With a little more than 6 minutes to play in the third quarter , Chicago Bears running back D’Onta Foreman treated the “Thursday Night Football” audience to a rare entertainment surge. Down inside the Carolina Panthers 5-yard line, Foreman knew he had a shotgun handoff coming and sensed with how the defense was aligned the middle would likely be clogged.
Thus, when Foreman took the football from rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent, he quickly planted and cut. “I just bounced it back (right),” he said.
Foreman instantly saw Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu coming over the top and accelerated.
“I knew it was going to be a bang-bang kind of run. It was just kind of mano a mano. May the best man win.”
Foreman did, bouncing off Luvu’s tackle attempt at the 2, spinning back inside and powering backward through safety Vonn Bell at the goal line.
In the Bears’ extraordinarily grindy 16-13 win at Soldier Field, that was the game’s only offensive touchdown. Fittingly, it punctuated an eight-play, 39-yard drive in which the Bears took full advantage of terrific field position and did just enough to surge ahead 16-10.
“I thought (that drive) was solid,” Bagent said. “Good play-calling, a good mix of things (with us) getting out on the edge, running the ball effectively and taking completions. … It was good to at least capitalize on one of those when it was direly needed.”
That was one of the most notable offensive sequences during a night in which the Bears and Panthers combined for 508 yards on 127 plays. It was, at times, a painful watch for the prime-time audience.
The Bears’ longest gain covered 16 yards — on the game’s first snap, a quick Bagent throw to DJ Moore, who found space and then did his thing, albeit with a little bit of admitted astonishment.
“I was shocked,” Moore said of that first catch. “Because that’s not what we had gone over. When it happened, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to start this party early.’ So I was happy.”
Asked for his take on Moore’s reaction, Bagent looked perplexed himself.
“I don’t know why he would be surprised,” Bagent said. “He is the best player on the field. So we try to get the guy the ball.”
Whatever. It was just that kind of night. And so be it, right?
Truth be told, the Bears didn’t so much win Thursday’s game as much as they outlasted one of the worst teams in the league.
In the absence of crowd-pleasing highlights, they at least eliminated turnovers from their routine and, by and large, avoided backbreaking mistakes.
The victory wasn’t really secure until former Bear kicker Eddy Piñeiro came up well short and wide left on a desperation game-tying 59-yard field goal attempt with 1:35 remaining. (Somehow, the Panthers needed 14 plays and 5:30 of game time just to set up that long-shot kick.)
A few plays later, Bagent delivered the win-sealing first down with an 8-yard completion to Darnell Mooney on third-and-7 with 1:23 left.
That was a bit of a calculated risk with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy dialing up a passing opportunity in a textbook running situation but reminding his rookie quarterback that it would be OK to take a sack if Mooney was covered.
“It was great communication between me and Luke, understanding what was needed and what we were looking to do,” Bagent said.
It was an even better catch by Mooney, who secured the ball while absorbing a huge hit.
With all the failure the Bears have experienced over the past few seasons, they weren’t about to apologize for Thursday’s victory.
“It wasn’t the prettiest performance,” Moore said. “But we found a way to win. And that’s all that matters in this league.”
Added cornerback Jaylon Johnson: “A win is a win.”
As ugly as Thursday’s game may have been, the Bears still had plenty of encouraging moments.
Foreman’s touchdown, for example, was part of a night in which he fought through a first-half ankle injury to contribute 92 yards from scrimmage.
The Bears defense, meanwhile, made life uncomfortable on Panthers quarterback Bryce Young all night long, sacking him three times, holding him to 185 passing yards on 38 attempts and not allowing a touchdown on nine Carolina possessions. (The Panthers’ lone end zone visit came on an early 79-yard punt return from Ihmir Smith-Marsette.)
Sure, the Bears failed to force a turnover for the fifth time this season. But the Bears limited Carolina to a season-low 213 yards and disguised coverages all night against Young, unnerving the rookie quarterback throughout.
“We did a heck of a job,” Johnson said. “It was just about giving him different looks, playing good coverage on the back end, making him have to hold the ball a little bit and then hoping for the D-line to finish it.”
Bears kicker Cairo Santos also chipped in, making all four of his kicks. Five if you count the 49-yarder he nailed in the first quarter that was negated by a Cody Whitehair penalty. But Santos quickly reset, used that first try as a teaching tool and struck again immediately from 54 yards.
“There was a little right-to-left wind kicking in that direction,” Santos said. “But when I tried the first one, I saw it basically fly straight. So honestly, that cleared my head. Just like, ‘OK, I don’t have to play any wind. Just hit a clean ball and it’ll get there.’ It actually kind of eased my mind. I knew I could get it there. And that first kick kind of gave me the confidence with how to play it.”
Those kinds of contributions add up in games like Thursday’s and the Bears were thrilled to head into a long weekend off with positive energy and a renewed sense of belief.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “We’re going to keep chopping wood. No matter what happens. No matter the circumstance, everybody on the field is going to rally around each other and find a way to make plays.
“We’re trying to show what we can do when everyone’s on the same page and locked in with an attention to detail. This was just a preview of it.”
Sure, this was a too-close-for-comfort win against a now 1-8 opponent. But it’s all relative, right? And for these Bears, at this stage of their climb, it’s OK to acknowledge they have now won their past two games at Soldier Field, obvious progress after they went 392 days between home victories.
The Bears are also now 3-3 over their last six games, playing a higher quality of defense and trying to get something going. Anything.
“You just grab hold of that momentum,” Jackson said. “Everybody knows how it feels when you win. So we got ourselves a little bit of that momentum. But now it’s time to go on a run.”
The Bears still have seven games left and two months of a season to try and salvage. They will need triumphs far more convincing than Thursday’s to establish any sort of meaningful direction. But a loss Thursday night would have been absolutely dreadful. Sidestepping that counts for a little something. And those good vibes the Bears will carry into Week 11 matter, too.
“For us in this locker room, we just really need this,” Foreman said. “Just trying to get these guys rallied back up. I really think if we stay together and the defense keeps playing lights out like they have been, we can get a bunch more wins.”