After the first half of Sunday night’s season opener, Chicago Bears fans had every reason to be riding high.
The Bears had a 17-0 lead on the road against the rival Green Bay Packers, showcasing their shiny new offense and dominant defense early. After knocking Aaron Rodgers out of the game in the second quarter, the chances of getting a statement win in Week 1 seemed almost inevitable.
Unfortunately, the air was sucked out of the balloon quickly and the feel-good vibes quickly evaporated.
Rodgers returned after halftime, helping the Packers outscore the Bears 24-6 in the second half. Missed opportunities on both sides of the ball resulted in a 24-23 loss, which is the Bears’ 18th in the last 11 seasons to the Rodgers-led Packers.
Another year. Another crushing loss to the Pack.
Unlike some of the merciless blowouts from the last five seasons, this one had a sharper sting. During the first half, we caught a glimpse of what could be in store, and there was optimism that this might be the day the Bears turn the tide against the Packers.
Instead, a late collapse ultimately proved the Bears aren’t yet ready for primetime. There were encouraging signs that the day could be coming soon.
New head coach Matt Nagy scripted creative plays on the first offensive series that caught the Packers off guard. The new-look offense scored a touchdown on a drive that featured not only a nice balance of run and pass plays but also some catchy wrinkles, including a classic T formation and lining up left tackle Charles Leno Jr. as a covered receiver in the slot.
The second offensive series showcased quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the newly-added Allen Robinson. On the second play of the drive, Robinson made a beautiful 33-yard catch against cornerback Jaire Alexander. Three plays later, Trubisky fired a bullet to Robinson between two Packer defenders in the middle of the field, resulting in a 13-yard completion.
On defense, the Bears made Rodgers and co. look uncomfortable from jump street. New pass rusher Khalil Mack showed why he was worth two first-round picks and a new contract. The former Defensive Player of the Year generated consistent pressure and finished his Bears debut with a strip sack, a fumble recovery and an interception return for a touchdown.
Defensive linemen Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Roy Robertson-Harris also created heavy pressure, making life miserable against the run and pass. Both Hicks and Robertson-Harris each finished the night with a sack.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan also was flying to the ball early, and rookie Roquan Smith made an impact on the first play of his career. The first-year linebacker subbed in for Trevathan and sacked Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer on a well-designed blitz.
So where did it all go wrong? How could a young, vibrant team with plenty of momentum not close the deal?
Closing out games is what separates okay teams from perennial playoff contenders. It’s a difficult task that requires a certain amount of aggressiveness and mental fortitude.
That trait also takes time to develop. As we saw Sunday, the Rodgers and the Packers have that ability. The Bears are still working on it.
Missed opportunities and the lack of second-half adjustments will haunt the Bears when they look back at the loss. Some of the noteworthy blown chances included:
- First quarter – A missed touchdown throw by Trubisky on a beautiful fade route to Robinson stalled a drive in the red zone, resulting in a field goal.
- Third quarter – A catch by tight end Dion Sims on 3rd-and-1 in front of the sticks failed to gain a yard, resulting in a three and out.
- Fourth quarter – Running back Jordan Howard accidentally ran out bounds with over three minutes to go. The blunder allowed the clock to stop and gave the Packers a timeout back.
- Fourth quarter – An incomplete pass on 3rd-and-1 stalled a drive in the red zone with over 2:30 to go. With no Packer timeouts, a run would’ve let the clock run until the two-minute warning. A gain of a yard or more would’ve given the Bears a first down and extended the drive. Instead, they had to settle for a field goal to go up 23-17.
- Fourth quarter – A dropped interception by Kyle Fuller with over two minutes to go would’ve sealed the game. Two plays later, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 75-yard, catch-and-run touchdown to take the lead.
The second half also had many other puzzling decisions. Nagy seemingly went conservative, calling a lot quick passes and bubble screens behind the line of scrimmage instead of going vertical. Was it an attempt to sit on the lead or protect his young quarterback? Maybe both.
Trubisky also looked uncomfortable as the game got tighter, especially on the last drive with the Bears down one. The second-year quarterback missed throws a lot of easy throws and looked jittery despite not facing a heavy pass rush.
And while the defense was stellar in the first half, they too showed flaws after halftime. Fuller not only dropped a game-ending interception, but he also got burned on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison earlier in the fourth quarter that shaved the Packers’ deficit to 10.
On the next defensive series, cornerback Prince Amukamara was beaten twice by Davante Adams on the same drive. Adams first hauled in a 51-yard pass from Rodgers. Three plays later, Amukamara missed a tackle on Adams that allowed him to score from 12 yards out.
Whether you’re settling for field goals or making mental mistakes on defense, those missed opportunities can come back to bite you. The miscues on Sunday are signs of a team who still has ways to go before reaching the upper echelon.
Fortunately, all of these kinks can be worked out in due time. If the Bears come out flat at home against the Seattle Seahawks next week, that would be nerve racking. And if we see the same lapses on defense, so-so play calling or skittish behavior from Trubisky in November, that could have a negatively resounding impact at Halas Hall after the season.
But for now, Sunday night’s game was just a lesson that the Bears are still a work-in-progress.