Empty in last weekend's season-opening loss to the Rams, the takeaway bucket on the Bears sideline was filled to the brim with footballs Sunday at Soldier Field.
Leading the Bengals 7-3 late in the third quarter of their home opener, the Bears proceeded to generate takeaways on four straight possessions, enabling them to widen the margin to 20-3 in an eventual 20-17 victory.
The performance provided redemption for a defense that failed to generate a takeaway and was plagued by mental errors a week earlier in a disappointing 34-14 season-opening loss to the Rams.
"Those guys, I'm so proud of them," said coach Matt Nagy. "They took it personal. They were a little bit pissed off of how it went last week. They weren't happy about it, and when you're a good football player and you get pissed off, you normally come back and play pretty well, and that's what they did."
"One of the things we challenged our guys with this week was to be able to swarm—run around and fly around and swarm. And I felt that down there. That was awesome. The sideline was going crazy and it felt good."
First, Eddie Jackson stripped the ball from receiver Tee Higgins after a 14-yard reception and Tashaun Gipson Sr. returned the fumble 13 yards to the Bengals' 39. The Bears then intercepted three straight Joe Burrow passes in a 2:49 span, the first of which Roquan Smith returned 53 yards for his first NFL touchdown.Jaylon Johnson and Angelo Blackson followed with their first career interceptions.
"I think that was just the defense trying to play up to our standards," said Robert Quinn, who recorded one of four Bears sacks. "Keep points off the board, or make them turn the ball over. Guys were out there rolling, having fun. We needed those [takeaways] today to keep some momentum on our side."
Offensively, Justin Fields replaced an injured Andy Dalton in the second quarter. Dalton hurt his knee after going out of bounds on a 14-yard scramble. The veteran quarterback returned for one series but then exited and sat out the rest of the game.
"It was crazy," Fields said. "You're constantly told, 'Be ready, you never know what may happen,' and it happened. Andy came out and then I just got thrown in. I think I was pretty prepared, but there were definitely mistakes made out there. I'm just going to go watch the film and learn from those mistakes."
Dalton looked sharp early, completing 9 of 11 passes for 56 yards and a 118.2 passer rating. On the game's opening possession, he connected on 6 of 7 throws for 39 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to Allen Robinson II that gave the Bears a 7-0 lead. Dalton also rushed for 25 yards on two carries.
The offense sputtered the rest of the way, generating only 131 yards and no touchdowns on its final nine possessions. In the fourth quarter, the Bears were forced to settle for Cairo Santos field goals of 28 and 22 yards after reaching the Bengals' 5 and 4.
Fields completed 6 of 13 passes for 60 yards with one interception and a 27.7 passer rating and rushed for 31 yards on 10 carries.
One of the rookie quarterback's most impressive plays came in the third quarter when he lost a fumble on a third-down sack by defensive end Trey Hendrickson. It appeared that linebacker Logan Wilson was going to scoop up the loose ball and return it for a touchdown. But Fields, crawling on his hands and knees, swiped the ball away from Wilson and recovered it, enabling the Bears to punt on fourth down.
"That was just me trying to get the ball back," Fields said. "I got the ball I think knocked out from behind me or something like that. I saw it on the ground. I know I got tackled, and I was just trying to get to the ball. That was definitely going to be a touchdown if I didn't get it. That was just pure effort. I was just trying to do my part and help my team win."
While the Bears scored 10 points in 3:57 early in the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 17-3, the Bengals answered with 14 points in a 1:00 span late in the period to close the gap to 20-17.
Burrow threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase. Three plays later, Fields' pass over the middle was intercepted by Wilson, who returned it 18 yards to the Bears' 7. On the next snap, Burrow fired a 7-yard TD pass to Higgins, drawing the Bengals to within 20-17 with 3:39 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Bears picked up two first downs on their subsequent drive, enabling Fields to end the game with three straight snaps in victory formation. The key play came on third-and-9 from the Chicago 26 when Fields broke a tackle and scrambled for 10 yards, giving the Bears a new set of downs with 2:05 to play.
David Montgomery picked up the second first down with back-to-back runs of 6 and 4 yards to ice the win. The third-year running back rushed for 61 yards on 20 carries.
"You have the pick and then the touchdown, and now all of a sudden it's third down and Justin makes a great play with his legs," Nagy said. "And that's things that he can do, he can extend plays. I thought it was a great effort by him to get the first, and then for us to get the first down with David in four-minute with the offensive line when we needed to, those were the bright spots."