ll struggle to run the ball against bigger, more physical interiors. They’ll struggle on the edge against speedier rushers. With Dalton, that means no run game. With Dalton, that means sacks.
With Fields, it doesn’t. The optimum word for a player like Fields is extend. He’ll extend drives with that casual six-yard scramble on third-and-four. That’s three more plays; three more opportunities for big plays; ten more minutes of rest for the defense. Fields will also extend plays with his mobility. That’ll keep edge rushers more worried about contain than crash.
Fields at quarterback would see the offense jump 8-10 spots in every statistical category of note. He would still make plenty of mistakes. He would still turn it over a bunch. But a serious production increase would come with those errors.
And the Bears are starting Andy Dalton.