After Sunday’s slippery, shocking 19-10 win against the 49ers, Matt Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. system stood for: He Isn’t Terribly Surprised.
He might be the only one. The Bears pulled the biggest upset of Week 1.
“I’m not surprised,” Eberflus said after his first regular season game as a head coach, at any level. “I thought the guys executed. I thought that they hung in there. That’s what you’ve got to do in the NFL. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s always going to be hard.”
That’s a handy reminder as the Bears embark on a rebuilding season. Sunday wasn’t pretty; their offense thrived on broken plays and defense took advantage of 49ers quarterback Trey Lance starting his third career game.
Eberflus’ debut, though, set the perfect tone for his coaching style. The Bears were sloppier than their playing surface in the first half, but, with rare exception, stuck to the discipline that their new coach preached with religious zeal all offseason long. That’s the way they have to win games this year–they’ll be outgunned most weeks.
The Bears won the turnover battle 2-1. Cornerback Jaylon Johnson punched the ball away from the 49ers at the Bears’ 12 on their first drive. In the fourth quarter, safety Eddie Jackson picked off a pass, allowing the Bears to pad their three-point lead.
In each of Matt Nagy’s last two seasons, the Bears finished top half of the league in most penalty yards against them. Sunday, the Bears had three penalties for 24 yards. The 49ers were flagged 12 times for 99. The Bears gained six first downs by rushing, four by passing — and five via penalty.
“You give yourself a chance,” Eberflus said. “We’ve said from the onset that we’re going to play smart, aggressive football. …
“If you go over the line, you see that, whether it’s hitting after the whistle, pushing, hitting quarterbacks out of bounds, all those types of things that beat you. You beat yourself that way, and we just don’t want to do that.”
The day he was introduced as head coach, Eberflus told his players to “get your track shoes on.” He’s harped on speed and endurance ever since. Sunday, the Bears outscored the 49ers 19-0 in the game’s final 21 minutes.
“Coach always says it’s mental and physical stamina,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “Who can play the longest the hardest? … I think we won this game with mental and physical stamina.”
The victory should reinforce the beliefs built his program around during the offseason — and the practices that Johnson considers the hardest he’s ever experienced.
“It just gives you more want-to to go out there and keep doing it,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to go through hard things and keep waking up having a positive mindset about doing hard things like that. For anybody, that’s a tough thing.
“I feel like it definitely gives us more confidence and more willingness to keep going out there and pushing ourselves mentally and physically, and to buy into what they’re telling us.”
The Bears have taken on the personality of their head coach.
“We just kept pushing as a team,” rookie left tackle Braxton Jones said. “It’s a 12-round fight. Not six rounds. Not eight rounds.”
The same could be said of what might still be a long season for the rebuilding Bears. Eberflus planned to enjoy his first win in typical subdued style — with family and with friends such as former Missouri mentor Gary Pinkel, who stood in the back of the room during his postgame news conference and embraced him afterward.
“I go with the people that love me,” Eberflus said, “and I love them.”
One thing Eberflus wasn’t going to do: the Slip ‘n Slide routine with his players in the north end zone after the final gun.
“There was no belly flop,” he said.
Now that would have been surprising.
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