Chicago Bears dominate all 3 phases to end a 3-game skid. Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the 33-14 win over the New England Patriots.


One week soon, Bill Belichick will break a tie with George Halas for the second-most victories by a head coach in NFL history. But on Monday night, the Chicago Bears didn’t allow Belichick that distinction on his home turf.

10 thoughts after the Bears came in and dominated all three phases of a 33-14 victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, the first time they’ve ever won at New England.

1. Pick an element of this game and the Bears just put it on the Patriots, ending a three-game losing streak in the process and improving to 3-4.

The 8 ½-point underdogs were not the slightest bit surprised by the outcome either. A lot of folks thought New England would run the ball down to make life easier for second-year quarterback Mac Jones and rookie fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe, as Bill Belichick planned to play both. Rhamondre Stevenson has been running well and with Damien Harris backfrom a hamstring injury, the Patriots had a second quality back. But they never got going.

New England went three-and-punt on its first two possessions and then ran only six offensive plays through the first 17 minutes, 47 seconds of the second half. The Bears controlled the game on both sides of the line of scrimmage — something that hasn’t happened with any regularity this season — and got a boost from special teams.

“We didn’t have a lot of answers for anything,” Belichick said. “We didn’t play well in the kicking game. We didn’t play well on defense or offense. Obviously, we didn’t coach well. Pick whatever you want. You can say the same about every phase of our game.”

Bears coach Matt Eberflus said Saturday he felt it had been an “A+” week for quarterback Justin Fields. That’s not surprising from the standpoint that’s about the only thing you ever hear from coaches, right? But in molding a young team, they’ve got to see it from Fields on the practice field — it’s has to work there first before it syncs up in the game. What’s been missing in the passing game all season? Timing and rhythm. That doesn’t just occur, and what’s going on with the Green Bay Packers is further evidence to that point.

General manager Ryan Poles was out on the road scouting late last week, but before he left, he was around the coaching staff as it sought solutions and ways to clean things up. He called it “incredible” in a pregame chat with the media before the game. Little did he know the Week 7 game would be a runaway. Poles kept circling back to the youth of the roster and finding ways to finish, and the Bears did that by scoring on five consecutive possessions beginning late in the second quarter.

Eberflus talks at length about the detail and time spent during individual drills in practice, and I know that’s not sexy reading, but if he and his staff reinforce it enough — and the players are hearing it more — eventually it pays off.

“I think that’s really an effect of stacking good practices together,” said Eberflus, who was quick to credit his coordinators after the game. “This is a culmination of that. We had a chance to take a breath during the bye week and really figure out what we needed to do, needed to adjust, what we’re doing well. And some things we needed to tweak a little bit and no big changes. And I thought we did a good job with that.”

The Bears had a rare 11-day span between games, their previous one was the Oct. 13 loss to the Washington Commanders. It afforded the staff extra time to review and make adjustments while also delivering coaching points. This week will be a quick turnover for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. The Bears will install first- and second-down material in long meetings and a walk-though Wednesday to give players extra rest before getting back on the practice field Thursday.

“This is one victory,” Eberflus said. “I thought we improved in our fundamentals, but we still need to improve. It’s on ongoing process.”

Let’s dive into the two improvements that set the tone of this game: Fields effectively throwing with a moving pocket with a heavy dose of designed quarterback runs, and a smaller defensive front (that is the way the Bears are built) that just took it to New England.

2. It looked like offensive coordinator Luke Getsy had two primary goals — and he showed it early on.

Getsy wanted to move the pocket for Justin Fields and wanted to get the quarterback on the run more with designed runs — not the scrambles you’ve seen more of.

On the first third down of the game — third-and-4 on the third snap for the offense — Fields had a short sprint out right to create room to clearly see the field and he hit Darnell Mooney for a 20-yard gain. That’s been a difficult play for this offense, one that has stumbled along as one of the NFL’s worst on third down. It was a banner night there as the Bears converted 11 of 18 third downs (61.1%), their best showing since Week 3 of the 2019 season at Washington. How rare was it for the Bears? This is the eighth occasion since the start of the 1996 season they’ve converted 61% or better on third down.

What did Getsy call on the next play after that initial conversion? He rolled Fields out left — moving the pocket — on what was an 11-yard completion to Equanimeous St. Brown. That helped slow the pass rush and defined clear throwing windows.

The Bears needed 14 yards on the next third down. Getsy opted for a safe call — a handoff to David Montgomery — that helped produce the first of Cairo Santos’ field goals. But on third-and-6 on the following possession, Fields was able to buy time, sliding out of the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield and connecting with St. Brown for 19 yards. That’s something Fields hasn’t done a lot of. When he’s escaped the pocket, he’s pulled the ball down and taken off — he’s not seeking a teammate popping open downfield.

Two plays after the big gain to St. Brown, Fields took off on the first designed run — and 8-yard gain — and two plays later, he scored on a keeper around left end to make it 10-0.

Fields finished 12 of 21 passing for 179 yards with one touchdown, a nifty little sidearm toss to Khalil Herbert on a screen, and one interception on a ball deflected at the line of scrimmage. He ran a career-high 14 times for 82 yards. Yes, he had more yards in the previous game against the Commanders (88) and ran for 103 yards against the San Francisco 49ers on Halloween last season, but it hasn’t looked like this before. It could have been a heck of a lot more too. Fields had 74 rushing yards at halftime. But the Bears would much rather see Fields on a designed run that running for his life. Only 13 of his 54 carries through the first six games were designed QB runs, and most of his in Week 7 were too with a few exceptions, including a 20-yard scramble in the second quarter when the Bears faced third-and-14 at the Patriots’ 41-yard line.

Getsy’s mix of calls worked so well you probably wondered “where has this been?”

“We gave him third-and-long and it seems like he would just find a running lane and pick it up with his feet or make a throw,” Patriots edge rusher Matthew Judon said of Fields. “I think he was just keeping the chains moving. We kind of had no answers for him.”

Safety Devin McCourty suggested the Bears borrowed from Baltimore’s game plan from Week 3 when the Ravens came in and won 37-26 with QB Lamar Jackson carrying 11 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.

“Throwing, dropping back, scrambling, more designed runs than we saw on film,” McCourty said. “I think with the extended time, they added some plays I think we saw in the Baltimore game. Some of those style of plays, but we just didn’t do a good job of keeping him in the pocket.”

The material has been in the Bears playbook since training camp and was sprinkled it in prior to this game.

“I thought they were good,” Fields said. “I thought it brought a whole different element to our offense. We executed that well. And there were definitely some explosive plays in the design runs for sure.

I wasn’t trying to take many big hits. I knew I had more designed runs this game. I knew I was going to have to run the ball a little bit more. Just being able to last the entire game was big.”

I don’t know that the Bears want to run Fields 14 times every week, but he’s been a smart ball carrier. The offense racked up 390 yards with 243 on the ground, the third time the team has topped 200 yards in the last five games. The 243 rushing yards is the sixth-most the Patriots have allowed under Bill Belichick all-time. How about that?

“We still saw a lot of things we can get better at,” said tight end Cole Kmet, who rode a Patriots cornerback far into the bench area on one Fields’ run. “But I think we’re kind of finding our niche a little bit there with Justin carrying the ball like he was. He’s a tough dude. Little more designed stuff and let him use his legs.

“When we came back … this is what the coaches did during mini bye. It was cool to see that. I think that’s something we can lean into. I think people get obsessed with the pass game stuff, 350 yards a game, which is all awesome and that will happen. Let’s lean into our strengths and I think when you get Justin — he’s a big guy — when you get someone who is 6-foot-3, his size and he can just fly. He’s built for it. It provides a lot of advantages.”

As wide receiver Darnell Mooney said, if the 10 players on the field all block their man, Fields only has to beat one defender. Advantage: Bears.

“Depending what defense they’re in, certainly when you have a quarterback that can — has the designed runs with the run pass off of it — and then also have the ability to scramble and make first downs,” Matt Eberflus said. “I think that’s a big piece. And it’s hard to defend. Justin did a nice job of executing today.”

3. The Bears delivered a physical blow to start the game.

They did so with their front seven and it set a tone that never really shifted, even when New England scored consecutive touchdowns to take a brief 14-10 lead in the second quarter.

The Bears run defense got off to a particularly poor start this season. The 49ers got 176 yards in Week 1 and the Packers pummeled the front for 203 the next week. The worst came in Week 4 at MetLife Stadium when the New York Giants rumbled for 262 yards on the ground.

But there wasn’t panic. There wasn’t guys moving in and out, other than a normal rotation on the line — something Matt Eberflus does in waves to keep his men fresh. It’s required some buy in and trust, and it’s been better since. The Minnesota Vikings rolled up 117 yards but that came on 31 carries. The Commanders had 128 yards on 28 attempts last week. Progress.

“They couldn’t run on us tonight,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “We have been working on it week after week. We were just locked in on our job. I have been saying that since Game 1. All 11 guys are needed. Finally this week, we all settled in and did our job. Nobody was trying to do too much. How many yards did they have?”

The Patriots running backs — Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris — had 47 yards on 14 carries combined. Neither had a 10-yard run.

“There is it,” Jones said, his face beaming with pride. “It takes all 11.  When we stop the run, that’s what happens. Practice with a purpose.”

When Jones talks about it taking all 11, he means each man has to fill his assignment. The Bears weren’t freelancing up front as much as players were trying to do too much, and in doing so, leaving a gap. It came together against a team that has dominated opponents on the ground with a one-dimensional approach.

“Yeah, got off to a rough start (defending the run), but it’s not about how you start it’s more so about how you finish,” said linebacker Roquan Smith, who had a game-high 12 tackles with one sack, one stop for loss and one interception.

“After the first couple games, everyone had to look themselves in the mirror and know that they can do their job better. We feel like if everyone was doing their job better, we could stomp that out because we’ve got the guys.”

Smith disputed the idea the Patriots took control of the game — if for only a brief period — during the second quarter after Bailey Zappe relieved Mac Jones and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers behind broken coverage before Stevenson scored on a 4-yard run after a 43-yard bomb to DeVante Parker.

“I personally felt like we took over pretty much the entire game,” Smith said. “You think about the plays that they got. They only got the one go ball (to Parker), then they got the, ‘Oh, crap!’ play (Meyers’ TD), a busted play when the back swings (out of the backfield). Other than that, they didn’t really do too much. We stuck true to what we knew and played within the scheme.”

It started with stopping the run. The Bears are on a good little stretch right now for defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

4. General manager Ryan Poles chatted with reporters for about 10 minutes before the game.

There were a couple key talking points, starting with what he said about Justin Fields.

“We’re encouraged with the progress that is there,” he said. “I know it’s not on the statistics and on the paper all the time, but he is getting better in a lot of different areas. I think as a whole, we’ve got to continue to play better around him as well to allow him to keep playing well and get his confidence going and execute at a high level.”

The statistics showed up more in this game. Poles said “speeding up to the game and making decisions quicker” are things he wants to see from the quarterback. Fields’ habit of holding the ball too long has drawn outside criticism through the first two months of the season. That actually led to some Patriots pressure: Matthew Judon had 2 ½ sacks, and by my assessment, those three plays were avoidable.

“But again, the beautiful thing about football, it’s reliant on everybody else,” Poles said. “As a whole we have to improve, and I think we’ll see that as everyone starts to get better and then we’ll start to ascend.”

Poles disputed the notion that pass-blocking issues or a wide receiver room that needs to be overhauled (my words, not his) has made it impossible to evaluate a second-year quarterback in a new system.

“We’re still able to evaluate everybody in our current situation,” he said. “I’m convicted with the things that we did this offseason and in the draft. And we’ll continue to chip away. And like I said, everything we’re going to do or doing is to sustain success over a long period of time. Within that, I think we can still evaluate our players — from the quarterback to guys on defense and all the positions.

“As an offensive lineman, you’re always worried about (keeping the QB healthy). You want your guys upright all the time. I think it’s a little bit of executing faster (by Fields). But then there are also some protection things that need to improve as well. So, it’s really a holistic view that needs to improve for him to stay upright.”

When he evaluated Fields through the first six games, what did he like?

“With young players, you’re looking for the flashes,” Poles said. “And I think he has shown the flashes of getting the ball out on time, being accurate, some of the deep shots — like even the one to (Dane) Pettis (against Washington) was incredible. Continuing to do those things, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Poles was asked if he wants to be active at the Nov. 1 trade deadline to potentially upgrade the wide receiver room. My interpretation of what he said is the Bears will not be a buyer.

“We’re always going to be active in the terms of making phone calls or picking up the phone and just seeing if that is something that can improve our team and it makes sense for us,” Poles said. “Not only for now, because I’ve always talked about this — it’s sustaining success for a long period of time. It’s not the short fix all the time. Just blending that together is tough because it takes a lot of discipline to do. So that’s what we’re balancing.”

I don’t believe Poles — with sustained success in the future as a top goal — wants to trade future draft capital for a wide receiver that might be a No. 2. The Bears have collected No. 2s before, and they have a fine one right now in Darnell Mooney. They need to get a bona fide No. 1 in the offseason. Could the Bears potentially be a seller? That’s more likely, and I’ll get into that a little later with Robert Quinn.

5. Three seasons as an NFL assistant — two with the Patriots (2018-19) and one with the New York Giants (2020) — educated Illinois coach Bret Bielema in a part of football he knew about but didn’t understand deeply.

After seven successful years at Wisconsin and a five-year run with Arkansas, Bielema knew the path his best players needed to traverse to reach the NFL, but he didn’t realize how intricate the process is.

“Being in the draft room, all of the prep leading up to it, the different voices that come into the draft, it’s a lot,” Bielema said Wednesday after practice in Champaign when asked if he learned anything in the NFL he’s applying now to the Illini.

“You will have area scouts, national scouts, a college director, a director of personnel, all of the different voices that go into it,” he said. “A lot of times you think they are all speaking from the same voice, but they are really trying to gather up as much information and put a collective pool of that together. I was amazed at the volume of information, especially the higher the pick. They want to minimize their chance (of failure).

“I keep telling these guys now, ‘The better you play and the higher you rank, the more scrutiny that is going to come.’ So that’s a big eye-opener and for me, just the things I learned in the NFL, situational football, football IQ.”

Bielema brought lessons from the pro game when Illinois hired him in December 2020 to replace Lovie Smith, saying at the time, “I’m trying to be good now.” The turnaround has been swift, as the 17th-ranked Illini are 6-1 coming off their bye, in first place in the Big Ten West and already bowl eligible.

I made the trip to Memorial Stadium to check in on the program because I’ve heard from multiple scouts this season that Illinois is one of their favorite visits in the country. With a defense that has allowed only five touchdowns, surrendering just 8.9 points per game, and with Chase Brown leading the nation in rushing, it was time to check out what the buzz is about.

“He’s treating the scouts so well,” one East Coast-based national scout said of Bielema. “He has the scouts in his office and talks about all the kids and is as honest as you would want. You have free rein in the building. It’s just awesome.”

“It’s a great visit there,” another national scout said.

Bielema was always open to scouts at Wisconsin, continuing a cooperative policy from Barry Alvarez. He continued to be NFL-friendly at Arkansas, but after his stint in the league, he got a better idea of exactly what scouts are seeking when they show up in the morning armed with coffee, a notebook and a list of players they want information on.

Bielema meets daily with Jay Kaiser, the Illini’s pro liaison, to get a rundown of who is coming by. Plenty of schools are known for being helpful to the NFL’s information gatherers. Alabama’s Nick Saban is so welcoming, a scout joked, “You’re practically in the huddle during practice.” Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald consistently gets high marks too. But there are schools that scouts dread going to — and it’s not because they have to make a trek to Timbuktu.

Bielema makes visitors’ time valuable. There are three important segments in which scouts learn about academics, how players perform in the weight room and what medical questions there might be.

“When I break our last meeting, I meet with the NFL scouts that are there that day and give them 15 minutes and what they call NFL one-liners,” Bielema said. “I will say, ‘Palcho (right tackle Alex Palczewski), this is a guy that is a tackle for us but he probably has guard value. The NFL will see him as a four for five — he can play four out of five positions (on the offensive line). He has medical history that you will want to check out, but I have never limited him.’ That’s what they love because I speak their language.”

With the Illini matching their best start since 1953, some players naturally are garnering attention, including Brown, a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Their suffocating defense consists of a lot of players recruited by Smith. Three Illini players were drafted in April, including center Doug Kramer in the sixth round by the Bears. Three undrafted rookies from Illinois also made initial 53-man rosters.

Here are a few current players NFL scouts mentioned:

“The back is playing really well,” the first national scout said. “He had a nice season last year and is really carrying the load. The safety (Sydney Brown, Chase’s twin brother) was like the Energizer bunny when I saw him in practice. He jumped out. Tough as nails. His motor was going the whole time. I am interested to see how those guys are playing when they play some tougher teams.

“The cornerback, he’s a real thin kid. He’s got a chance to be a pretty good player. He might be in the 170s. Ideal backup that can come in and play when someone gets hurt. One guy that kind of flashed when I was there was Newton. He looked the part but he’s a little shorter. It sounds like all of those guys on the D-line are playing well.”

Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy listed Chase Brown and Witherspoon on the all-star game’s midseason “All-Riser” team based off improvements made from junior tape grades.

Chase Brown has topped 100 rushing yards in all seven games this season and has 192 carries. If Illinois reaches the Big Ten title game and Brown continues his current pace, he would have 384 rushing attempts, which would rank 12th all time in the FBS. The only player in the last decade to have more is Derrick Henry (395 in 2015 at Alabama).

Brown has become a better receiver out of the backfield this season with 15 receptions, one more than he had in 2021. That’s a critical component in evaluation, and Brown told me he worked hard on that during the offseason, saying it’s mostly mental.

Newton, a 6-foot-2, 295-pound redshirt sophomore, is intriguing because he has had tremendous success as a pass rusher and projects as a three-technique in the NFL, the position Smith told him he was destined to play when he was recruited. While Newton lacks ideal length, the production is striking. Entering the bye weekend, he led the nation in quarterback pressures (34) and QB hits (14), according to Pro Football Focus.

“My knowledge of the game has really helped me out, especially on early downs,” Newton said. “I’m watching extra film to learn what this offense is going to do on first and second down. What do they like to do when they get in the red area? A lot of my sacks and pressures come on early downs. Coach B calls it Football 101. I feel like I am really smart knowing the game now, so come game time, I already have in my head what they’re going to do on a play. So I just have to execute.”

What is Bielema’s evaluation of the Brown brothers and Newton for the NFL?

On Chase Brown: “From a pro standpoint, he’s an early-down back that has great third-down value. He’s got great hands. He can hold up in protection, and that’s something in the year ahead — whether it’s here or in the NFL — he’s got to get better at because that is one of those things he can get good at. I would use him as a kick returner, but he’s just too valuable for us. He will bring special teams value. To me, he’s a faster Montee Ball. I was with Saquon (Barkley) in New York and he has the bigger thighs and a little different presence, but Saquon had the ability to run away from you, run through you and make you miss. That is Chase Brown. He has the ability to do all three of those. If I had Chase Brown for four years — if this was his fourth year — he would be one of the best players in college football and he would be the front-runner for the Heisman. What he’s done through these first seven games of the season is unbelievable.”

On Sydney Brown: “Remember Bob Sanders? Bob could generate a lot of power in a short amount of space. That’s what Sydney can do. He is very physical. He doesn’t need 5 yards of a head start to do it. In the NFL, if he was your third or fourth safety as a rookie, you would be happy. He will start on every phase of special teams and super high football IQ and intelligence. Really just scratching the surface. He will get better at tackling. He’s definitely physical. I can’t have the Brown brothers on the field at the same time. They will get in fisticuffs. That’s one thing I have learned. He’s around the football a lot and he can play some high-point safety. He’s a good pressure guy. If anything, you’re going to have to slow him down. It’s not all about full throttle, full speed. You have to play with tempo.”

On Johnny Newton: “The NFL loves comparisons. When I was with the Patriots, we had a guy by the name of Malcolm Brown, played for Texas and he was a first-rounder. Johnny is not an overly long guy but he’s very powerful. Against Indiana, he had 11 pressures. Eight of them were early-down pressures. The NFL loves that. He’s living that to a T. In a four-down look, he’s probably a shade to three (technique), and then with three-down, he’s probably an end with a little bit of nose value. So he’s incredibly valuable from an NFL standpoint.”

6. There’s an important factor to consider when wondering if the Bears should have considered trading Robert Quinn during the offseason.

GM Ryan Poles flipped Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers for a second-round pick and a sixth-round selection in 2023. The Bears are not known to have engaged in talks about dealing Quinn — who was fresh off a monster 18½-sack season — and now the 32-year-old is a potential candidate to be moved with the trade deadline fast approaching.

It’s possible the Bears kept Quinn because his leadership and what he means to the locker room was more valuable to Poles and coach Matt Eberflus than a potential draft pick. The right vibe and culture in the locker room isn’t important to those simply counting available salary-cap space and future draft picks, but it’s a real thing to a first-year GM and coach. If the Bears would have completely stripped the roster, that would have sent a rough message to players and would have made buy-in difficult. Players need to feel a club’s actions and messaging matches their own goals for winning. Lose that and it’s a difficult thing to regain, at least right away.

If that was a factor in not trading Quinn at the time, could it change if another team is seeking a veteran edge rusher to fortify a defense with a chance to make a postseason run? I have to imagine Poles will do what is best for the team, so it certainly seems possible.

Quinn is good friends with Chris Long; the two played together in Quinn’s first five seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Has Long’s experience shaped Quinn’s goals? Long left the Rams for the Patriots in 2016, and they won the Super Bowl that season. Long then went to the Philadelphia Eagles the next season, and another championship followed him.

“C-Lo, now that’s my guy,” Quinn told me. “I already know where you’re going with this. We’ve mentioned it before. In all honesty, our days in St. Louis, we weren’t winning a lot. He won his first in New England and then to leave there and win another one … he’s won more Super Bowls than I’ve won playoff games. Let’s put that in perspective. That’s not a bad accomplishment.”

Quinn hasn’t been on a team that has won a playoff game, and in his first 11 seasons, he was on only one team that finished with a winning record. That was in 2017, his final season with the Rams, when they went 11-5 and lost in the wild-card round to the Atlanta Falcons. If he remains with the Bears for the rest of this season, he’s likely destined for another nonwinning season. One of the best edge rushers of the era has toiled in relatively obscurity for mediocre teams.

Quinn doesn’t have any say in what happens in the next week or how active Poles will be in working the phone. Professional football players are motivated to make a living for their families and, if successful, even create a comfortable living for their children. But they also want to chase a Super Bowl ring.

“You just kind of broke it down … while you are playing, the purpose is to win regardless and no matter how it is done — 100-99 or 2-0,” Quinn said. “You just want to win. But we have an opportunity to change generations of our family if we do it right. You don’t want to lose sight of the (other side). Hopefully if you win, the other side should come along with it.

“(A potential trade) is never on my mind. I’ve been here for 2½ years and I am kind of tired of moving. Can we get it to work together and start winning some games? I’ve been traded twice and told from another team I wasn’t coming back. As much as I don’t want to … whatever happens, happens. I’m going to come in here every day and just work. What happens beyond that is out of my control.”

Quinn’s value isn’t great at this point. He has one sack and three quarterback hits through seven games, but looked active and contributed to problems for Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, who drew four penalties. Whether it’s an anomaly or something else, he hasn’t had consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks since 2013-14. But Quinn is healthy and if he was in a better defensive front, he could add value to a team looking to make a playoff run.

“I don’t know if they can trade him,” one director of player personnel texted. “He’s older and is having a subpar year. So subpar that it might be difficult to find someone that wants to take on the contract.”

Who could be in need? ESPN reported the Rams, Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs all checked in with the Carolina Panthers about pass rusher Brian Burns, who at 24 would command an absolute haul if he is traded. Carolina reportedly rejected an offer of two first-round picks for Burns. The Chiefs traded for an edge rusher at this time last year, dealing a sixth-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Melvin Ingram. Quinn probably offers more as a player now than Ingram did then, but Quinn’s base salary is $12.8 million and as the director of player personnel said, that is a big factor.

Maybe Poles will have to consider eating some of the remaining contract to facilitate a deal. Maybe the Bears will decide Quinn is an important figure in a young locker room. I take what Quinn says at face value because he’s a straight shooter, but I also wonder if he would be energized by a winning team knowing there’s a shot at playoff success, something his buddy Long experienced after lean years.

7. The Bears did everything they could to prepare Velus Jones Jr. for left-footed punters the last four weeks.

They brought in free agents who kick with their left leg to simulate what he would experience fielding punts from Jamie Gillan of the New York Giants and Tress Way of the Washington Commanders. Just as a slice by a right-handed golfer goes the opposite direction of one hit by a left-hander, the spin of a football is different and carries the ball in opposite directions.

Jones had critical muffs in the fourth quarter against the Giants and Commanders that were major factors in both losses but not necessarily because he wasn’t accustomed to the lefty spin.

Jones was benched as the returner Monday night, replaced by Dante Pettis, who handled duties early in the season when Jones was injured. Pettis had a 27-yard return late in the third quarter, setting up the touchdown that put the game away and topping combined punt return yardage gained previously this season by the team. He also had a muff he recovered.

“I’ve dropped punts before and it sucks,” Pettis said. “I hate to do it. It happens. Devin Hester dropped punts. I know that stuff happens. You can’t let it stay with you too long especially in a game like that where I knew I was going back out there.”

It has become relatively common for teams to bring in lefty punters for tryouts leading up to a game against a team with a left-footed punter. No one is quite sure when it all started, but it’s something Patriots coach Bill Belichick was doing way back in the 1980s. Current Patriots punter Jake Bailey kicks with his right leg, but Belichick has had left-footed punters for the longest time. New England had a left-footed punter at the start of the season for Belichick’s first 19 seasons with the Patriots.

“The ball spins opposite,” Belichick said at a 2014 news conference. “When you go to the other foot, it’s reversed. I think there’s definitely something to be said for that, practicing that way.”

Belichick went on to explain he was an assistant with the Giants (1979-1990) when returner Phil McConkey spoke about the different spin from a left-footed punter. The Giants had a string of right-footed punters but quarterback Phil Simms, who threw right-handed, actually punted with his left foot “pretty well” in Belichick’s estimation. So the Giants would have Simms kick the ball to McConkey in practice.

“I don’t want to make a big deal out of it because I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, but I do think that there’s no question it’s the reverse spin and the reverse reading of the ball,” Belichick said.

That brings us back to the Bears and the practice of bringing in free agents to prepare the returner. Before the Giants game, lefty James Smith was brought in. The week of the Commanders game, Ryan Anderson was brought to Halas Hall for his sixth tryout since 2019.

“It’s something you do with all returners,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “They just have to see it off the foot and get to the spot with their feet. It’s definitely a different ball than a right-footed punter. It’s just like in baseball, you’ve got to hit a left-handed pitcher.”

Unfortunately, the detailed practice didn’t make a difference for Jones, who didn’t get under a punt at New York and then made a poor decision catching a punt as he fell to his knees against Washington. Again, Jones didn’t get under the ball.

Anderson, a first team All-Big Ten selection at Rutgers in 2017, is used to getting calls from teams seeking a left-footed punter — and no club has requested him more frequently than the Bears.

“It’s a unique position to be in,” he said. “There are not a lot of lefties out there. That’s a foot in the door, if you will. I look at it as a glass-half-full opportunity. They need the look and I am getting that look as well. I always want to perform to the best of my ability so they know if anything ever happens or they aren’t happy with their current situation. I always look at it like they’re looking to sign me right afterward. I don’t look at them as using me because I am a left-footed punter.”

Tryout players do not get paid by teams. Their travel and accommodations are paid for, but there’s no check at the end of the workout. For the 27-year-old Anderson, who works for Vertical Raise in DeWitt, Mich., helping raise funds for various school athletic and arts programs, it means rescheduling his week on the fly when he gets a call.

In 2019, he crisscrossed the country. He was with the Giants during the offseason and then had tryouts for the Bears, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions along with workouts for the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.

One time, he was headed to the Broncos facility in Englewood, Colo., when the 49ers called. They told him they booked a flight from Denver to San Francisco for him and wanted him there the next day for a tryout if he didn’t sign with the Broncos.

“I was gone for almost six days and I had two days of clothing with me,” Anderson said. “That was the last time I did that. Now, whenever I go, I take a week’s worth of clothes.”

Anderson, who is married and expecting a child in February, wakes up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. and works out six days a week. He tries to punt three to four times per week on a local field.

“I always travel with my balls and my workout gear,” he said. “Once it becomes winter, I throw a shovel in my trunk and I have been shoveling off little parts of the field to punt.”

He has 13 footballs — but five are currently flat and he’s planning to send them to Wilson to be repaired. I asked if he ever has asked a team for a football to tuck in his bag on the way out of town.

“Actually I have never asked that question,” Anderson said. “I would love to. Balls are expensive, about $100 apiece, and I have ones that are flat. I’m going to ask next time, tell them you told me to ask.”

Two weeks ago when he was at Halas Hall, he punted for Jones and others after practice. Hightower asked for spiral kicks.

“It was like 20 mph winds and raining,” Anderson said. “I handled it pretty well. When Coach (Chris) Tabor was there last year, he put me through a full-fledged workout. I would do some pooch punts, some end-over-ends, knuckleball hits and sky balls. I throw with both hands, so he even put me through a throwing workout just to see what I could do.”

Until the phone stops ringing or Anderson loses his passion, he’s going to stick with his routine.

“I have a great career,” he said. “I love what I do. It’s one of those things where it’s kind of until the fire dies inside of me. I am in as good of shape as I have ever been in. My body isn’t telling me to stop. My heart isn’t telling me to stop. Keep rolling until something happens.”

8. Credit to Sam Mustipher for filling in — and playing well — after Lucas Patrick left with a toe injury after the second series.

The team quickly announced Patrick was doubtful to return — and that’s not a good sign but it’s also not proof it’s a bad injury. Mustipher was benched during the mini bye week and the team decided Patrick would slide from left guard to center and inserted Michael Schofield at left guard.

The coaches provided players with feedback last week, stuff they were doing well and improvements that were needed. Mustipher, who had started 29 consecutive games entering Monday night, had marching orders from offensive line coach Chris Morgan.

“He wanted me to get better in pass pro specifically,” Mustipher said. “I am doing my best to clean that up. You know there’s going to be times where you have to go up against better rushers. The way I prepare and the way I work, those are guys I need to be able to block for this team. Hand placement, leverage, efficiency with the pass sets, things like that. Normal fundamental stuff.”

How did Mustipher handle the benching?

“I’m pissed,” he said. “It’s not in my nature. I’m a competitor. I want to help the Bears win in any way possible. Was there games that I had that were rough? Yeah. But there’s games that guys have that are rough vs. elite players all the time. One of the games that was rough, let’s not beat around the bush, it was the New York Giants game. Dexter Lawrence is playing at an All-Pro level right now. If I am who I say I am and I work the way I work, I want to be able to block those guys. But yeah, I was pissed.”

Mustipher kept that energy inside of him and went to work on the practice field. He provided tips in the meeting room, knowing if he let his anger control him, “it goes south fast.”

He was quick to credit Schofield for playing well as they got used to working alongside one another. It was a better performance for Mustipher, but there’s no telling if he will be needed next week.

“I think it was very convenient we had that mini bye week,” Mustipher said. “You get a true opportunity to look yourself in the mirror. It’s a young team but it’s a hungry team. Guys are able to be honest with themselves over those few days off. Guys weren’t screwing around. They were figuring out ways to get better so we can right this ship.”

9. Cairo Santos is on a nice run.

He’s opened the season by hitting all 11 of his field goals. Daniel Carlson of the Las Vegas Raiders (16 for 16) is the only other kicker who is perfect with a minimum of seven attempts. We’re not talking about cheap ones either: Santos has hit four from 50 yards and longer and four from 40 to 49 yards.

Santos set a franchise record when he made 27 consecutive field goals during the 2020 season — and he’s in a similar groove right now. The Bears haven’t missed as a team either, as fill-in Michael Badgley was 4-for-4 when Santos missed the Giants game for personal reasons.

Santos has kept his routine this season precisely where it was before. That was after special teams coordinator Richard Hightower consulted with the veteran kicker.

“It’s coming down to the routine I have during practice,” Santos said. “I have always said … I repeat the same kind of process every kick I get in practice and then when it gets to the game, it just feels like repetition, muscle memory. I can always count on a perfect operation from (long snapper Patrick) Scales and Trent (Gill, the holder). They make a big difference. I can just focus on myself and always expect they’re going to do a great job. It does feel like I am out there and the ball is kicking itself because the routine is great.

“I kick Wednesdays and Fridays, and Hightower had Robbie (Gould, the former Bear) kick Wednesday and Thursday (in San Francisco) because that is what Robbie liked to do. When Hightower got here, we talked about it and I said I’d like to keep my routine because I am very comfortable with that and he was like, ‘You say it. We’re here for you.’ It feels like it’s the same routine since I got here in 2020 and we just keep getting better.”

The results are sure supporting the routine.

10. When evaluating Ryan Poles’ first draft class, close attention will be paid to cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker.

Brisker has been pretty solid from the outset and Gordon appears to be settling in after what he would admit was a bit of a bumpy start.

“I think Kyler’s getting better every single week,” Ryan Poles said. “I thought the last game (Washington) was probably his best game so far. We put a lot on his plate playing inside and outside and that takes a lot of mental toughness. Especially playing DB in this league, it’s a grind. There’s a lot of space to cover, so he’s doing good, and will continue to improve — I truly believe in that.

“And then Brisker’s been doing a good job, too. I’ve been expecting him to make some plays on the ball and I think that’s going to come as well. But his ability to tackle and come in and fill and help our defense become physical, I think he’s done a good job, too.”

Brisker got a play on the ball here and did a nice job of getting his feet down. Sort of prophetic by Poles.

10a. The Bears held the ball for nearly 15 minutes then New England more and ran 70 offensive plays to the Patriots’ 48. That doesn’t happen to Bill Belichick often.

10b. Wide receiver Byron Pringle is eligible to be activated from injured reserve this week. He was placed on IR Sept. 27 with a calf injury. The club hasn’t shared any kind of timetable, but a little less than four hours before kickoff, Pringle was working out on the field under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Jim Arthur. That’s a good sign — figure Pringle returns sooner rather than later. He could potentially take the roster spot of Isaiah Coulter, who was promoted from the practice squad this week. Keep in mind Pringle has missed almost two months after a quad injury sidelined him during training camp and preseason.

10c.  Wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown had seven targets. He caught four balls for 48 yards. Worth wondering if getting the big target going in the passing game was also on Luke Getsy’s to-do list.

10d. The Fox crew of Adam Amin, Daryl “Moose” Johnston and Pam Oliver will call the Bears-Cowboys game on Sunday from AT&T Stadium.

10e. The Cowboys opened as a 10-point favorite over the Bears at Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.



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