The Bears celebrate after cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) made an interception.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Haugh: Bears As Fun As They Are Fierce

"All I can say is wow," Matt Nagy said after a 15-6 win against the Rams.

David Haugh
December 10, 2018 - 12:07 am
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 10:01 left in the third quarter of the biggest game of the season, Bears coach Matt Nagy sent four defensive linemen into the offensive huddle and stifled a grin.

The circumference widened to let Akiem Hicks, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris complete the circle – all 1,212 pounds of them. Robertson-Harris lined up as the left tight end as Bullard and Nichols bunched up before the snap behind the right offensive front and Hicks, practically a backfield veteran after his scoring run against the Giants a week prior, positioned himself along quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in the shotgun. Trubisky faked the hand-off to Hicks and looked into the end zone for his primary receiver.

Who wasn’t a receiver at all.

There was “Santa’s Sleigh’’ – the name of the trick play installed Friday – ready to deliver the gift of camaraderie that will keep on giving in the Bears' locker room. There was 6-foot-7-inch, 312-pound backup offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, No. 79 who reported in as an eligible receiver, ambling toward an open spot in the end zone. Trubisky put the ball on the money and Sowell, a seven-year veteran on his fifth NFL team, came down with the pass for a touchdown. Then Sowell danced, along with the rest of Chicago, celebrating a play that perfectly embodied a Bears team becoming as fun as it is fierce and possessing something special this 2018 season.

All heart and Sowell, if you will.

“I thought it was very impressive,’’ a smiling Nagy said of Sowell’s moves after a 15-6 victory against the Rams on Sunday at Soldier Field.

The same adjective barely begins to describe what the Bears did to the NFL’s best team. Nagy will try anything in any situation, the bigger the bolder. He follows his gut more than analytics and coaches like he thinks fear is for guys who won’t wear visors on 26-degree December nights on the lakefront. Consider that in front of a national television audience, on the play that swung momentum in a measuring-stick game, Nagy relished taking a higher risk because of its possible reward. And nobody on the sideline flinched or doubted or even so much as raised an eyebrow.

Bernstein: Bears defense roars its dominance

As a result, the Bears not only asserted themselves as legitimate NFC Championship contenders but established Nagy as the front-runner for NFL Coach of the Year. And the next time you read a list of potential head coaching candidates that doesn’t include Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, vehemently question why.

Fangio devised a defensive game plan executed forcefully by the Bears that held a Rams offense averaging nearly 35 points per game to two measly field goals – and one of them came on a drive kept alive by an unorthodox fake punt from the Rams' 28. Rams quarterback Jared Goff, a California native, looked more cold than cool in the pocket in completing 20 of 44 passes for 180 yards. Goff never found his rhythm and endured his worst game of the season, running for his life as Hicks and Khalil Mack split double teams and threatened sacks.

The Bears defense was as strong as Nagy was bold, exerting the type of dominance that will conjure comparisons to 1985 in a proud football city without anybody daring to snicker. This game was an emphatic statement made by the Bears that defense still can win championships.

“All I can say is wow,’’ Nagy said of his defense.

Once again, the vaunted Bears defense supplied points when defensive tackle Eddie Goldman swallowed Goff in the end zone early in the third quarter to take an 8-6 lead that would've held up, as it turned out. Funny that Goldman was the one player Rams coach Sean McVay neglected to mention in his recitation of the Bears starting defense in the video that went viral on social media. Rest assured the Rams and the rest of the league respect Goldman’s role in what's shaping up as a historically good unit. How fitting that the Bears cemented this victory with a sack by Hicks on fourth down with 4:28 left that gave the Bears the ball back with an insurmountable nine-point lead. Cornerback Prince Amukamara removed all doubt by intercepting Goff’s fourth pick of the night with 2:13 left.

For all the talk about the matchup between two of the NFL’s hottest young innovative, offensive-minded coaches in Nagy and McVay, a shootout never materialized. Instead, a defensive struggle ensued for 58,076 home fans rowdy enough that Nagy awarded the city a game ball. Football, for all the rules changes that invite wide-open offensive approaches, remains a simple game. Even in today’s NFL, the Bears proved that teams capable of successfully stopping the run and running the ball win big games.

And when coaches around the league study this videotape to see how the Bears dominated the Rams from start to finish, they will come away impressed most by two developments: 1) the defense’s capacity to clog lanes for running back Todd Gurley – the NFL’s leading rusher – and 2) the offense’s ability to involve running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen enough to control the clock.

Gurley finished with 28 yards on 11 carries. That turned the Rams into a more one-dimensional offense that needed Goff to throw them out of trouble – which proved impossible against the Bears' pass rush.

Howard gained 101 yards on 19 carries in his most clutch game of the year, and Cohen added 69 yards on nine carries, and the ground-game success Nagy sought showed up most in the difference in time of possession. The Bears possessed the ball for 36 minutes, 49 seconds.

That’s how you stop high-scoring teams. That’s how you win division titles and conference championships, not to mention Super Bowl rings. That’s also how the Bears overcame a bad performance by Trubisky, who threw three interceptions and went 16-for-30 for 110 yards in showing the rust from a two-game layoff due to an injured shoulder. When Trubisky sailed his first interception over receiver Josh Bellamy on his seventh snap of the game, you could blame adrenalin. But the two picks that followed simply illustrated the lack of command evident in Trubisky, whose only bright spots came using his legs. What was supposed to be a matchup between two of the NFL’s most talented young quarterbacks revealed both have a long way to go before being fully trusted. Surely the Bears would welcome a rematch in the playoffs.

Not everything went the Bears' way – it only seemed like it. But Nagy erupted in a fury after a razzle-dazzle fourth-down play fizzled. Knowing rules prevented the Rams from calling two consecutive timeouts, Nagy tried a mass, 11-for-11 substitution that resembled a football fire drill after sending the Bears punt team onto the field on fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:38 left in the second quarter.

The offense sprinted off the sideline toward the line of scrimmage – except for right tackle Bobby Massie, who knocked over a line judge on his rush onto the field, which whistled the play dead. Head referee Craig Wrolstad announced the officiating crew “was not in a position to officiate the play.’’ Fans booed loudly, and Nagy threw as big of a tantrum as he has thrown this season, running onto the field past the numbers. But flawless execution of a trick play involves avoiding the official, so the Bears had nobody to blame but themselves. Besides, the Bears wouldn’t have been allowed the quick snap as Nagy hoped. According to a tweet by veteran NFL referee Terry McAulay on @SNFRules, NFL rules allow the defense “to complete their substitutions to include getting everyone in position for the punt.’’

“We can’t do that, bowl over the referee,’’ Nagy said. “I apologized at halftime.’’

On this night, no apology from Nagy was necessary.

But you might feel sorry for the opposing quarterbacks left on the Bears schedule.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.​​​​​​​