After watching tape of Sunday's 23-16 road win over the Carolina Panthers, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Monday discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) Nagy was once again impressed with a Bears defense that allowed just one touchdown for a third straight game while producing a season-high three takeaways and four sacks.
"Defensively, you could really feel everybody flying around," Nagy said. "I mean, it was everybody."
It certainly was a group effort. Ten different players had a hand in the three takeaways and four sacks. Jaylon Johnson broke up a pass that Tashaun Gipson Sr. intercepted, Eddie Jackson forced a fumble that Akiem Hicks recovered and DeAndre Houston-Carson sealed the win with his first career interception. Khalil Mack, Bilal Nichols and Mario Edwards Jr. recorded sacks, while James Vaughters and Barkevious Mingo split a fourth one against a Panthers offense that had not allowed any sacks in its previous two games.
Roquan Smith led the Bears with 12 tackles and Danny Trevathan was second with 10 stops. Trevathan and Kyle Fuller both made touchdown-saving tackles on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater runs inside the 5, forcing the Panthers to settle for a pair of short field goals.
The Bears entered Sunday's game with the NFL's No. 1-ranked red-zone defense and maintained that distinction by permitting only one TD on three trips inside their 20. They twice forced Carolina to kick field goals after the Panthers had first-and-goal from the 7 and first-and-goal from the 3. The second of those situations came after an offside penalty on Akiem Hicks on fourth-and-three from the 6 had given Carolina new life.
Nagy feels that mental toughness allows the defense to thrive in those scenarios. "You get down there and they get that first down on fourth-and-three and we end up holding them to a field goal," Nagy said. "That's big time, that's special. There aren't a lot of teams that can do that and rebound from that, just the mental fortitude they have to be able to stick together.
"I was just talking to the defensive coaches earlier this morning, and you look at this and there is literally all of these guys on the team, different spots, different positions, different times throughout the game that they're all flying around and playing fast. They are just creating havoc. It's cool to see. It's across the board and you feel that. What that's doing right now is really putting us in a great spot to be able to win these games."
(2) Nagy remains determined to improve the Bears offense, but there were some positives to build on on that side of the ball in Sunday's win.
The Bears again struggled to establish the run and committed a costly turnover one play after the defense had generated a takeaway. But the offense also converted 7-of-14 third-down opportunities, scored on three of four first-half possessions and didn't allow a sack. In addition, the unit picked up first downs on eight of 10 drives, not counting the victory formation to close the game.
The Bears will continue to work on their deficiencies this week as they prepare to visit the Los Angeles Rams next Monday night. But that process no doubt will be much easier given their perch atop the NFC North with a 5-1 record.
"We know that across the board on offense right now, there are different things we can get better at—and that's everybody, myself included," Nagy said. "I saw yesterday what Nick [Foles] said about, 'Would you rather win ugly or lose pretty?' I think that kind of sums it up there.
"But the best part of what he said is that we all care and we all have to do whatever we can to get this thing fixed. We're 5-1 right now, and we're not playing well offensively. So when we do get this thing up and running, which we will, it's going to be fun. It's going to be a lot of fun. That's the goal. So we know. We understand where our warts are on offense. We get that, and we're going to keep working on it. But we're going to continue to stay positive as we do this because of where we know we're at and where we're going."
(3) Nagy was pleased with how the Bears performed on special teams, most notably kicker Cairo Santos and punter Pat O'Donnell.
Santos made all three of his field-goal attempts from 31, 55 and 31 yards to give the Bears leads of 10-3, 13-6 and 23-13. His booming 55-yarder with :02 left in the first half was a career-long and came less than two minutes after Joey Slye's 20-yard field goal had drawn the Panthers to within 10-6. Santos has now made seven straight field goals since missing a 46-yarder Sept. 27 in Atlanta and is 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) on the season.
O'Donnell continued to shine, placing three of four punts inside the 20. After O'Donnell's first three punts, the Panthers started drives at their own 11, 3 and 17. His fourth punt may have been his best, even though it resulted in a touchback. With the Bears protecting a 23-16 lead late in the game, his quick release prevented a Carolina player who had knifed through the line from blocking the punt, averting a potential disaster. The Panthers' four possessions following O'Donnell punts resulted in a punt, a fumble, an interception and a turnover on downs. Their other six drives ended with one touchdown, three field goals, a missed field goal and an interception.