After a mini-bye weekend, the Chicago Bears returned to Halas Hall on Monday to review film from their 16-14 win over the Detroit Lions and hold a short practice.
As he recovers from broken ribs, rookie quarterback Justin Fields worked to the side with other injured players during the portion of practice open to the media, and coach Matt Nagy said Bears medical staff still is working through whether Fields will be cleared this week.
Without Fields playing against the Lions, the Bears couldn’t assess the growth of their most important player. But there were still moments that mattered for the Bears future in the unconvincing win against the 0-10-1 Lions.
As the Bears move on from last week’s tumult around Nagy’s job status and focus on Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at Soldier Field, here are five significant things to take from Thursday’s win.
1. Darnell Mooney topped 120 receiving yards for the second straight game and third time this season.
Mooney said after the game he wasn’t happy with his performance against the Baltimore Ravens a week earlier, when he was targeted 16 times and had five catches for 121 yards.
His focus amid the hubbub around Nagy was squarely on improving his own performance.
“I was pretty upset with my performance on Sunday, so I’ve been pretty locked in all week,” Mooney said. “A lot of people were asking me what’s wrong, and I mean, I’m cool, I’m cool. Just very locked in.”
With Allen Robinson still out with a hamstring injury, Mooney had five catches in eight targets for 123 yards Thursday. The biggest was a 52-yarder on which Mooney beat safety Will Harris to get down to the 17-yard line, and the Bears scored on the next play.
Mooney said he recognized the opportunity to show what he can do as the Bears’ top target with Robinson out. He has 694 receiving yards this year, already topping his rookie output of 631. He’s on pace for more than 1,000 yards, and he can help that quest if he can minimize the drops that bugged him so much in Week 11.
“Anytime the ball comes to me, I feel like I should catch it,” Mooney said. “Regardless if it’s one hand, the tip of my finger, I feel like I should catch it.”
To go with Mooney’s production, second-year tight end Cole Kmet had a career-high eight catches for 65 yards against the Lions.
2. The Bears benched cornerback Kindle Vildor for Artie Burns, but Matt Nagy said Vildor can ‘improve from this.’
After Vildor was at the center of a few big plays during the Ravens’ winning touchdown drive in Week 11, the Bears turned to fifth-year pro Burns on Thursday.
Lions wide receiver Josh Reynolds beat Burns on a 39-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, but Nagy said he thought Burns recovered and made some good plays.
That begs the question of whether the Bears will give any more opportunities to Vildor, a 2020 fifth-round pick whom the Bears opted to trust this season despite his minimal experience. Vildor has made 11 regular-season starts in two seasons.
“As long as he knows that we’re going to coach him as best as we can, that we support him and believe in him, that’s the only thing that matters,” Nagy said. “Then when he gets back out there and does his thing — because he works hard and he practices hard, he’s a good kid and he’s young — so you learn through these. And you understand that sometimes when you’re on the sideline, you’re able to see some things that maybe you weren’t able to see before. So he’ll improve from this.”
3. As Trevis Gipson continues his development, he combined with Robert Quinn for a big takeaway.
One of the best things the Bears defense had going for it early in the season was the combination of Quinn and Khalil Mack getting after quarterbacks, made possible by Quinn’s impressive comeback season.
Quinn’s production has continued: He now has 11 sacks. But the Bears put Mack on injured reserve two weeks ago to have season-ending foot surgery, and the absence of the six-time Pro Bowler left an enormous hole to fill.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai said last week it’s still “a process” to get Gipson to where he and the Bears want him in his second season, noting Gipson continues to work on his hands at the point of attack and his conversions in the pass rush.
So it was a big moment when, as Quinn was taking down Lions quarterback Jared Goff, Gipson sprang forward to punch the ball out and then jumped on the fumble for a takeaway.
“I was just playing ball, was able to get free,” Quinn said. “I didn’t know it came out until I saw the replay. I told (Gipson) he was zeroed in on it. I don’t know how he got it out, but he locked in on it and was able to punch the ball out. I gave praise to him because he flipped the game just like that.
“He’s a young guy, but he’s doing a great job trying to fill in his role. As I tell him, I keep expecting more and more out of him. It looks like he’s rising to the occasion.”
4. After a rough patch, kicker Cairo Santos made the game-winner.
Before Santos lined up to kick the winning 28-yarder Thursday, he had missed a kick in each of his previous four games: an extra point against the San Francisco 49ers, the unlikely 65-yard attempt against the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended his franchise-record streak of made field goals, a 40-yarder wide left against the Ravens and a 53-yarder that was short against the Lions.
Santos said he “chunked” the turf on the third-quarter miss Thursday, leaving him without enough juice to make the kick. So to come through in the clutch later in the game was important for Santos, who said he selfishly was hoping for the chance to try the winner.
“Especially with me going through the last couple of weeks, and this week was an important week with everybody coming together and just believing in each other,” Santos said. “(I can) just keep going myself and get some of the dumb misses out of the way and just kind of catch fire again.”
5. Roquan Smith suffered a hamstring injury that had him working away from the team Monday.
With Mack lost for the season and Akiem Hicks still on the mend from an ankle injury, losing Smith for any amount of time would be another huge blow to the Bears defense.
Smith has 113 tackles, including eight for a loss, three sacks, three passes defended and a pick-six this season. His 17-tackle performance against the Ravens prompted Desai to say he was playing “a little out of this world.”
After suffering a hamstring injury in the first half Thursday, Smith was working to the side with Fields, Robinson and running back Damien Williams during team stretching Monday inside the Walter Payton Center. That was all media were allowed to watch, and the Bears don’t have to put out an injury report until Wednesday.
Nagy noted having a few extra days off over the weekend could help his players get healthy, but he said the Bears also will be monitoring practice reps to help with the wear on players’ bodies late in the year.
“Every year based off of how your team is and the team’s health is, that’s where like, in practice, you might pull back a little bit more and you might not have as many full-speed reps,” Nagy said. “But those full-speed reps are important, so there’s that balance. … Being able to come off of a bye, have a game, and then have a mini-bye here with Thursday, that’s good for our guys to get somewhat healthy.
“And so now as we head into this last stretch of games, we’ve got to make sure, and I’ve got to make sure, with the practices and the scripts in practice that the amount of plays (is right). Because typically we start off with X amount of plays, and by the time you get to the last regular-season game, you’ve chopped off sometimes up to 12 to 14 plays of practice that it can drop. So we just balance that.”
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