During a week of confusion and tumult, reports and rumors, the Chicago Bears needed something to lean on. Anything, really. Burdened by their losses in five games and then left to search the growing uncertainty regarding coach Matt Nagy’s job security, players and coaches had to push to maintain their focus and the concentration of those around them.
Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton was happy to do his thing. On Wednesday night, at Nagy’s urging, Dalton spoke with the team at their hotel as a way to help upgrade the group. A day later, he threw in 317 yards, teased a 17-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to tight-end Jimmy Graham and led an 18-game, game-winning field-goal drive that allowed the Bears to reach the finish line in Detroit. Lions 16-14 on the final snap at Ford Field.
Dalton’s pep talk on Thanksgiving night?
“I was just speaking from the heart,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. I just felt like there was something in talking about what we needed at this moment.”
Added recipient Darnell Mooney to Dalton’s message: “Just go out there and get our swag back. Have fun. Just let go of everything. No stress, no tension or anything. It’s Thanksgiving for a reason. Give God glory on Thanksgiving for that opportunity , we had.”
To be perfectly clear, this was not Jason Heyward in the weight room during the Game 7 rain delay in Cleveland in 2016. And it’s not as if Dalton’s pep talk triggered some sort of Disney-worthy performance from the Bears or even the quarterback himself.
Against a winner-free opponent who did almost everything to beat himself, the Bears barely had in their tank to survive. Dalton threw a crucial interception in the final zone in the first half, finishing with a pass rating of 85.1 and producing the attack to just 16 points against a defense at the bottom level.
As a whole, the Bears remain mediocre at best heading into December with little momentum, growing injury problems and an upcoming schedule that is likely to contribute to their mental exhaustion and injury control efforts.
Still, they can at least comfort themselves with the idea that the players in the locker room remain united and driven and able to minimize any dysfunction. And it might help alleviate this season’s crash. Hi, at this point it’s something, right?
Dalton is not necessarily the most energetic or emotionally charged source of fuel in the locker room. He also does not fully understand the scar tissue of a Bears fan base that has been eternally frustrated since the start of 2019 and screamed after an overhaul for much of the last 30 years.
Dalton has been in Chicago since March and had his starting option interrupted by a left knee injury in Week 2. Thursday just marked his third start in a Bears uniform, an emergency with rookie Justin Fields breastfeeding injured ribs.
It’s possible, depending on Fields’ improvement over the next few days, that Dalton will never take another snap for the Bears. Yet, in a time of need, Dalton hoped that his voice would weigh heavily, that his message would be heard, and his approach could be an example.
“It’s about getting to know your teammates and getting to know them,” Dalton said. “I feel that many people have gotten to know me and what I have been through. I’ve been through a lot this year, and I think how I’ve handled things, and how I’ve progressed in staying true to who I am and who I’m made to be, allows me to have a voice on this team. ”
As important as Dalton’s hotel sermon could have been, his contribution to Thursday’s battle-winning match was far more crucial in helping push the Bears to safety before another massive wave of criticism could drag them into their undercurrent. With 6 minutes and 33 seconds left, he slipped out of a messy pocket, adjusted his arm slot and hit Damiere Byrd in 13 yards on a critical third-and-5. Five games later, he pushed the Bears into the red zone with an attentive 9-yard scramble. His last pass was a rhythmic 7-yard ball to Byrd to convert a third-and-4, a clutch completion that not only helped the Bears complete a clear signal, but allowed them to kneel down three times to drain every second of the remaining time before trying their decisive kick.
“What an honor for Andy Dalton,” Nagy said after the match, “to be able to come in here without a live (rehearsal) representative all week and do what he did with that group of guys. It was not easy.”
Dalton added: “Having everything going on this week and everything (swirling) on the outside so our guys can just play to the last and win at Thanksgiving, that’s special.”
Nagy was overflowing with his praise to all his players after the victory, referring to them as “special” and a group of “freaking warriors.” He praised their cruelty and unity through a stressful week and appreciated their ability to save him and the organization from the extreme humiliation that would have accompanied a loss to the Lions on a national stage at Thanksgiving.
“I want to set them up against someone,” Nagy said. “I love them to death.… They are not losers. They know how to win and I appreciate that in them.”
Of course, it’s a bit hyperbolic for a team that has lost 15 of its last 22 games. But with the finish line this season still far away, the Bears will have to activate all the survival instincts they have.
Exciting speech can, of course, seem useful in principle and is Fun Dip for any Bears fan or analyst looking for a temporary sugar high. But as cornerback Jaylon Johnson noted Monday, such sermons often have little to do with the results of the next game.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to beat a dead horse. Like I said, we’re all men. To come in here and say ‘We have to find a way’, for me it’s BS.… There’s nothing to keep “to come in here and talk about. And to have all these rah-rah speeches? We’ve had five weeks of rah-rah speeches. I do not think that speaking is something we should do.”
Added linebacker Roquan Smith: “Honestly, it’s never about the rah-rah speakers. It’s just more about every single person looking at themselves in the mirror and just saying ‘Hey, I have to do my best and I will do’s my work every single play and when I get called on. ‘ That’s all it’s about. ”
To that end, the Bears did enough Thursday afternoon to steal a win and get out of the mess of the week. After a long weekend of recharging, they will need to stay focused and willing to stick together. Their pride and concentration will be put to the test for another six weeks. But with a strong core of leaders and a list full of hungry players, they will give themselves a better chance of keeping things respectable.