Bears defense wins ‘fistfight in a back alley’Patrick Finleyon October 11, 2021 at 1:41 am

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack tackles quarterback Nathan Peterman on Sunday. | Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

This was the Bears defense we’ve been waiting for — the kind that can take over a game, at home or on the road. One that punches back.

LAS VEGAS — As Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder prepared to put on one of Sin City’s biggest boxing matches in years Saturday night, Bears coach Matt Nagy gathered his team at its Lake Las Vegas hotel. Sunday’s game against the Raiders, he told them, was going to be a brawl.

“This was going to be a fistfight in a back alley,” Nagy told his team.

The Bears were ready. In one of the most meaningful wins in Nagy’s three-and-a-half year coaching career, rookie quarterback Justin Fields proved his toughness over and over again. The Bears’ run game bullied the Raiders even with David Montgomery on injured reserve. But most importantly, the Bears defense hammered the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense in a 20-9 win at Allegiant Stadium.

“It was huge,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Not many people had us doing what we did.”

This was the Bears defense we’ve been waiting for — the kind that can take over a game, at home or on the road. One that punches back.

“We just wanted to dominate,” safety Eddie Jackson said.

They did.

The Raiders averaged 4.3 yards per play, the fewest the Bears have allowed all year.

Five of the Raiders’ 10 drives Sunday yielded eight yards or less. Two ended on downs. In the second quarter, inside linebacker Roquan Smith stuffed running back Josh Jacobs on fourth-and-1. On the stop that sealed the game, the Bears, up eight with two minutes to play, forced a Derek Carr incompletion on fourth-and-5.

Carr, who led the NFL in passing yards entering Sunday’s game, went 22-for-35 for 206 yards and an interception. His 67.1 passer rating was the 15th worst of his career, in which he started 115 games.

Carr was sacked three times. Khalil Mack, whom the Raiders traded to the Bears for a pile of draft picks in 2018, had one — and a second on a two-point conversion that didn’t count statistically.

“He made them regret everything,” Jackson said. “Made them regret not wanting to keep him. You know, Mack’s our leader. He’s had games like this. We fuel off that.”

The Bears said Mack was unavailable to talk after the game. Mack made no secret of his motivation to play his old team, particularly after he was practically shut out against the Raiders two years ago this week in London.

Jackson said the Bears wanted revenge against Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who mocked “Club Dub” in his locker room speech after the Bears’ London loss.

“Fuel to the fire,” he said.

Nagy pointed to the long, angry airplane ride home to the States.

“I don’t care what anybody says, you remember that …” Nagy said. “[Mack] was part of that and he understands that. I think all of our guys, we talked about, it’s the mindset of making sure our guys know that we weren’t coming in here to play – this was going to be a fight. He knew that.

“And so Khalil’s in a leadership role to make sure other guys see how he plays in this moment.”

Playing with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan in a part-time role but without injured Akiem Hicks, the Bears seem to have found a formula — although one as old as the franchise itself.

“I feel like that’s been a Bears thing,” Jackson said. “That’s Chicago Bears — the defense go out there and play, try to hold them to no points.”

Or nine. Only three times in the Nagy era had the Bears allowed fewer points than the Raiders’ nine. That dominance, more than any other reason, is why the Bears are in a markedly different place after Sunday’s win than they were just eight days earlier.

Nagy was asked what he learned about his team since their embarrassing loss to the Browns in Week 3.

“We fight, plain and simple,” Nagy said. “I don’t make it hard. I just make it real simple. And these guys, they fight.”

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