When inside linebacker Roquan Smith was unable to play in a Week 4 game against the Vikings, Nick Kwiatkoski stepped in and helped lead the Bears to a 16-6 win.
The fourth-year pro topped the defense with 10 tackles while also registering one sack, one forced fumble and two tackles-for-loss in the Sept. 29 victory at Soldier Field.
Called upon again six weeks later Sunday—also versus a division rival in Chicago—Kwiatkoski came through again. After Danny Trevathan exited with an elbow injury late in the first quarter, Kwiatkoski recorded nine tackles, one interception, one sack and one tackle-for-loss in a 20-13 win over the Lions.
The super sub picked off a Jeff Driskel pass and returned it four yards to the Lions’ 25 early in the third quarter, setting up Mitchell Trubisky's 24-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel that gave the Bears a 20-6 lead. Driskel started the game in place of the injured Matthew Stafford.
It was the first interception of Kwiatkoski’s NFL career and only the second takeaway the Bears have produced in their last four games. The 6-2, 243-pounder has appeared in 50 games with 15 starts since being selected by the Bears in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of West Virginia.
“Kwik has been doing this all year long,” said coach Matt Nagy. “You hate to lose a guy like Danny like that because he’s such a leader for us. We look at him for so many different intangibles. But with [general manager] Ryan [Pace] and his personnel guys, they created this depth chart throughout our team where when guys go down you’re able to have guys step up. Kwik has done that, and that’s what it’s all about. Sweeping the sheds, not being too big to do the little things. He’s a pure example of that.”
Big Ben: Tight end Ben Braunecker, who also joined the Bears in 2016, scored the first touchdown of his NFL career Sunday. Braunecker made a diving catch of an 18-yard pass from Trubisky to give the Bears a 7-6 lead late in the first half.
Braunecker beat single coverage by safety Will Harris in the corner of the end zone.
“Another really, really good pass, and Braunecker ran a great route,” Nagy said. “We caught them in a coverage that we were hoping to get them in, and then the guys have got to make the plays, and he put it exactly the only place where he could put that ball, and that was a tough catch. The kid made a good defensive play, and Braunecker had strong hands, came down inbounds and it was a nice jolt of energy for us.”
Braunecker saw expanded playing time at the expense of tight end Adam Shaheen, who was a healthy scratch for the first time in three seasons with the Bears.
“Just a team decision for us with where we’re at right now,” Nagy said. “We appreciate the way that Ben stepped up.”
Line change: As expected, the Bears flip-flopped two of their offensive linemen back to the positions they played last season, moving veteran Cody Whitehair to center and second-year pro James Daniels to left guard.
“I thought it went well,” Nagy said. “We have a lot of different reasons for that. No. 1, to be clear, the offensive struggles that had been going on with us have nothing to do with James Daniels not playing well or not performing. There’s a lot of different things that we looked into with the situation, and we felt very comfortable with that.”
Whitehair delivered four low shotgun snaps to Trubisky, but the Bears quarterback fielded all of them without fumbling. Whitehair had similar issues last season.
News and notes: Nick Williams recorded one sack and now leads the Bears with 6.0 this season, narrowly ahead of Khalil Mack (5.5) … Nagy improved to 3-0 against the Lions and 7-2 versus NFC North opponents … Tight end Trey Burton exited Sunday’s game with a calf injury ... Kwiatkoski's interception was the only takeaway of the game. The Bears are now 4-0 with a positive turnover ratio this season, 0-4 with a negative differential and 0-1 when it's even.