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5 Takeaways: Bears stun Patriots in defining victory

1 year agoChris Emma

The Bears produced a complete performance in primetime, beating the Patriots 33-14 on Monday night in New England.

It was by far the most impressive effort from these Bears, who moved to 3-4 on the 2022 season with the type of victory few imagined from this team. Quarterback Justin Fields led Chicago to a win that changes the view of these Bears for this foundational season.

Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ victory over the Patriots.

1. A statement win

In the 11 days since the Bears dropped a winnable game to the Commanders at Soldier Field, head coach Matt Eberflus spoke to his team of finishing.

Eberflus believed the Bears were close to a performance like this but preached to his players that the difference simply comes from making winning plays. That’s what came to fruition on Monday night in New England as the Bears played like the better team over the Patriots and produced the plays to earn a statement victory.

The Bears looked like a well-prepared, ticked-off football team after regrouping from their break. They made some key adjustments in all three phases — most notably around Fields — and produced a complete performance against the Patriots.

Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy called an excellent scheme for Fields that featured more designed runs, moving pockets and more comfortable throwing angles. It was the type of game plan that the Bears simply haven’t offered for Fields, and it produced his best performance in the NFL.

Fields finished 13-of-21 for 179 yards, 1 touchdown and a deflected interception, adding 14 carries for 82 yards and a rushing score. He made plays on the ground and in the air, showing command throughout the entire game. The Bears racked up 243 rushing yards and 390 in total. They were an impressive 11-of-18 on third down, which allowed sustained drives and continued production offensively.

The Bears were strong defensively, too, holding the Patriots to 260 yards and frustrating quarterbacks Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. Chicago recorded a season-best four takeaways on defense.

With a performance like this in primetime, the Bears changed the tone of their 2022 season. They entered this game considered a poor team lacking direction — a narrative only reinforced by that loss to the Commanders — and left Gilette Stadium with football observers praising their play.

Fields changed the way skeptics see him during this pivotal second season of his young career, reminding of how talented he can be with the right structure on offense. The Bears’ offense as a whole silenced critics with a high watermark in scoring (33 points).

The Bears’ rookie class enjoyed quite the night, with interceptions by Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker, a solid showing from left tackle Braxton Jones and disruptive play on the defensive line from Dominique Robinson. First-year general manager Ryan Poles had to be smiling watching this game from high atop Gilette Stadium.

Eberflus and his Bears coaching staff got the best out of their team during those 11 days between games. They went into New England and proved a point. All the doom and gloom over the Bears after that loss to the Commanders is now gone.

Suddenly, it’s worth wondering what more the Bears have in store this season.

2. Roquan shines in the spotlight

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith believes he’s a $100 million player. He played like it on Monday night.

If Smith wants to earn that megadeal that off-ball linebackers simply don’t land, he needs to keep playing like this: 12 tackles, 1 sack and a pick of Zappe late in the game. Smith just kept making plays.

Smith conducted a contract hold-in during training camp, reporting to the Bears at Halas Hall in late July but not practicing until Aug. 20 while hoping for a new contract. The deal he coveted never came from Poles, who wouldn’t budge on his perceived value of Smith and his position in Chicago’s defense.

Smith elected to end his contract hold-in on Aug. 20 and focus on playing out this season.

“It’s my last year of my deal,” Smith said. “Hey, I’m just going to take it, run with it, bet on myself like I’ve always done, and the negotiations are over right now.

“I’m betting on myself.”

If Smith can keep putting together games like this one, he will be worth of that $100 million deal that Shaquille Leonard landed from the Colts. The Bears, of course, hold the key card with the franchise tag that would pay a projected $18.7 million in 2023.

Smith isn’t focused on the business side as he plays out this season. He hopes to keep showing himself as an elite linebacker.

That was the case on Monday night.

3. Brisker kicks back

Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker took a tough blow early in the second quarter as Jones slid spikes-first and caught him in a bad place.

Brisker sat out the next play — losing his 100% mark on defensive snaps this season — before returning one play later and producing a remarkable effort for his first career interception.

Brisker read Jones as he scrambled to his right and began breaking immediately on the pass to Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith. He made a one-handed catch to haul in the pick, a sensational play in coverage.

It was a highlight-reel play for Brisker, who the Bears believe could become a staple in their secondary for years to come. He has been the ideal complement alongside Eddie Jackson at safety and looked to be a capable presence both in the box and in coverage.

The Bears have been pleased with what Brisker has produced his rookie season.

“What I love about him is his toughness,” Eberflus said last week. “He’s a mentally and physically tough player, and that’s what we covet here at the Bears. I think that you have that with the way he wants to learn and get better with (Bears safeties coach Andre Curtis) and learn from the older guys. His willingness to get better every single day, man, that’s going to make for a good product.”

4. The lesson in Zappe

Despite selecting quarterback Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Patriots took a chance on another promising arm this year. New England chose Zappe in the fourth round of the 2022 Draft in a strategy that should be replicated.

The Patriots believed in Zappe’s potential and elected to bring him in, lead his development behind the scenes and see what comes of it. Perhaps Zappe becomes the quarterback that leads New England forward — not Jones as one would’ve predicted.

The Patriots have selected 13 quarterbacks during Bill Belichick’s 23 seasons as head coach, starting with the great Tom Brady during the sixth round in 2000. Ten quarterbacks were drafted by the Patriots while Brady was the starter.

Quarterback is the most important position in sports, and it’s always worth taking a chance on that position in the draft — whether there seems to be a set starter or not. Teams should trust their infrastructure to develop a young quarterback in practice with hopes he can emerge behind the scenes.

Maybe that quarterback proves to be just a depth player, but it’s worth the small price for a potentially large reward.

The Bears have seemed to resist this concept for years. They have drafted just two quarterbacks since 2014: Mitch Trubisky and Fields.

Whether the Bears’ regime believes in Fields or not, it’s worth drafting a quarterback in 2023.

5. Line changes

The Bears followed through with changes on the offensive line, but their plans were short-lived. Lucas Patrick replaced Sam Mustipher as the team’s starting center and Michael Schofield moved into Patrick’s place at left guard for his first start of the season.

But Patrick left with a right toe injury during the second quarter Monday night, being carted to the locker room and not returning. Mustipher moved back in with the starting offensive line at center.

It’s not clear how serious Patrick’s toe injury is but it’s likely he misses time considering how quickly he was ruled out. Schofield played well at left guard, offering stability at that position while Cody Whitehair (knee) continues his recovery.

The Bears could in the near future turn to Alex Leatherwood for playing time. A first-round pick to the Raiders in 2021, Leatherwood was waived by Las Vegas and claimed off waivers in Chicago. He is currently practicing after going on the non-football illness list in September.

Let’s see what comes next for the Bears’ offensive line.

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