GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Bears took the field Sunday in Arizona with a chance to move into first place in the NFC North for the first time since 2013 and raise their record above .500 for the first time since 2014.
And although it looked bleak early, they accomplished both feats by rallying in dramatic fashion from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to beat the Cardinals 16-14 at State Farm Stadium.
After allowing two Sam Bradford touchdown passes in the opening period, the Bears defense fueled the comeback by shutting out the Cardinals over the final three quarters. Trailing 14-3 at halftime, the unit opened the second half by generating takeaways on four straight possessions and then stuffing Arizona on a fifth drive to clinch the victory.
The takeaways came on interceptions by Eddie Jackson, Sherrick McManis and Bryce Callahan and a forced fumble by Khalil Mack that was recovered by Danny Trevathan.
“They say they come in bunches,” Callahan said. “Once one person gets one, everyone else gets one. Those takeaways, we came out with a fire under our behind. We know we had a couple of mental errors in the first half and we had to step up and come back from that.”
The Bears offense converted the first three takeaways into Jordan Howard’s 1-yard touchdown run and Cody Parkey field goals of 41 and 43 yards, the second of which gave the Bears a 16-14 lead with 4:31 remaining in the game.
“It was a team win collectively,” said coach Matt Nagy. “This is for our defense three weeks in a row now where they’ve done some special things. Offensively, we understand, too, that we can be a lot better in so many different areas. But really in the end there’s only one thing that matters, and that’s to win. That’s all that matters. That’s all we care about.”
With the victory—coupled with losses by the Vikings (1-1-1) and Packers (1-1-1)—the Bears (2-1) moved into first place in the NFC North for the first time since Week 16 of the 2013 season. It’s also the first time they’ve had a winning record since they were also 2-1 in 2014.
The Bears defense was led by Mack, who had a team-high five tackles and two sacks and also recorded three quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one tackle-for-loss. McManis registered one interception, one sack, one tackle-for-loss, one quarterback hit and one pass breakup. His sack came on the final play after the Cardinals had advanced to their own 46 with :05 to play.
The Bears offense generated enough points to beat the Cardinals, but the unit mustered only one touchdown and has scored only four TDs in the first three games of the season.
The offense produced one touchdown on three red-zone trips Sunday. Parkey missed a 46-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter after Mitchell Trubisky was sacked for a 15-yard loss. The Bears later settled for Parkey’s 20-yard field goal after they had first-and-goal at the 4.
“As a staff and as players, we all need to collectively get a lot better in the red zone right now,” Nagy said. “We got fortunate with our defense because field goals just don’t win you games. But that’s OK right now because we got it, and now we just keep working through these.”
Trubisky completed 24 of 35 passes for 220 yards with one interception, one lost fumble and a 73.5 passer rating. Howard rushed for 61 yards and one TD on 24 carries.
The Bears struggled on both sides of the ball in the first quarter, falling behind 14-0.
Bradford threw touchdown passes of 35 yards to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones and 21 yards to running back David Johnson. The first score capped a five-play, 75-yard drive on the game’s opening possession. The second TD came one play after defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche sacked Trubisky, forcing a fumble that defensive tackle Corey Peters recovered.
After the Bears defense left Seals-Jones uncovered to give the Cardinals an early 7-0 lead, the Chicago offense responded by marching to the Arizona 13. But on third-and-six, Trubisky was sacked by blitzing defensive backs Bene Benwikere and Budda Baker,
The Bears’ second possession ended when Trubisky stepped up in the pocket and was stripped from behind by Nkemdiche. On the next play, Johnson beat Trevathan to haul in Bradford’s second touchdown pass of the game, giving Arizona a 14-0 lead.
The Cardinals’ 14 points in the first quarter Sunday more than doubled their previous season output; they had been outscored 52-6 in losses to the Redskins and Rams.
But with a stellar effort by their defense, the Bears rallied for their second straight win. They had been just 1-7 in games immediately following victories the past two years.
“For being such a young team, they’re resilient,” Nagy said. “They’re very resilient, and these are situations, these are games, these are scenarios, these are some pieces of adversity that we’re responding to right now, and not every team right now in the NFL can say that.
“It’s a credit to those guys for sticking together. You go in that locker room, and you couldn’t tell which side played well and which side didn’t play that well. You couldn’t tell that because we care about the ‘W.’ That’s the only thing that matters for this team.”