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5 Takeaways: Matt Eberflus’ Bears grind their way to ugly win

8 months agoChris Emma

CHICAGO – The look on Matt Eberflus’ face late Thursday night was one of satisfaction and relief. It didn’t matter to him that the Bears won an ugly game, 16-13, over the Panthers. Victories have been hard to come by in his tenure as head coach.

Eberflus is just 6-21 in leading the Bears, pointing to his belief in progress despite the lack of proof. He sees a close-knit team that hasn’t backed down from adversity and a battle-tested group that has kept believing.

It’s why Eberflus was smiling ear to ear after emerging from the Bears’ victorious locker room at Soldier Field.

“It’s fun in there after a win,” Eberflus said. “But I’ll just tell you this. It’s fun to come to work every day throughout the entire time because the men we have in that locker room are unbelievable.”

Here are the five takeaways from the Bears’ victory on Thursday night.

1. Eberflus, Bears relish their victorious night

With the Bears gathered around him, Eberflus announced that he was awarding the game ball to his entire defense. It’s a unit that is finally reflecting the identity of its coach.

Thursday night’s game was a defensive battle all the way. Perhaps that’s the positive way to put it.

Through it all, the Bears pressured rookie quarterback Bryce Young – the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft – and forced stop after stop against the Panthers. Carolina finished with just 213 total yards of offense, good for a meager 3.7 yards per play.

Though the Bears did not force any turnovers, they kept the Panthers’ offense out of the end zone. In fact, Carolina never got closer than the 15-yard line.

“I felt like the defense, we dominated the whole game,” said cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

“It was just going out there and keep getting the ball back for our offense.”

Young was 21-of-38 for 185 yards while the Panthers carried 16 times for just 43 yards. Carolina was 3-of-15 on third down as punter Johnny Hekker booted six total punts.

The Bears’ offense managed only 295 total yards of offense and scored the game’s lone offensive touchdown. This was a contest that should not have been close had Chicago been able to sustain deeper drives.

“It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but we found a way to win,” wide receiver DJ Moore said. “And that’s all that matters in this league.”

The Bears held a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter as Young led the Panthers out to their own 9-yard line. What ensued from there was a 15-play drive that slowly marched 50 yards into Bears territory as the Panthers threatened to tie or take the lead.

Young scrambled for a first down on a gutsy 4th-and-1 play deep in the Panthers’ territory, then hit Miles Sanders on a 4th-and-2 that moved the chains again. The Bears were staring at another heartbreaking defeat until their defense stepped up. Young missed on three straight passes – including one that was nearly intercepted by Jack Sanborn – and the Panthers sent out kicker Eddy Pineiro for a 59-yard, potential game-tying field goal. He missed well short and the Bears were able to seal their victory.

There wasn’t that defining moment that swung this game for the Bears but it was a workmanlike effort from a team that so desperately wanted a win. This is just the third victory for Chicago in a disappointing season that hasn’t revealed meaningful progress, though it’s a result that reveals commitment.

Eberflus and the Bears deserve to celebrate that.

2. If this is it for Bagent

Needing a first down to secure this victory, Tyson Bagent had one more play in him. He dropped back on a 3rd-and-7 with 1:26 remaining, went through his progressions and led Darnell Mooney with a strike towards the first-down marker.

The Bears may have been better suited to run the football, draining game clock away and challenging the Panthers to drive against their defense. But they trusted Bagent with the throw.

“Doesn’t matter (that Bagent is an undrafted rookie),” Eberflus said.

Bagent may have been making his final start of his first NFL season on Thursday night. Justin Fields will return to the Bears’ starting role at quarterback once he’s cleared to return from a dislocated right thumb. The team hoped that would come early this week but he was officially ruled out prior to kickoff.

Fields should be back and fully cleared for next week as the Bears begin preparations for a divisional game in Detroit. But Thursday night was one for Bagent, who was 20-of-33 for 162 yards. He did not turn the ball over after doing so four times last Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Bagent managed a close game efficiently and led the Bears to a victory. He is 2-2 stepping in as the team’s starter.

“I learned that it’s really hard to win in the NFL,” Bagent said. “Appreciate all the wins. Really, I appreciate the team. Staff and players included, they all rallied behind me. I never had a doubt for a second that they all had my back.”

3. Clutch Cairo

It seemed startling on Sunday as Cairo Santos missed his first field goal of the season. It ended a run of 14 consecutive makes at the time. He started a new streak on Thursday night, connecting on all three field goals.

“Having a kicker like Cairo is an X-factor,” said center Lucas Patrick.

Santos’ first field goal matched his season-long mark from 54 yards. It came following an initial make on a 49-yard kick, which was not counted due to a false start penalty.

Santos was not fazed by the circumstances.

“I think the second one was actually easier, because you saw the ball flying straight,” Santos said. “So, I think it was easier. I felt confident that I could get the ball there. I just had to execute. I was probably more calm for the second one than the first one.”

The 31-year-old Santos is now 15-of-16 on his field goals this season and has missed just one extra point. Now in his 10th NFL season, Santos remains a model of stability for the Bears.

In a victory that lacked offensive firepower and featured some stifling defense, Santos made his mark.

“I’m very proud of just the whole operation,” Santos said.

4. Revenge for Smith-Marsette

Last season, journeyman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was cast off by the Bears after struggles to catch on with this team. On Thursday night, he left his mark at Soldier Field.

Smith-Marsette returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown as he ran through the Bears’ punt coverage. The score started as he weaved through a would-be tackle by Josh Blackwell, then ultimately beat punter Trenton Gill along the sidelines.

“He took a shot (and) we’re OK with that,” Eberflus said of Blackwell.

“We just have to execute better.”

5. Getting tricky?

Prior to the start of the second half, the Amazon Prime broadcast conducted an interview with Eberflus in which he said there were some tricks up his sleeve.

The Bears didn’t reveal any sort of tricks, and Eberflus declined to say what that trick would’ve been.

“I don’t know,” Eberflus deadpanned to a reporter. “What’s up yours?”

Perhaps the Bears will bring some tricks out from their sleeves when they take the field in 10 days at Ford Field against the Lions.

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