Five Takeways: Bears respond right with win over Cardinals
CHICAGO – The calling card for these inconsistent Bears – or so it seems this season – is one of fight and belief. Through the struggles and adversity, they have kept on fighting.
The Bears responded from a collapse in Cleveland by beating the Cardinals 27-16 on Sunday at Soldier Field. Three times this season have the Bears blown a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and lost, but they came back the following week and won each time.
After flying to a 21-0 lead over the Cardinals, the Bears flirted with disaster late before sealing their win.
Here are the five takeaways from Christmas Eve at Soldier Field:
1. Whatever it takes
As 39-year-old Marcedes Lewis returned to the home sidelines along the west side of Soldier Field, there was barking from his Bears teammates.
The 18-year veteran Lewis is one of the most respected players in the league, a player whose passion and workmanlike demeanor has been important to the Bears throughout this season.
Lewis’ teammates were thrilled as he hauled in his first touchdown pass of his 18th NFL season in the second quarter. As for Lewis, what mattered most came with the final score.
“Honestly, it’s just nice to win,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to win. We put in a lot of work. This season hasn’t gone exactly how we wanted it to go. It’s just been about learning how to finish and learning how to win the day. It just felt good to contribute and get the ‘W.’”
Lewis signed with the Bears in August on a one-year deal because he still feels he can play this game at a high level. So too did general manager Ryan Poles, who knew that Lewis’ veteran leadership could make a key impact inside the locker room.
Lewis is the last active player from the 2006 NFL Draft, which included the likes of Jay Cutler, Devin Hester and Brandon Marshall.
Each day at Halas Hall, Lewis puts in long hours to keep his body conditioned for the demands of a long, grueling season. That is especially difficult for a player who has played 18 seasons in this league.
“The guys love him for who he is,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “He’s a special, special guy.”
Quarterback Justin Fields found Lewis open in the back of the end zone after scanning through coverage and finding top target DJ Moore was tightly covered. The play was designed with Lewis as the first read. As it turned out, he was left alone while defenders cheated in on Fields’ running threat.
For Lewis, it marked his 40th career touchdown coming in his 266th game. Peyton Manning and Julius Peppers each played 266 games during their Hall of Fame careers.
While Lewis won’t end up in the Hall of Fame, he has garnered such respect from his peers. It’s because of how he carries himself each day.
Lewis has brought the Bears an important example during this pivotal season. They have emerged from rebuilding mode towards becoming competitive this season – a critical stamp of progress that had to be found in 2023.
Despite the struggles of this season, the Bears never quit on Eberflus or each other. They have stayed the course and fought for wins like these.
Sunday’s result certainly wasn’t convincing but it’s a victory for a hard day’s work. Nobody inside that winning locker room knows that more than Lewis.
“We got the ‘W,’” Lewis said. “That’s what matters.”
2. Points left on the field
For Fields and the Bears, the goal he has set is to score 28 points each game. On Sunday, they came up just shy with 27 points on the scoreboard.
The Bears marked a 21-0 lead early in this game and seemed on their way to a rout of the struggling Cardinals. Instead, the offense fell flat, and this game got too close for comfort. Chicago posted 420 yards of offense, including 250 yards of rushing, but was left to lament inconsistencies once again.
“We definitely got to work on sustaining that firepower,” Fields said. “We came out with 21 points, boom, so we got to keep doing it. I felt like we could’ve put up at least 35, 40 points, so we got to just stay on top of us and really not get complacent. You never know what’s going to happen as we’ve found out in the past.”
Fields finished Sunday’s game 15-of-27 for 170 yards, 1 passing touchdown and 1 rushing touchdown, with a 71.5 rating. He added nine carries for 97 yards and a rushing score as well, part of the balanced attack led by his dual-threat abilities.
But Fields also threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter as he targeted running back Khalil Herbert on a route to the corner of the end zone. Safety Jalen Thompson read the route and hauled in the pass, marking Fields’ ninth interception of the season.
As Fields continues to fight for his future with the Bears, Sunday wasn’t the triumphant performance that it could’ve been against the scuffling Cardinals.
However, Fields downplayed his own performance and looked to what mattered the most in his mind.
“I’m cool with whatever, as long as we win a game,” Fields said. “To be honest. Shoot, if I have 100 passing yards with zero touchdowns and zero things, and we get the win, I’m cool with that. I know people love stats.
“As long as we win. I’m not really a numbers guy. All I know is one win went up in the win column today, and that’s all I care about.”
3. Contract for Cairo
Cairo Santos had become an NFL journeyman after six sputtering seasons in the league, bouncing between five different teams in that time.
Santos had simply become a kicker on teams’ emergency contact list, a player called upon as a fallback plan. Then came the opportunity that would redefine his career. It was August of 2020 and the Bears saw kicker Eddy Piñeiro – who won the team’s kicking battle the previous summer – lost to a groin injury.
Santos’ career found new life with this opportunity in Chicago. Once a struggling kicker who had hit 80.6% of his kicks, Santos has been the model of stability over the last four seasons. It’s why the Bears signed him to a four-year contract extension on Saturday, a deal that’s worth up to $16 million and with $9.5 million guaranteed.
Santos capped off this special weekend with a 29-yard field goal with 1:05 remaining to seal the victory.
“To have another four years in a place I call home now, I’m super excited,” Santos said. “My family is super excited. We love it here, love the people here that we’re blessed to work with.
“I’m only the guy I am today because the hard moments I went through to be here.”
4. Christmas Cole
Each time Cole Kmet went down after a reception on Sunday, he was slow to get up. His pain was clear all along.
Kmet entered Sunday dealing with a quad injury. He then went down late in the first half with a knee injury. But when Kmet was able to play, he hauled in 4 receptions for a career-best 107 yards.
“We’ll see where it is,” Eberflus said. “It’s a knee. We’ll see where it goes. It looks positive, but we’ll know more tomorrow.”
The 24-year-old Kmet has never missed a game during the course of his four-year NFL career. That streak continued Sunday – though his status will be one to monitor next week.
Kmet has enjoyed a strong season, hauling in 70 receptions for 678 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has emerged as a reliable target for Justin Fields in the passing game.
In playing through the pain on Sunday, Kmet reminded in more ways than one why he’s so important for the Bears.
5. Make this matter
As the Bears played out this late December game without tangible consequence for the standings, it reminds of the goal in 2024 and beyond. This time of year should matter once again.
The Bears have made the playoffs just twice since the 2010 season, failing to win a postseason game in that time. But they have rarely played in late-season games with stakes for January. It’s a glaring indictment of this franchise’s inability to remain relevant in the stretch run of the season.
The Lions completed their turnaround by clinching the NFC North crown, beating the Vikings 30-24 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes led Detroit from 3-13-1 in 2021 to 9-8 last season and now 11-4 at the top of the division.
But on the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers fell to 2-13 with a 33-30 loss to the Packers on Sunday in Carolina. In doing so, they helped the Bears, who own what would presently be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
The Bears have positioned themselves well for the future over the course of these past two years, developing young talent and stockpiling draft capital. Now, they must convert that into sustained success.
December games at Soldier Field should carry great significance for the Bears.