September 17, 2021

Bear Down, Nerd Up: Roquan Smith’s season was the best by a Bears inside linebacker in a decade

There was a lot to digest on Sunday.

That’s why Bears coach Matt Nagy felt like crap. A 19-point loss to the Green Bay Packers and a pair of key injuries won’t help Nagy feel any better. With a 35-16 win Sunday, the Green Bay Packers showed why they are still the kings of the NFC North.

But the Bears are alive, at least for one more week. A Wild Card playoff matchup against the New Orleans Saints lies ahead on Sunday. But first, let’s take a look at the stats that made this week unique for the Chicago Bears.

Tackling machine: While his elbow injury overshadowed everything else that might’ve come out of Sunday’s loss to the Packers, Roquan Smith cemented one of the Bears’ best seasons from an inside linebacker in a decade.

Smith finished the 2020 regular season with 139 combined tackles (ranking sixth in the NFL), 98 solo tackles (second in the NFL), a team-best 18 tackles for loss, six QB hits, four sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended.

[Read more: The Bears could be in trouble if Smith remains out next week]

Smith became the first Bears player to finish in the top 10 in the league in combined tackles since Brian Urlacher finished tied for 10th in 2010 with 126 combined tackles. Only twice in his career did Urlacher finish with more than 139 combined tackles (he had 142 in 2006 and a career-high 153 in 2002). Smith’s sixth-place finish on the NFL’s tackles leaderboard in 2020 is the highest finish for a Bears player since Urlacher was sixth in 2006.

While Smith won’t represent the NFC in the Pro Bowl this season, it’s entirely possible he could still earn All-Pro honors. Bears inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone believes Smith is deserving, and called the Pro Bowl selection process “an imperfect science.”

“With Roquan Smith, he is a very rare player that it doesn’t matter what the [defensive] scheme is,” DeLeone said. “He’s going to be an elite linebacker in any defense, and I don’t think there’s a lot of other guys like that in our league.”

Which makes it all the more difficult to know what to expect next week when the Bears take on the Saints a Wild Card round playoff game. If Smith is out, the Bears could be in trouble.

[Read more: Three things to know about the Bears’ Wild Card playoff opponent, the New Orleans Saints]

An infamous list: The Bears became the third team since the 1970 merger to earn a playoff berth despite a six-game losing streak during the regular season. They joined the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals (who won their opener, lost six straight games, then won seven straight) and the 2014 Carolina Panthers (who finished 7-8-1 and actually won a Wild Card round playoff game).

This will be the Bears’ first postseason appearance as a Wild Card team since 1994. With an 8-8 record, this also marks the Bears’ worst record as a playoff team in the organization’s history. The aforementioned 1994 Bears finished 9-7. That team won a Wild Card round game against the Minnesota Vikings before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers a week later.

Touchdown David: With another touchdown Sunday, Bears running back David Montgomery scored a rushing touchdown in his fifth consecutive game and (including a receiving touchdown the game before that streak began) at least one touchdown in six straight games.

Montgomery became the first Bears player to rush for a touchdown in five consecutive games since Neal Anderson did so in 1990.

Montgomery finished his season with 1,070 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He added 54 receptions for 438 yards and two touchdowns. His rushing yards put him into a tie for fifth in the NFL this season.

Montgomery is in elite company. The only running backs ahead of him in 2020 were Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (2,027 yards), Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (1,557 yards), Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor (1,169 yards) and Green Bay’s Aaron Jones (1,104 yards). Montgomery finished tied with Jacksonville’s James Robinson, a Rockford native, for fifth.

Of the eight NFL running backs with 1,000 or more rushing yards in 2020, Montgomery was the only one with more than 400 receiving yards too. His counterpart this week, New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara, wasn’t far off with 932 rushing yards and 756 receiving yards.

[Read more: Nagy: ‘It’s OK to feel like crap’ as Bears sneak into playoffs]

Record setter: With his three field goals Sunday, Bears kicker Cairo Santos surpassed Robbie Gould’s team-record 26 consecutive made field goals. Santos now has 27 consecutive makes – and counting.

Santos went 30-for-32 on field goal attempts this season, finishing with the best field goal percentage in team history (93.8%) of any kicker with more than four field goal attempts. Gould’s name is all over the Bears’ record books, but Santos is now at the top of this category.

Here are the top 10 seasons in Bears history in terms of field goal percentage:

  1. Cairo Santos, 2020, 93.8%
  2. Robbie Gould, 2013, 89.7%
  3. Robbie Gould, 2008, 89.7%
  4. Robbie Gould, 2006, 88.9%
  5. Robbie Gould, 2011, 87.5%
  6. Robbie Gould, 2007, 86.1%
  7. Robbie Gould, 2009, 85.7%
  8. Robbie Gould, 2015, 84.6%
  9. Robbie Gould, 2012, 84%
  10. Paul Edinger, 2001, 83.9%

Rookie record: Receiver Darnell Mooney wound up beating the Bears’ rookie reception record by a wide margin. He caught a career-high 11 passes on Sunday for 93 yards, and finished the season with 61 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns.

Harlon Hill’s previous rookie record of 45 receptions in 1954 stood for 66 years before Mooney beat it by 16 receptions. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.

Mooney’s ankle injury Sunday put a damper on what had been a stellar game. His status for this week is uncertain.

[Read more: Bears WR Darnell Mooney just played his best game ... then he hurt his ankle]

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.