10 thoughts after the Chicago Bears won during “Thursday Night Football” for the second time this season.
No style points were earned Thursday at Soldier Field when the Bears got in one of those ugly games in a short week that either looks like a defensive battle or bad offensive football, depending on your point of view. Far more valuable is the boost they will get from the first-round draft pick they have coming from the Carolina Panthers in April, a selection that improves after the 16-13 victory.
1. When the Bears began actively shopping the No. 1 overall pick more than eight months ago, the first question I had was pretty simple.
What quarterback is the team that trades with GM Ryan Poles coming up to get? There wasn’t a consensus No. 1 pick and, if there was, I think the Bears probably would have held onto the selection and taken the quarterback.
“Good question,” one player personnel director told me. “Can’t be Bryce Young though.”
As it turned out, the Panthers became Poles’ trading partner Poles and Carolina did indeed draft the Alabama quarterback. The personnel director reasoned it wouldn’t be Young because he wasn’t just undersized, he was off the chart in terms of size when evaluating the position. Young measured 5-foot-10 1/8 and 204 pounds at the combine, and the Panthers list him at the same. He’s short for the position and there were durability questions for him coming out of school.
Everything else about Young was aces in the estimation of evaluators as he was a terrific performer at Alabama, playing big in big games with top-notch makeup. If he was 6-2, the Bears probably would have drafted him.
In retrospect, it’s worth wondering if the Panthers wish they had used the pick to choose C.J. Stroud, who has been dynamic for the Houston Texans and only seems to be getting better. In fact, it’s fair to ask the Panthers and the Bears if they wish they had used the pick on the Ohio State quarterback, who has passed for 2,270 yards so far this season with 14 touchdowns and one interception. The Houston Texans (4-4) have won four of their last six games and early returns are positive as it’s not like there is a ton around Stroud on that roster.
Why Stroud wound up going No. 2 to the Texans is a story for another day. The story here is how the Panthers/Bears trade will be intertwined in Poles’ likely search for a quarterback after this season as he works to bring the franchise back to competitive ways. This was a must-win game for the Bears and you can’t read too much into one game but, yikes, the Panthers are hurting. They were missing some key players — defensive end Brian Burns (concussion) was out — and the secondary has been riddled with injuries, but that’s a bad roster right now. The Panthers lack speed, playmakers, adequate protection for Young and any hint of a running game. Consequently, he looked shaky even as he avoided a turnover. He completed one pass — a 45-yard shot to wide receiver Mike Strachan — for more than 14 yards in the entire game.
I think everyone is curious to see how Young, who completed 21 of 38 passes for 185 yards and was sacked three times, can perform with better protection and some legitimate wide receivers but the Panthers are going to have to find help without that first-round pick. Carolina sent wide receiver DJ Moore to the Bears in the trade — the Bears also have a second-round pick coming from Carolina in 2025 — and he’s been a real asset, entering this week sixth in the league in receiving yards. The Bears got some help on the offensive line in drafting right tackle Darnell Wright after trading with the Panthers, so Poles got a start on fixing some of his issues in the trenches.
Who won the trade is always an interesting talking point. You can’t declare a winner in this deal right now. Young isn’t off to a great start. He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns last week in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He’s finding all of the potholes that often wreck the rookie season of quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall.
But the Bears can’t win this trade unless they can hit with the draft capital they have coming. The Bears can’t truly claim victory unless they can find their quarterback of the future in April and then watch that player actually develop into that guy. Otherwise, years from now the trade will be a shuffling of assets that didn’t pan out in the long run. It also could be remembered as the chance the Bears had to select Stroud and, again, that might be something the Panthers are already wishing they had done differently.
Carolina hosts the Dallas Cowboys in Week 11 before playing three consecutive games on the road. The Panthers might sneak up on another opponent the rest of the way but judging from this effort — they can’t rush the quarterback without Burns and they don’t turn the ball over real well — they’re going to be firmly in the mix for the worst record in the league and that will be a prize for Poles and the Bears.
2. Montez Sweat doesn’t have a sack yet through two games, but his impact is being felt.
It’s fair to say he’s off to a good start with his new team. Sweat is going to have to be very, very good for the trade — the Bears sent a second-round draft pick to the Washington Commanders — and the contract to add up.
The Bears knew they would have to pay a premium to get a deal done, and that is what happened with a $98 million, four-year extension that will keep him here through 2027. That’s elite pay for an edge rusher. The list of pass rushers with an average annual salary above Sweat’s $24.5 million is Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt, Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett. That’s it. Throw Khalil Mack and Von Miller in there too for the list of the six players with a full guarantee greater than Sweat’s $41.965 million.
Again, Ryan Poles knew the territory he was entering when he made the trade and knew the kind of contract he would have to write to keep Sweat. Was risk involved? No question. But Poles, when assessing what help could be available for his defensive front in the offseason via free agency and the draft, felt this was a gamble worth making.
Sweat got after Bryce Young on the second snap of the game, pressuring the Panthers quarterback to his right and getting a hit while forcing the rookie to throw the ball away. Six plays later, Sweat hit Young again on another incompletion and the tone was set.
“We wanted to rattle Bryce a little bit,” Sweat said. “I think we did a great job of that. My counterparts had a great game.”
He was eager to share credit, but Sweat had three of the Bears’ nine QB hits a week after he was solid chasing after Derek Carr in New Orleans. Justin Jones had three hits with Yannick Ngakoue, Gervon Dexter and Rasheem Green getting one each. Jones, Ngakoue and Green all tallied a sack. The sacks for Jones and Ngakoue came on third down.
“We were running a little game and the game just fell apart,” Jones said of his sack when the Bears had the Panthers backed up in third-and-10 on their own 10-yard line. “I just went power and (the lineman) fell over. I made the play. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you planned it. If you’re there, you’re there.
“Making sure we got Tez situated … it allows for a lot more production on my side.”
The Bears entered with a game plan to pressure Young and disguise coverages on the back end. Of course, the defense is aiming to get after the opposing quarterback every week, but we’ve seen so many games the past two seasons where that hasn’t materialized.
“We knew going in they had some tendencies on the O-line that we would be able to take advantage of,” Jones said. “That’s what we did. We focused with communicating with one another throughout the game and made a lot of plays.”
Tendencies? What did the Panthers show?
“If I tell you that … ” Jones said with his voice trailing off as if it was a guarded secret that needed to be guarded.
But wait a minute. The Bears aren’t going to play them again this season and sure as heck not going to meet in the playoffs. Plus, the more games the Panthers lose, the better it is for the Bears.
“Shoot, man,” Jones said. “We knew that center (Bradley Bozeman) was sliding to the field. That kind of helped us out a lot.”
With better pressure comes tighter coverage, and the secondary had four pass breakups.
“I could definitely feel it,” strong safety Jaquan Brisker said of the pass rush. “A couple great hits. You could definitely feel it as a DB. Give a hand to the D-line, they did a good job. Next thing we need is strip-sacks and then next thing you know it’s tips and overthrows and we’ve got to have those interceptions. That’s going to be good for us in the future.”
The Bears believe Sweat is already commanding extra attention from opponents — and that means more consistent one-on-one matchups for others on the line. His value is going to be measured in his production and how his presence improves those around him. There is enough evidence to suggest the Bears should be pleased with how things are starting.
3. Kyler Gordon was terrific and film review should go really well for him.
The nickel cornerback, now halfway though his second season, finished with a season-high eight tackles (seven solos), had two tackles for loss and a key pass breakup in the third quarter. The Panthers had third-and-5 at the Bears’ 20-yard line and Bryce Young was trying to connect with Terrace Marshall Jr. on a crossing route. Gordon deflected the pass, forcing the Panthers to settle for a field goal.
He was sticky in coverage, especially on crafty veteran Adam Thielen, and explosive in run support. The first play he made was dropping Thielen for a 1-yard loss on a screen. He tackled tight end Tommy Tremble for no gain on one pass and Thielen for only plus-3 on another. With the Panthers on their own 9-yard line, Gordon knifed through to tackle running back Miles Sanders for a 6-yard loss on first down. Carolina punted from their own end zone and the ensuing possession was the Bears’ only touchdown drive.
Another play that stood out came near the end of the game. On second-and-10 from the Bears’ 41, Young tried a deep shot down the right sideline to Jonathan Mingo. Gordon was with the wide receiver every step of the way in sticky coverage.
“Inside leverage,” Gordon said. “He ran a go route. I tracked him down. He was locked up.”
It was the fifth game back for Gordon after missing four on injured reserve with a broken hand.
“I am back on a roll,” he said. “When I played my first game with not really practicing a whole lot, I was just jumping back out there. You come back and you have to shake the rust off as soon as you can and keep balling. That’s what I tried to do.”
4. It was a rough start for the Bears on special teams.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to open the scoring and things looked like they were headed south when Cody Whitehair was called for a false start on Cairo Santos’ 49-yard field goal, a penalty that was difficult to see from the press box.
Santos’ 49-yarder sailed through the uprights but was negated by the penalty, pushing him back 5 yards.
“There was a little right-to-left wind kicking in that direction (north),” Santos said. “But when I tried the first one, I saw it basically fly straight. 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.’ I knew I could get it there. And that first kick kind of gave me the confidence with how to play it.”
It was the first of three field goals on the night for Santos, who is now 15 of 16 on the season and 4-for-4 from 50 yards and longer.
“Kicking here, I always take the approach that I need to bring my A game every day,” he said of Soldier Field. “I never feel like I have it figured out here in Chicago or that I’m kicking well. I humble myself every day. And I challenge myself to make all my opportunities at practice and that has allowed me to always be focused in a way that I didn’t feel with my previous teams. That’s something I cherish playing in Chicago. It brings the best out of me. It’s cool to enjoy that success.”
There is work to do for the special teams unit, however. The Bears entered the game 29th in the league in punt coverage allowing opposing returners an average of 12.6 yards. They’re headed the wrong way in the rankings after the Smith-Marsette’s score.
Gunner Josh Blackwell was the first man downfield and dove, missing the ex-Bears wide receiver. The next best shot to bring -Marsette down probably belonged to long snapper Patrick Scales, and he missed, leaving a huge opening on the right side.
“Shoot, if (Blackwell) tackles me, I’m not doing my job,” said Smith-Marsette, who has three touchdowns in the NFL, all against the Bears. “You always get taught to make the first guy miss. I made the first guy miss and I saw the flow of the punt unit pushing (to my) left. As soon as I saw a couple crossovers, I just shot it. Then it was on, the long snapper, I just gave him a one-two and I had to go. It was open.”
Blackwell was downfield quickly and made a tackle on the next punt, but this one was a learning lesson.
“I wanted to hit him as hard as I could,” Blackwell said, noting he was energized to be playing after missing most of the season with a hamstring injury. “I wasn’t going to slow down. I missed him. I was like damn. that’s just on me. I’ve got to play smarter than that instead of trying to make a big hit and get the crowd going. I gotta just make the play first.”
Said Scales: “The open field is not my friend. I did a poor job of breaking down. I should have taken a shot instead of waiting for him to dice me up. When something crappy happens, you gotta put it behind you and keep going.”
Fortunately, Santos and the rest of special teams were solid and it looked like the Bears might have sniffed out a potential fake by the Panthers. That is the best explanation I can come up with for why Carolina took a delay of game before a Johnny Hekker punt.
“Those are trade secrets,” Hekker said when asked. “I can’t tell you.”
5. In a perfect world for Matt Hoover, the teams he roots for would go on nice, long, sustained stretches of highly competitive play.
They would be drafting, on average, about 24th over a decade or so. Hoover would be thrilled if the Bears, after this season, are not in the mix for a high draft pick in the foreseeable future.
But after their biggest game of the season to date in terms of draft order, where they will be picking with the Panthers’ selection and their own will be one of the biggest stories until the end of the season.
With the Bears’ win, they currently would hold the No. 1 and No. 5 picks in Round 1 of the NFL draft if the order was based on standings entering the remainder of the Week 10 schedule. There will be plenty of movement as the final eight weeks unfold.
Chances are you will lean on Hoover for information — or rely on information that was sourced from Hoover — as you keep tabs on how things are shaping up for what some will call the most pivotal offseason in Bears history. Remember when that was thrown around at the start of this past offseason?
Hoover is the founder and proprietor of Tankathon.com, a website he began in November 2013 when it looked like the Chicago Bulls might be going down the tank after Derrick Rose suffered a second serious knee injury and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
“I learned how to do website stuff and coding in 2013, and I started working on the website after D-Rose got hurt again,” Hoover said. “He tore his meniscus in Portland. I was depressed about the Bulls and wanted to tank and started tracking the draft order on ESPN’s standings, reverse order, and counting where the Bulls were.
“I just decided to make my own tool and track the draft order and put it out there. I posted it on a couple of basketball forums and it’s just spread since.”
Coding was new to Hoover, now 38 and a North Side resident, and it took him a couple of weeks to get the bare minimum for the NBA’s projected draft order up and running smoothly on the website, which he launched in December 2013.
“It was the standings and I had the lottery simulator,” he said. “I’ve worked on it pretty often ever since, adding more features, more sports.”
Now you can find the NFL, MLB, NHL and most recently he added the WNBA. There are big boards, mock drafts (for every league but MLB), lottery simulators — really everything you need as you dream about the possibilities that tanking (or just losing a LOT) opens up.
Hoover, who was raised in Evanston and has a 9-to-5 job as a software engineer, even has Tankathon merch available if you’re looking for a T-shirt or hat representing your favorite team’s pursuit of enhanced draft capital.
“I don’t sell very many T-shirts, but I do have ads on the website, so it’s secondary income,” he said. “And the reason I keep working on it is because I enjoy it. I am still passionate about the Bulls and the Bears and the prospects coming into the drafts.”
I was curious if Hoover’s passion for the website would remain if the Bulls or Bears suddenly got very good and draft chatter was reduced to about four to six weeks in the offseason.
“I do want that despite my interest in building the site,” he said. “That is the goal. I would still work on the site just as much because there are always going to be bad teams. Every year there is a bad team. Got to keep it going for the fans.”
The site is automated to update daily with results from the various leagues, so it’s not like he has to manually adjust the standings.
“What I spend more time on is getting the prospects for the draft entered, their information, and the ranking of the big board and the needs for each team in the mock draft,” he said. “The mock drafts are also automated. I set up the NFL teams’ needs and there is a big board of players and it sort of figures out who each team will take as the order changes.”
So how does Hoover feel about the Bears looming as a major power broker in the 2024 draft with two picks that could easily be in the top five?
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I really, really want Caleb Williams on the Bears. The level of hype he is getting as a prospect, you don’t get that every year. It’s a good year to have two shots at the No. 1 pick, and hopefully we finally get a quarterback that is good.
“I was born in 1985. I’ve never seen a good Bears quarterback unless you want to argue for Jay Cutler or Erik Kramer for a year or two. I’d like Tyson Bagent to be good. I’ve kind of given up on Justin Fields at this point, although the couple games (versus the Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders) were exciting.
“Having the Panthers as an option, to root against them, that’s a clear-cut decision. That’s good. I won’t be too upset if the Bears win a couple games, but I am mostly rooting for losses at this point.”
NBA traffic dominated Tankathon for the longest time, but Hoover said in the last year or two the NFL has caught up and maybe eclipsed basketball. Excitement about Connor Bedard in the past year gave his NHL traffic a spike, and he said WNBA traffic has been solid.
“I checked in the last month, and traffic, at least in terms of U.S. metropolitan areas, Chicago was No. 1,” Hoover said. “Historically, Philadelphia was humongous for me because the site (was born) during ‘The Process’ Sam Hinkie era, so Sixers fans loved it.
“It goes through phases. If the Knicks or Lakers are bad, traffic goes up a lot. Then the Bulls have had a lot of suffering teams. Chicago’s misery helps me out, yeah.”
6. The decision Johnny Newton made last winter wasn’t an easy one.
And the process was more difficult because he was surprised by an evaluation from the NFL’s college advisory committee. The Illinois defensive tackle was a second-team All-American last year, led the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense in sacks (5 1/2), tackles for a loss (14) and quarterback hurries (11) and tied for the national lead with 19 QB hits, per Pro Football Focus.
It made complete sense for the redshirt sophomore, who was eligible for the draft, to see what the NFL said. So Newton and Illinois put in his name for an evaluation from the committee, which is composed of evaluators from all 32 teams through National Football Scouting and BLESTO.
The committee offers three ratings: potential first-round selection, potential second-round pick or neither, which is a strong hint to stay in school.
The evaluation that came back for Newton: neither.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “I was upset. I feel like I had a great year last year. I had to re-evaluate everything, where I was going to go, what I was going to do. It was not where I wanted it to be or where I expected it to be. It said come back to school.
“I knew I had to come back for another year so I could prove to them again that I am worthy of being a first-round pick.”
Who knows where Newton would have been drafted had he turned pro. One Midwest-based national scout told me he probably would have been a fourth-round pick but admitted that was a total guess. Spending another season with the Illini — who are 4-5 and need to win two of their remaining games against Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern to become bowl-eligible — was probably the best move for Newton.
The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Newton now projects as a potential first-round pick. He has 4 1/2 sacks, with one in each of the last two games against Minnesota and Wisconsin, and seven QB hurries.
“He’s a good player. I don’t know if he’s great,” said the scout, who has been through Champaign this fall. “He’s been really productive. He’s more of a technician than an athlete, but he’s certainly athletic enough. It’s going to be interesting to see how he tests, and I think that’s going to play a lot into where he gets drafted. He’ll be a Day 2 guy, just what part of Day 2. That’s my projection.
“He would have to test off the charts in order to break into Round 1. Three-cone, 40, short shuttle, doing really well in the jumps. He’d need to put up big numbers. There’s a wide range of what (a twitchy player) looks like. He has some and he’s a coordinated player. Just not twitchy at the top of the range, the elite level.
“Don’t get me wrong. He is a good player. Makeup is all really good. He’s a great kid and everything is really clean in that regard.”
Where Newton will fall in the draft will be a little scheme-dependent as well. He profiles as a three-technique tackle, and being undersized, as the scout noted, often comes with that position. He’d be an instant fit for the Bears. Not every defense has that profile for a tackle, but disruptive interior linemen are difficult to find, and when the scout calls him a “technician,” that’s not a knock.
“There are a lot of things that I could have touched up and been more dominant at after last season,” Newton said. “I feel like I was really young (he doesn’t turn 22 until August) as well. So I’m getting another year of maturity and getting stronger, faster, more physical. I knew that would help me. I wasn’t upset about my decision.”
Illini coach Bret Bielema said he learned over the years not to lean on what he thinks about his players when they seek input from the NFL.
“I’ve been surprisingly shocked on the high end and the low end,” Bielema said of the advisory committee’s evaluations. “I distinctly remember working with players in the past and saying, ‘Oh, that’s a little lower than I thought,’ or maybe it’s a little higher than I thought. The fact of the matter is it’s pretty real. Since I’ve been in it, 15-year head coaching career, the number that they have given us, I can only think of one time where (the player entered the draft and) it didn’t become reality.
“I give the NFL teams a lot of credit. I know they dedicate a lot of man hours to it and it’s very helpful. The thing I’ve always tried to argue is that the pool that can receive the information needs to be increased (schools are limited to submitting five names annually). I think that could lead to some guys making some really good decisions.”
When Bielema learned Newton would be returning for 2023, he crafted a plan to help him achieve his goal of becoming a first-round pick.
“Johnny wanted to take his play a year ago — which was really good — to a different level,” Bielema said. “I gave him three big things to work on and he has surpassed even what I thought. His first step, his get-off was good. It’s even better this year. He’s really learned how to anticipate, and his burst, that’s been good.
“Second thing is his conversion from a year ago. Early-down pass rush. A lot of times, just how fast you read run/pass and his conversion has been exceptional. It’s the best I have been around. The third thing is his finish. What we call top of the rush, when he’s really trying to get to the quarterback, those three things have been a big improvement.”
Newton believes his run fits are improved and he cited the conversions Bielema mentioned as another area where his game has elevated.
“You can watch all the film you want,” Newton said, “but come game time, you have to feel it out to get that real experience and know what’s happening.”
I asked Newton if he has given thought to withdrawing from the team to begin preparing for the draft. It’s not unusual these days, late in the season, for players on teams that are not in the national championship hunt to forgo their final college games.
“I am big on finish what you started,” he told me. “My dad always taught me to finish whatever you start. That’s just how I am programmed. Of course I am going to finish these last three games.
“Hopefully my play can do all of the talk for my draft stock and where I’m going to be picked. Coach B and I talked about it (in January): ‘This is not where you want to be (with the evaluation). Come back another year and I promise you it will change.’ That’s what I have done so far. Trust the process.”
If Newton tests well, he might just achieve his goal.
7. Three weeks after rookie Tyler Scott made a big third-down play over the middle for quarterback Tyson Bagent, he delivered on fourth down.
The Bears went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Panthers’ 36-yard line in the second quarter.
It looked similar in some respects to the play Scott had against Las Vegas. He was crossing the middle of the field, although from the opposite side. Once again, he was the third read for Bagent. The conversion helped lead to a field goal.
“We were in a bunch set to the field, I think DJ (Moore) was by himself to the boundary,” Scott said. “(Darnell) Mooney had the through route. And he’s reading the safeties and depending on what they do, he’s adjusting. I had the in route coming in behind him. He’s kind of clearing out the safeties and I’m pretty much the last read because I am pretty sure Tyson is reading DJ, to the over that Mooney has and then he’s turning back side to me.”
The ball arrived with Panthers safeties Xavier Woods and Jammie Robinson right there and Scott was good for a 15-yard gain. It’s only the second catch Scott has had since the Raiders game and he’s totaled only nine on the season, but his playing time continues to be pretty consistent.
“You’ve got to make a play,” Scott said. “That’s what they drafted me here for. You have to take advantage of your opportunities. I’m figuring out how can I continue to grow. I’ve got more reps, which is just showing from the coaching staff, ‘We trust this kid.’
“That’s the first thing as a rookie, I’m just trying to learn the trust first. Once I earn their trust, and then they have the trust to put me in on fourth down. I’m able to get in that situation now that I wasn’t able to maybe so much earlier in the season.
“Then it’s just doing the dirty work, whether it’s blocking, whatever you can do to try to win the football game. I feel like if you work hard and do those things, opportunities will come your way.”
8. I have rookie defensive tackle Gervon Dexter for 29 snaps in the game.
My count might have been a little off — it’s difficult to read the white numbers on the orange jerseys from the press box — but that’s an uptick from Sunday when he only had 14 in the loss at New Orleans. Fellow rookie tackle Zacch Pickens got 12 snaps against the Panthers and was on the field for 11 against the Saints.
It’s a feeling out process for the line right now. The addition of Montez Sweat looks like it is leading to more snaps inside for DeMarcus Walker. I know the playing time for the rookies has been a topic too; Dexter had one tackle and one hit on Bryce Young, Pickens had one tackle. They don’t play a position that is going to fill up the box score and the Panthers ran only 57 plays.
Dexter said he was told this week he’d probably get a little more action against Carolina.
“But it wasn’t like a big thing,” he said. “It was a new week. Kind of how the rotation went this week. Every week is a little different. Sometimes it depends on the circumstance of the game. Are we winning? Losing? Are we backed up? It just depends on how the game is flowing.”
I asked how he can make improvements he and the Bears want to see when he’s not on the field a lot.
“I think that’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday too, that is when I do that,” Dexter said. “I got more snaps this week and I am still going to do the same thing that I did last week when I didn’t. The goal never changes depending on snaps.”
We’ll see how Dexter and Pickens look in the second half. Their growth is important — but they also have to earn the playing time.
9. The Bears are headed back to Spain.
Nine months after completing a tour of the country promoting football and the NFL via youth clinics, former Bears offensive lineman Roberto Garza is traveling to Madrid on Thursday to attend a viewing party for the Bears-Lions game on Nov. 19.
It’s the latest initiative for the Bears, who along with the Miami Dolphins have established Spain as part of the International Home Market Area program. As we reported in February, there’s a chance the Bears will play a home game abroad in 2024 and Spain would be a natural fit.
NBC’s Peter King, reporting from Germany after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Dolphins on Sunday in Frankfurt, wrote that Spain could be on deck next season for the Bears, while Brazil also could be in the mix for NFL regular-season action.
Garza is excited for next week’s trip and said he felt the passion for football in Spain when he conducted clinics in Madrid and Barcelona in February.
“They have semipro leagues,” Garza said. “There is football out there. There is a fan base for that. There are also a lot of people who just don’t know about football. They were excited to do the camps but didn’t know much about football. They all wanted to learn and had a blast.
“There are a lot of people who truly love the NFL. People want to be part of it and they are aching for a game in Spain.”
Garza, who lives in Texas and started 145 games for the Bears over 10 seasons, is a natural fit as an ambassador for the team and the league as a bilingual speaker. He played in 2011 when the Bears defeated the Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium in London.
“That was fun and the fan base there was great,” Garza said. “Every time you go to Europe, you’re getting new fans and people want to come out and be part of the excitement of watching an NFL game but also the game-day experience, which in my opinion, there is nothing like it. The tailgating, the festivals and stuff they have.
“You walk in the stadium, they’re cheering for both teams. You’re kind of like, ‘Who are the fans for?’ It’s different. But it’s a fun, energetic environment and there’s no reason not to go over there and promote the NFL when the fans are asking for it.”
It’s inevitable the Bears will wind up moving a home game abroad. They were the visiting team against the Bucs in 2011 and again in 2019 when they faced the Raiders at Tottenham Stadium in London. When the NFL expanded the regular season to 17 games in 2021, it outlined a plan for each team to play one home game internationally every eight years.
With the Bears set to have nine home games in 2024, it could be their turn. As far as whom they could face if they’re selected for an international game, the league generally avoids having teams play division games abroad.
Taking their NFC North rivals out of the equation, the Bears are scheduled to host the following teams in 2024:
Los Angeles Rams
NFC South corresponding finisher
AFC East corresponding finisher
10. The Bears opened the practice window for three players to begin the 21-day process back from injured reserve.
Rrunning back Khalil Herbert (high ankle sprain), cornerback Josh Blackwell (hamstring) and wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (hamstring) begin the 21-day practice window on Monday. Blackwell and St. Brown wound up being activated on Thursday with Herbert a good bet to be promoted next week.
The team has reached the maximum number of eight players to be designated to return from IR, previously using slots for left tackle Braxton Jones, center Doug Kramer, right guard Teven Jenkins, cornerback Kyler Gordon and defensive end Khalid Kareem.
The Bears have a host of issues but this is not problematic as they have exhausted their maximum activations heading into Week 11. It wasn’t long ago the league allowed only two players to return from IR and in those instances, teams had to be much more judicious. The reality is most teams have a small handful of injured players who are inactive on game days and if the Bears incur more short-term injuries between now and the end of the season, they should easily be able to handle roster spots with inactives on game days. Teams are allowed to dress 48 players, provided they have at least eight offensive linemen, and that means there are at least five players who have to be inactive each week. It’s no harm to have injured players listed as inactive as the Bears have done with Justin Fields and Nate Davis for the last four games.
Some have asked why not place Fields and/or Davis on injured reserve? If the team thought there was a chance one of them could have returned after three weeks, that would have sidelined them an extra week. It also would have prevented Fields from practicing as he did on Wednesday and last week before the game in New Orleans. Teams really don’t need to make IR moves unless they need a healthy body. They have been covered with depth at quarterback and on the O-line. It’s not like there is a shortage of bodies for practice either with the team carrying 17 players on the practice squad for the majority of the season.
Better to use all eight IR designations than reach the end of the season and lament not taking advantage of one or more.
10a. The NFL informed teams on Wednesday that juniors who declare for the draft will now be eligible for postseason all-star games — the Senior Bowl, Shrine Bowl and HBCU Legacy Bowl. The announcement came as a surprise to one GM and the timing is interesting as the Senior Bowl began sending out invites this week. One prominent agent said he does not expect it will dramatically change the makeup of the all-star games.
“I doubt many of the juniors who know they are locks as first-round picks are going to want to play,” the agent said. “Doesn’t make sense for them.”
But underclassmen who are coming out and potentially profile as mid-round picks will likely be interested in opportunities. The timing for the 2024 Games, though, is a little late and it’s possible a bigger impact won’t be realized until the following year. Last year, 69 juniors entered the draft so it will definitely expand the pool for these games moving forward.
10b. Something I am sure Tyson Bagent will remember forever is beating No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young as an undrafted rookie. It’s a team sport, maybe the ultimate team sport, but Bagent will always have that in a game in which he completed 20 of 32 passes for 162 yards.
“Not that I would take that any pride in something like that,” Bagent said. “It is what it is. The draft happened. I just try to show up every day and continue to try and get better every year. I don’t think I’m at the peak of anything. I’m just looking forward to continuing to get better and then let the ball fall where it may.”
Justin Fields is expected to return soon, maybe next week. Bagent’s 2-2 run as the Bears starter gives him a base to grow from. He protected the football in this game and that was huge. The game doesn’t look too big for him. He doesn’t look flustered. He can get through his progressions, sometimes maybe too quickly. I don’t know what the ceiling is, but he sure looks like he could be a steady guy you’d be thrilled to have as a No. 2 for a long time. That’s not a bad starting point either.
10c. It remains undetermined if the Bears’ Week 15 game at Cleveland will be played on Saturday, Dec. 16 or Sunday, Dec. 17. The league has five games that remain undetermined that weekend. Three will be played in a tripleheader on Saturday and two will be moved to noon kickoffs on Sunday.
It’s an NFC North and AFC North heavy slate with three of the four teams from each division involved:
Bears (3-7) at Browns (5-3)
Falcons (4-4) at Panthers (1-8)
Steelers (5-3) at Colts (3-5)
Broncos (3-5) at Lions (6-2)
Vikings (5-4) at Bengals (5-3)
The NFL will probably take the most attractive matchup — none of these look like a gem right now — and put it in the Saturday prime-time slot. How soon can we expect an announcement on what day and time the games will be played? The league had a similar schedule arrangement last year and announced dates and times 12 days in advance. I would look for news regarding these games on Monday, Dec. 4. This means there is a possibility the Bears have two more games in prime time. They are scheduled to play at Minnesota on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” on Nov. 27.
10d. Jamie Kohl, the Iowa-based kicking consultant who helped the Bears navigate the post-Cody Parkey era, which led them to Eddy Piñeiro in 2019 and then to Cairo Santos the next season after Piñeiro was injured, was on the sideline in Panthers gear. He’s continuing to do occasional work for Chris Tabor, who left the Bears to become Carolina’s special teams coordinator a year ago. The Bears have done very well with Santos since he was signed in 2020 and Piñeiro’s career has flourished in Carolina. He was 33 of 35 on field goals last season and is 16 for 19 this season, with one of the misses the short try from 59 yards at the end of Thursday’s game.
10e. The look-ahead line at Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas for the Bears’ Nov. 19 game at Ford Field has the Detroit Lions as an 8 1/2-point favorite.