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Barkley nearly a second-half star

Posted Dec 11, 2016

Facing a tough Lions defense, Matt Barkley saved his best for last, almost leading the Bears back in the second half.

The situation Matt Barkley faced on Sunday is not exactly the one that young quarterbacks dream of growing up. Barkley led the Bears into Detroit to face the first-place Lions and a defense that just a week before had shut down Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints. Chicago was down its top four wide receivers and starting tight end because of injuries and a suspension. And to make matters tougher, Barkley was making the first road start of his career.

The Bears fell in Week 14 to Detroit, 20-17, but not because of any of the issues that Barkley stared in the face coming into the contest. The young quarterback performed well despite the hostile setting surrounding him, completing 63 percent of his passes for 212 yards, along with a touchdown pass. He improved as the game went along, almost leading the Bears to an exciting come-from-behind victory against their longtime NFC North rivals.

Bears QB Matt Barkley
Bears quarterback Matt Barkley made the first road start of his career on Sunday.

"I think the young man has continued to impress me," coach John Fox said of Barkley. "To come here on the road against a good football team in a loud environment, continues to be a bright spot in a kid's performance and I thought it was good."

It took a while for Barkley to find his rhythm on Sunday. He had just 59 first-half passing yards, as the Chicago offense was mostly dependent on the running of Jordan Howard to move the ball early on. Howard finished the game with 13 carries for 86 yards, with nine of those attempts coming in the first half. After halftime, however, the quarterback turned it up. He started the third quarter completing a short pass to Joshua Bellamy, and the receiver turned it into a 23-yard gain. Later in the drive, Barkley hit Daniel Brown for an 11-yard pickup before the Bears were forced to punt.

Towards the end of the third quarter, the combo of Howard running and Barkley throwing helped the Bears reach the end zone for the first time on the afternoon. Howard started the drive by running off the left side of the line for a 31-yard run, taking the ball into Detroit territory. Following another run, Barkley hit Bellamy on a slick throw over the middle for a 16-yard pickup. With the defense playing up expecting another run or short pass, Barkley surprised them, going over the top to Cameron Meredith for a 31-yard touchdown. The quarterback hit the receiver perfectly in stride down the right sideline after Meredith evaded the press coverage on the line of scrimmage.

"He throws the ball with a lot of confidence, a lot of touch, you know, so they're easy, catchable balls," Meredith said. "We've just got to do a good job of getting open and being in the right place."

The pressure rose in the fourth quarter as the teams traded the lead. Chicago went ahead on the scoreboard first, after Cre'von LeBlanc intercepted Detroit's Matthew Stafford and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. But Stafford and the Lions responded with a seven-play drive, capped off by a 7-yard TD run by the Detroit quarterback.

Barkley wasn't fazed, despite trailing by 3 in the fourth quarter and starting a drive on the Chicago 25-yard line. He completed passes to Deonte Thompson and Brown to move the chains, and then continued to march the ball down the field. The Bears reached as far as the Detroit 43-yard line, but every time they moved forward, they were pushed back. Offensive holding penalties negated two passes of 20 or more yards on the drive, stalling the forward momentum Barkley's downfield throws gained. After a 14-yard throw to Meredith, the Bears faced a do-or-die 4th-and-11 with just 19 seconds left in regulation. Barkley looked for Bellamy over the middle of the field, but the receiver couldn't hold on and Chicago turned it over on downs.

While it wasn't the result the Bears were looking for, the performance from Barkley was a positive sign. The last two weeks, versus Tennessee and San Francisco, Barkley showed poise and skill. On Sunday in Detroit, he played mistake-free and gave the Bears a chance at the end. Facing difficult circumstances, the young QB showed he isn't rattled by much of anything.

"I've said this kind of over the last three games and I think it still stands, just the resilience that these guys have and the fight," Barkley said. "There's no issue of effort or wanting to win. You can really see the fire and the drive is there. I've seen progression in our offense and just moving the ball and putting points on the board, but still got to hone in on the little things that can cost you games in the NFL."