Bernstein: Expectations Set For 1st-Place Bears

November 04, 2018 - 3:54 pm

(670 The Score) Two must-win games have now been won, and after their raggedy 41-9 pasting of the bumbling Bills on Sunday, the Bears remain atop the NFC North with a 5-3 record. The season is half over, and they're good enough to earn some trust that their level of play continues and improves as it starts to matter more.

Three straight divisional games loom now, a stretch that will define the first year of the Matt Nagy regime. Over the summer, he and general manager Ryan Pace did all they could to avoid putting any such markers on development or performance, but they can't hide from them now. Missing the playoffs would be a disappointment.

Sunday's mismatch was obvious to the point that it may not be too valuable for measuring quality, but the result was positive enough. Though the Bears only gained 193 yards of total offense, a defense that forced four turnovers, scored two touchdowns and sacked poor Nathan Peterman four times was all that was needed, with a 28-point second quarter effectively putting this game out of its misery.

Buffalo had nothing, and what little the Bills tried to do, the Bears just took from them. Eddie Jackson's strip-score on the sideline broke it open, Leonard Floyd got in on the fun with a pick-six, Kyle Fuller was making plays for himself and others -- once contesting a catch determinedly enough to knock it into the arms of Adrian Amos and another time making a sprawling interception of his own -- and Roquan Smith was thumping people all over the field, credited with 11 official tackles that seemed like more.

Mitchell Trubisky threw two really bad passes on the day, a misread zipped right to Tre'Davious White and a late red-zone attempt under pressure that had no chance and should've been tossed away. The rest was pedestrian against one of the better front sevens that he has faced, though the success the Bears had drawing pass interference penalties on deep shots should be noted.

The two groups that had the roughest day were the officials and the broadcasters. Shawn Smith's crew called 24 total penalties that resulted in 292 total yards, bringing little consistency to their judgments. They saw offensive pass interference and facemask grabs that didn't happen and allowed contact with the quarterback's head until they later somehow realized not to. Meanwhile, the FOX crew created an entire new team of Bears for our enjoyment, including coach "Mike Nagy," presumably in charge of "Kurt Fuller," "Danny Trevatheean," "Cody Parker" and "Prince Amuckamucka."

The actual Nagy may face some grumbling this week over leaving his starters in as long as he did, especially if Taylor Gabriel misses any time after leaving with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Those of us first-guessing in real time were mindful of how careful he was to manage the health of his assets in the preseason and were surprised that this thinking wasn't exactly congruent.

But what may be most important as the Bears completed this odd tour of the AFC East is that Khalil Mack has rested in consecutive games. He was the best defensive player in the league before he sprained an ankle in Miami on Oct. 14, and having him at or near the peak of his formidable powers is critical for a second half of a season that now has real promise.

Life comes at you fast in the NFL, and whatever honeymoon period the Bears wanted to build in has been replaced by an awareness that they're right in this thing and right where they should be.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.