The Bears lost in disappointing fashion again in Week 2, but unlike Week 1 a win was there for the taking.
On the second play of the game, Jaquan Brisker put himself in perfect position for an interception– and possibly a pick-six– but he let the ball pass harmlessly through his hands. The Buccaneers eventually scored a field goal on that drive.
Early in the second quarter, the Bucs lined up for a 40-yard field goal and Rasheem Green managed to block the kick. That set up Justin Fields and the offense at the 50-yard line. It was incredible field position that had a chance to jump start their sputtering offense. But the Bears couldn’t muster a single positive play and punted after a three-and-out.
Late in the third quarter, Jaylon Johnson punched a ball out of David Wells’ hands when the Bucs were in the red zone. But Baker Mayfield managed to pounce on the fumble and threw a 3rd-and-14 touchdown pass to Mike Evans one play later.
Two of those three plays would’ve kept 10 Bucs points off the board if the Bears could’ve capitalized. Two of the plays could’ve led to prime scoring chances for the Bears. Considering the Bears lost 27-17, it’s easy to see how those moments made all the difference, and the Bears know it.
When the Bears regrouped at Halas Hall on Monday, head coach Matt Eberflus showed the entire team each of those plays to highlight their importance in the result.
“Everyone is held accountable to make those opportunities count,” Eberflus said. “We got to do a better job as a group of seizing those opportunities because those could sway the game for sure. No question about that.”
The Bears have hammered home Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principles ever since he was hired, and the “S” in the acronym stands for “smart, situational football.” And yet the Bears have seemed to let most opportunities slip away in their first two games.
On paper the Bears are improved, but we’ve yet to see it on the field. Regardless of any perceived improvement they’re still not good enough to let those opportunities go by and rally to win anyways. They need to capitalize more often than not to give themselves a better chance to win, no matter who they’re playing, no matter what week it is.
“We can’t really mess up on our own,” said Darnell Mooney. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot and just take advantage of what they give us… When you have a short field, field position, we kind of have to take advantage of that — not kind of, we have to take advantage of that.”
Those three moments stand out, because everyone can see the potential for a big momentum shift. But the Bears are also missing out on small wins within the game that could help them succeed. For instance, on Sunday they managed decent pressure on Baker Mayfield, but never managed to sack him. On Monday, Eberflus chalked it up to technique issues.
“We had hands on him,” said Jack Sanborn. “We had him wrapped up almost a few times this week. Just got to get him to the ground. We can’t let him get out and be able to get the ball away. Let him kind of throw it away and get out of those negative yardage plays. That came up a few times. It’s something we keep saying, we got to finish it. That’s exactly what we got to do. We got to get him to the ground.”
Once again, the Bears defense struggled to get off the field on third down. Over the first two games of the year, the Bears have allowed opponents to convert on 54.8% of their third downs. That’s the second-highest rate in the league. It’s not just third-and-short opportunities either. On Bucs 3rd-and-8 or longer plays, the Bears gave up a first down or touchdown 38% of the time. That’s close to the NFL average for all third-down chances.
On Monday, Sanborn said he couldn’t find a common thread among all the missed chances for the defense to get a third-down stop.
“Every play is so different. Every play either the call is different or offensive scheme is different. So I wouldn't say there is a common theme that just constantly shows up.”
The Bears linebacker might not have an answer for their third-down defense now, but Eberflus has an answer for all the opportunities the Bears have missed so far.
“It’s about guys knowing what to do and how to do it. That’s the coach and the player, and playing fast because you could make up a lot of things with speed and aggression. You can do that. You can cover each other up, I’m talking on defense. And then on offense, same thing. Know what to do, how to do it and do it fast. And to me, that’s what good sound execution is.”
Numerous injuries in training camp prevented many Bears starters from playing together on offense and defense. Tremaine Edmunds, Brisker, Eddie Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, DeMarcus Walker, Chase Claypool, Nate Davis and Lucas Patrick all missed significant time. The decision to keep the healthy starters from playing a lot of snaps in the preseason didn’t help. So the Bears will have to fast track that comfortability and consistency in the regular season.
“I do see opportunity there for us to improve,” said Eberflus. “I do see opportunity in the game for us to be able to sway that game one way or the other, all the way up to the very end. That’s where I see it.”
If the Bears miss out on the opportunities to improve and improve quickly– just like they missed out on opportunities in-game against the Bucs– then this season might get away from them sooner rather than later.