QB Daniel leads Chicago Bears victory in rare opportunity
DETROIT -- Despite having thrown just three passes in almost four years before he made his third career start on Thanksgiving, backup QB Chase Daniel stepped in for injured Mitch Trubisky and ran the offense seamlessly, as the Bears won their third NFC North game in 12 days.
The 23-16 victory at Ford Field was the fifth straight for the 8-3 Bears, who hold a commanding lead in the division over the 5-4-1 Vikings and 4-5-1 Packers, who play each other Sunday night in Minnesota.
The Bears’ defense provided its obligatory touchdown, a 41-yard, go-ahead interception return by S Eddie Jackson with 6:00 remaining. It was his third score of the season and the sixth by the Bears’ defense. But it was Daniel, making his first start since 2014, who performed like a vintage Cadillac only driven to church on Sundays.
The 32-year-old, nine-year veteran posted a passer rating of 106.8, completing 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Trubisky missed his first start in 23 games with a shoulder injury that occurred at the end of last Sunday night’s game. Daniel also caught his first pass in “I don’t know how long,” he said, an eight-yarder from WR Anthony Miller.
“That’s why we have Chase,” coach Matt Nagy said. “I have a great relationship with him. That’s why he’s here.”
Daniel was a backup with the Chiefs for three years (2013-15) while Nagy was their QB coach. But Nagy said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Daniel, given the unprecedented short turnaround time.
“You have no idea how it’s going to go, especially when you don’t have any reps with these guys in (just) two days of walk-through practices,” Nagy said. “No matter how much experience he has in this offense, you really, truly don’t know. For him to do what he did, protect the football and be a leader when he needed to be a leader, I thought he did a great job.”
Daniel put the Bears up 9-7 with a 10-yard TD pass to wide-open RB Taquan Mizzell with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. It was Daniel’s first TD pass since 2013 and just the second of his career. After the Lions went back ahead 13-9 late in the third quarter, Daniel put the Bears back on top 16-13 with a 14-yard TD pass to RB Tarik Cohen.
Nagy credits much of Daniel’s ability to step in at a moment’s notice with his preparation.
“We can all think we do, but you have no idea how this kid prepares,” the Bears’ coach said. “Every week, and since the day I met him in 2013, those days don’t change. He’s very consistent. He takes this very seriously. Every game, he prepares like he’s the starter. So, whenever he gets the call that he’s going to start, he’s never shell-shocked and nothing changes.”
Daniel admitted he needed to knock a little rust off and said he might have had a bit of the jitters early on. But he said that’s not why he jumped the gun coming out of the tunnel before the game, running out on the field as the entire rest of the team waited. At least he was able to laugh about it afterward.
“The guy said, ‘Let’s go Bears, you’re running out of the tunnel,’ ” Daniel explained. “So I’m always at the front, so I run out, and I run three steps and I look back and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh.’ So I just like put my head down and went back. It wasn’t nerves or anything like that. I’m sure it’s all over the Internet. Not one of my proudest moments, but I thought some guys would at least run out (with me). So it is what it is.”
More important than a minor faux pas on national TV was Daniel’s ability to excel in a situation that has rarely presented itself to him in a career long in duration but short on participation.
“You don’t know when these opportunities will come, and you just have to make the most of them,” he said. “Ten incompletions today and five or six of them I wish I could have back. But some of that has to do with timing, not really playing with these guys. Some of it has to do with my jitters; some of it has to do with bad throws. You learn from it, you really study this film, and you move on.”
The Bears are expected to move back to Trubisky for their next game, Dec. 2 on the road against the Giants, but if his shoulder injury lingers, they know Daniel will be prepared to step in again.