INDIANAPOLIS – Not too long ago an NFL team’s next-to-last preseason game was treated as a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
But that’s no longer the case. With the Bears among an increasing number of clubs opting to keep their starters on the sideline, it’s becoming a showcase for young players to prove they belong in the league.
Several Bears players took advantage of that opportunity Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium—and fueled a 27-17 comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts in the process.
No one made a more impactful statement than kicker Eddy Pineiro, who connected on all five of his kicks—two field goals, including a booming 58-yarder—and three extra points. It was his first game since the Bears waived Elliott Fry, leaving Pineiro as their only kicker.
“Anytime you hit one from 58, that’s a big deal there,” said coach Matt Nagy. “Today was a really good day for him and we’ll just stack them and do the same thing next week.”
Pineiro wasn’t the only Bears player who excelled. Safeties Deon Bush and Doyin Jibowu, and linebackers James Vaughters and Joel Iyiegbuniwe led a defense that generated two touchdowns, three takeaways and six sacks.
“I’m proud of the guys coming out and battling,” Nagy said. “I thought the defense did a great job. They just set the tone from the beginning.”
Bush did just that with a spectacular play early in the second quarter. The fourth-year safety ripped the ball out of Hale Hentges’ arms as the Colts tight end was being tackled by Nick Kwiatkoski. Bush jumped to his feet and returned the interception 91 yards for a touchdown.
Offensively, Nagy singled out running back Ryan Nall and quarterback Tyler Bray. Nall busted loose for a 69-yard run and powered into the end zone for an apparent 4-yard touchdown that was nullified by a penalty.
“That kid runs hard, and he’s really grown up as a player from last year to this year, so we can count in him,” Nagy said. “In the pass game he can protect. He has great hands. And you can see when he’s running in the open field he’s a big kid and you can’t bring him down with arm tackles. He showed that.”
Bray, meanwhile, completed 11 of 16 passes for 136 yards, including a 17-yard TD strike to undrafted rookie tight end Jesper Horsted, who had a team-high three receptions for 39 yards.
Trailing 17-7 late in the first half, the Bears scored the game’s final 20 points to improve their preseason record to 1-2. That included a 10-point outburst in a 3:02 span late in the third quarter.
First, Pineiro split the uprights from 58 yards, eliciting exactly the type of reaction you’d expect from the elated kicker and his supportive teammates.
“What I thought was neat was seeing how excited he was and pumped when he made that,” Nagy said.. “And what was even better was seeing the whole team surround him and fire him up and just see that camaraderie.”
The defense followed by scoring its second touchdown of the game as Vaughters sacked quarterback Phillip Walker, forcing a fumble that Iyiegbuniwe returned 22 yards, putting the Bears ahead 20-17.
Protecting its first lead of the game, the defense thwarted two Colts drives with an Iyiegbuniwe sack and Jibowu interception, both on key third downs.
“Those are the plays that we’re looking for because it’s the competition we’ve created in practice,” Nagy said. “Now they’re doing it against other players. When you have a chance to make plays, make plays, and I thought some guys did that tonight. You felt it. And all that does really inevitably is make the decisions tougher on us, but that’s what we want.”