Defense making big plays to lead Bears to back-back wins
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
Oct. 23, 2017
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks had just sacked Carolina's Cam Newton.
Then he paid tribute to an injured teammate.
Hicks waved his arms as if he were casting a fishing rod, just as outside linebacker Willie Young does when he's the one taking down the quarterback.
Bears defenders have reeled in plenty of big plays the past two weeks, enough to carry Chicago to back-to-back wins.
Rookie safety Eddie Jackson became the first player to score multiple defensive TDs of 75 yards or more in a game, leading a strong push by the defense in a 17-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. That also made him the only rookie in NFL history with two 75-yard defensive touchdowns in a season.
"Not making dumb mistakes, making sure we're locked in mentally," Hicks, who had one of Chicago's five sacks against Newton, said Monday.
"You go the whole week and you try to focus on what you've got installed and what you're going to do. You want to go to a game and execute just as well as you did in practice and I think there were some times in the earlier part of the season where we didn't execute."
They have been clicking lately with six takeaways over the past two games. The defense has not allowed a touchdown in that stretch.
Jackson's huge game came a week after safety Adrian Amos also had a big moment. Playing in his hometown, he returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown at Baltimore.
With consecutive victories, the Bears (3-4) are on their first win streak in two years. They also matched their win total from last season, when they finished 3-13.
Sure, there is still plenty of room for improvement — particularly on offense. But the Bears will take this result.
Chicago had not won two in a row since back-to-back victories at San Diego and St. Louis in November 2015 — coach John Fox's first season.
If they win at New Orleans on Sunday, the Bears will match their longest run since a 3-0 start under former coach Marc Trestman in 2013.
"I don't think any of us feel like we've arrived at all, especially for us offensively," tight end Zach Miller said. "I feel like, I'm happy to win, but I'm not happy with the way we played. That's just the bottom line.
"We need to be more balanced, open things up a little bit. That'll come. It's just, the game played out the way it did Sunday. The ultimate factor is we won the game. That's just how it is. As we progress at it, hopefully we'll be better on the offensive side of the ball."
The Bears got dominated in yards (293-153), in time of possession (38:35-21:25), in offensive plays (69-37) and in first downs (20-5).
Despite all of that, they came out on top.
They won even though Mitchell Trubisky completed just 4 of 7 passes for 107 yards while getting sacked four times. Other than a 70-yarder to Tarik Cohen, the No. 2 overall pick did very little.
Trubisky has shown some promising flashes in the three starts since he took over for the struggling Mike Glennon. His athleticism allows him to extend plays that might have ended in sacks, and he has the arm strength to go deep.
But he also came to the NFL with limited college experience and is working with a depleted wide receiver group. The Bears have also simplified their game plan and are leaning heavily on the run. All that helps explain a less-than-spectacular stat line: 24 for 48 with 348 yards in the three games.
"It's not like he's had any cupcakes as far as the defenses he's going up against," Fox said. "And there's been enough flashes there where you see bright things."
The defense is performing as the Bears hoped, despite losing several key players to injuries.
Young (triceps), safety Quintin Demps (broken arm) and inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (pectoral) are all on injured reserve. Freeman's replacement Nick Kwiatkoski is also out with a pectoral injury, and linebacker John Timu hurt his knee against Minnesota two weeks ago.
Hicks has been dominant up front, and with six sacks, he is one shy of a career high he set over 16 games last season. A secondary widely seen as a potential sore spot entering the season is coming up with big plays, too.
"They're firing on all cylinders, they're getting after everybody, they're aggressive," Hicks said.