Bears, Buccaneers meet in matchup of unexpected leaders
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears are staring down at the rest of the NFC North for the first time in five years.
The view from the top is quite a change for a franchise stuck at the bottom the past few seasons.
The Bears meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in a matchup between unlikely division leaders, with Chicago in sole possession of first place for the first time since Marc Trestman was the coach and Jay Cutler the quarterback.
“Just says we’re in the right direction,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We’re in the right place. Goes to show that we’re still working hard. It’s tough out here to stack them wins, but we’re up for it.”
Tampa Bay (2-1) is tied with New Orleans and Carolina for the NFC South lead, a bit of a change for a franchise with one winning season since 2010. The Buccaneers are coming off a 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh in which they fell behind by 20 and fell short after holding the Steelers scoreless in the second half.
Now, they have to decide if they’ll stick with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick or go with Jameis Winston at quarterback. Winston’s three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy is over.
“I’m impressed because no one thought we’d be here,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “But I’m also disappointed at the same time because I feel like we had a real opportunity to be 3-0 instead of 2-1.”
The Bears (2-1) came into the season expecting more after four straight last-place finishes in their division, though first place seemed like a stretch even after the blockbuster trade with Oakland for Khalil Mack on Sept. 1. But here they are with sole possession of the NFC North lead for the first time since Week 16 in 2013.
They’ve won two in a row after a 16-14 nail-biter at Arizona last week. And if they beat Tampa Bay, they’ll match their longest run since a 3-0 start in 2013.
Here are some things to know:
The Bucs remain mum on whether Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick will start against the Bears. Fitzpatrick has thrown for a league-leading 1,230 yards and 11 TDs and is the first in NFL history to top 400 yards passing in three consecutive games. Koetter informed both QBs who will take the first snap Sunday, however he’s in no hurry to let the Bears or the rest of the world know.
“Hope everybody can appreciate that it doesn’t do us any good to tell our opponents what we’re going to do,” Koetter said.
Mack has been everything the Bears could have wanted when they made the trade with Oakland just before the start of the season. The two-time All-Pro is tied for the league lead with four sacks and has at least one in each game, including two last week. He is also tops in the NFL with three forced fumbles.
But he has hardly been the lone contributor on defense.
Trevathan and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks each have two sacks. Hicks also has two forced fumbles.
MAKING THEIR POINTS
Tampa Bay has the NFL’s No. 1 ranked offense with 1,420 yards, seventh-most in league history through three games. The team’s 1,202 yards passing are the second-most at this point in a season. New England had 1,313 yards passing through three games in 2011.
The Bucs are averaging 34 points per game, tied for third among league leaders. Their 102 points are a team record through three games.
With four trips to the end zone, the Bears are struggling to get touchdowns from their offense. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has been shaky, and coach Matt Nagy might reduce the playbook this week.
But he insists it’s just a matter of the offense needing time to come together rather than a personnel problem.
“We know right now offensively we’re not where we want to be,” Nagy said. “But we’re not in any type of panic mode because we understand that part of the process, but we’re going to do everything we can to try to get better.”
Trubisky will be making his 16th career start and will have the equivalent of a full NFL season under him after this game.
His 77.8 rating is barely better than the 77.5 he had in 12 games as a rookie under John Fox last season. He has more interceptions (three) than touchdown passes (two).
But he’s also adjusting to his second system in as many seasons after being drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in 2017.
“I’m still getting better,” Trubisky said. “We still have to look at the improvements I have been making and not mistakes I have been making.”