The Bears pulled off something they haven’t done in two and a half decades – and it wasn’t good.
With the entire Bears secondary out due to COVID-19, everybody thought the Minnesota Vikings would turn to receiver Justin Jefferson and quarterback Kirk Cousins. Certainly that duo would light up the Bears.
The short-handed Bears defense allowed 193 total yards in a 17-9 loss. That included only 61 net passing yards. Defensive backs Thomas Graham, Kindle Vildor, Deon Bush and Teez Tabor held their own. The problem was that the Bears offense sputtered.
Monday marked the first time the Bears held an opponent to fewer than 200 total yards since a Week 17 win over the Vikings in 2018. It has been much longer since the Bears allowed fewer than 200 yards and still lost the game.
You have to go back to Nov. 16, 1997, when the Bears allowed 193 total yards against the New York Jets in a 23-15 loss at Soldier Field. That loss dropped the 1997 Bears to 1-10. They went on to finish 4-12. Bears quarterback Erik Kramer threw for 354 yards in that game, but also threw three interceptions.
Jets quarterback Glenn Foley left with an injured ankle after going 8 for 13 for 111 yards and a touchdown. Backup Neil O’Donnell fared much worse, throwing 4 for 12 for 25 yards with two sacks. Otis Smith’s 38-yard pick-six interception return put the Jets up 23-0 at halftime, despite the struggling offense.
Monday also marked the first time the Bears allowed fewer than 100 passing yards in a game since Dec. 4, 2016, in a win over San Francisco. The last time they allowed fewer than 100 passing yards and lost was Dec. 9, 2012, also against Minnesota.
Here are the other stats and figures that stood out this week:
Roquan’s Pro Bowl case: Roquan Smith did not earn a Pro Bowl bid. The full team will be released Wednesday night, but the Bears already announced that outside linebacker Robert Quinn and return specialist Jakeem Grant made the NFC team.
The Pro Bowl is part popularity contest, and Smith is apparently not as popular as some of his peers. Pro Bowlers are voted on by fans, players and coaches – which each subsection counting for one-third of the vote.
It doesn’t help that the leader in votes at his position, Dallas rookie Micah Parsons, isn’t a full-time inside linebacker. Parsons has spent most of his time as an edge rusher, totaling 12 sacks and 76 combined tackles.
Smith ranks fourth in the NFL with 140 combined tackles in 14 games. He is fifth in solo tackles with 81. He has three sacks, three passes defended and one interception. He trails only Seattle’s Bobby Wagner (158), Atlanta’s Foyesade Oluokun (152) and Seattle’s Jordyn Brooks (145) in combined tackles.
It’s more than just the numbers. Anyone who has watched the Bears play knows what type of impact Smith has on the game. He flies all over the field from sideline to sideline. He tackles and he tackles hard. He has nine games this season with double-digit tackles. He finished as a second-team All-Pro last season and is having an even better season in 2021.
Not naming Smith a Pro Bowler is a disservice to football.
Speedy QB: On a fourth-quarter scramble, Bears quarterback Justin Fields reached a top speed of 20.11 miles per hour, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He ran for 23 yards and a first down on the play.
Fields touched 20 miles per hour for the fourth time this season. No other quarterback has done it more than twice. Only Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts have done it twice.
Only 5 quarterbacks have reached 20+ mph as a ball carrier this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 21, 2021
Fields performed well throwing the ball intermediate and deep. It might not have felt like it because the Bears didn’t find the end zone until the final play of the game, but he performed better than the score indicated.
Fields was 8 for 11 for 128 yards and a touchdown on passes of 10 yards or more, per Next Gen Stats.
Justin Fields was most effective passing downfield, completing 8 of 11 passes traveling 10+ air yards for 128 yards and a TD.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 21, 2021
Fields completed +23.6% of his 10+ air yards passes over expected, a career-high.#MINvsCHI | #DaBears pic.twitter.com/iw9FVFV3QL
Late TD: With his last-second touchdown, Bears tight end Jesper Horsted recorded his second score of the season and the third of his career. The third-year undrafted tight end from Princeton now has two touchdowns on six total offensive snaps in 2021.
If that weren’t mind-boggling enough, Horsted has more touchdowns in his career (three) than 2020 second-round draft pick Cole Kmet (two). Kmet scored his two career touchdowns last season and has yet to find the end zone on 750 offensive snaps this season. Kmet has 49 receptions on 78 targets for 490 yards in 2021.
Kmet’s the clear No. 1 at the position by any metric – except touchdowns.
Big punt Pat: Pat O’Donnell’s punt with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter netted 72 yards, tying it for the second-longest punt of his career. It was three yards shy of his career-long 75-yard punt on Sept. 15, 2019, in the thin air of Denver.
O’Donnell surpassed 25,000 total punting yards for his career, moving him up to 80th all-time (since 1939) with 25,046 punt yards.
Defensive breakdown: Even with a relatively inexperienced secondary, the Bears did a nice job against the Vikings passing attack.
The only egregious mistake was on Cousins’ third-quarter touchdown pass to receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The Bears secondary was confused on its coverage assignments after leaving the huddle. Nickel back Xavier Crawford appeared confused moments before the snap. Cornerback Kindle Vildor passed off Smith-Marsette, but nobody picked him up on the back end.
Three Bears converged on receiver Justin Jefferson, leaving Smith-Marsette wide open for an easy touchdown. The nearest defender was 6.3 yards away when he caught the pass, per Next Gen Stats.
Hey there @_ihmirr_— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 21, 2021
📺: @ESPNNFL pic.twitter.com/7RKy4QYUD9
Snap observations: With so many players affected by COVID-19, the snap counts in Tuesday’s game were bound to look odd. At defensive back, cornerbacks Graham and Vildor, along with safeties Tabor and Bush all played 100% of the team’s defensive snaps.
Offensively, receiver Damiere Byrd was the clear No. 2 behind Darnell Mooney. Byrd played 66 offensive snaps (90%). He caught five passes for 62 yards. Rookie receiver Dazz Newsome played 48 snaps (66%) but saw only one target in the passing attack. After Jakeem Grant left the game with a concussion, Newsome handled the No. 3 receiver duties.
The offense used rookie running back Khalil Herbert as the No. 2 option behind David Montgomery. Herbert out-snapped veteran Damien Williams by a fair margin (17 snaps for Herbert, five for Williams).