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In the last 2 games, Justin Fields has been ___. The defense needs ___. Insights on 4 Chicago Bears questions.

The Chicago Bears needed that. In the worst way. Thursday night’s blowout of the Washington Commanders snapped a franchise-record 14-game losing streak, was the team’s first victory in 346 days and triggered a jubilant dance party inside the visiting locker room at FedEx Field. It also sent the Bears into their mini-bye with a bit of momentum and encouragement as they try to salvage the season after an 0-4 start.

So where does the team go from here? How can Matt Eberflus push the team’s progress forward in the coming weeks? Tribune writers Brad Biggs, Colleen Kane and Dan Wiederer offer their analysis.

The Bears’ 40-20 defeat of the Commanders on Thursday night was ___.

Brad Biggs: Mood-shifting.

The 40-20 defeat of the Commanders on Thursday night was precisely what the organization needed to shift the mood in the locker room and the building. That’s not to suggest it’s been all doom and gloom at Halas Hall but winning is the ultimate deodorant and, boy, the Bears stunk going back to the second half of the 2022 season. But one blowout victory — and the Bears were really dominant from start to finish — isn’t going to mean a whole heck of a lot if the coaching staff and young roster cannot use it as a launching pad. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure if the Bears lose Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, but for it to resonate, it’s got to be part of continued improved play in all areas. The offensive line looked cohesive even with Larry Borom continuing to sub at left tackle and the moving parts on the interior, and that was against a defensive line filled with former first-round picks. Justin Fields played very well for the second consecutive game. DJ Moore looked like a Pro Bowl performer. The running game was physical and productive. The defensive line got after Sam Howell a little bit. A patchwork secondary made plays on the ball. Cairo Santos remained automatic. Surely the coaching staff will have corrections to put in place Monday but a long weekend to refresh and enjoy the victory was precisely what the players needed. With the Vikings and Las Vegas Raiders at Soldier Field in the next two weeks, it’s possible this team could inch its way toward .500 but only if the win at FedEx Field proves to be a turning point.

Colleen Kane: Much needed.

Obviously, when a team is on a 14-game losing streak it badly needs a win. But given all of the drama in the first four weeks of the season and the rising outside speculation about coach Matt Eberflus’ job status in the days leading up to the game, it felt, to use Justin Fields’ words, like a “sigh of relief.” The Bears maybe can work through the mini-bye with calmer minds — and without the buzz about whether Eberflus will lose his job before the Week 6 game against the Minnesota Vikings. One win doesn’t erase all of the issues the Bears have this season or suddenly stop the tide of questions about what might happen to the coaching staff if the problems continue. The Bears need to show continued improvement — and yes, results — for that to fade away. The production during Thursday’s game on offense and defense, even against a bad Commanders team, was at least a step toward better days. But there’s still a long way to go.

Dan Wiederer: Complete.

Not only did the Bears get off to a fast start with a touchdown on the game’s opening possession, they finally found a way to finish. Not only were there offensive fireworks with 451 total yards and seven scoring drives on 11 possessions, but the defense finally contributed a series of game-changing splash plays with five sacks and two takeaways. Not only did the team’s best players rise up to meet their moments — we’re looking at you DJ Moore and Justin Fields — but unsung role players like Greg Stroman Jr., Khari Blasingame and Andrew Billings made timely contributions. That is what winning football looks like.

Over the last two games, Justin Fields has been ___.

Biggs: Encouraging.

Fields made the kind of jump forward observers were hoping to see at the beginning of the season. Against Denver and Washington, he completed 43 of 64 pass attempts (67.2%) for 617 yards with eight touchdown passes and one interception. Let’s put that in context for just a second. The offense combined for 19 touchdown passes all of last season and only 16 in 2021. He was sacked only seven times in the games so his yards per attempt net average is 8.1, representative of how he’s found opportunities for big plays downfield. An offense that has struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game for the longest time counts 12 pass plays of 20 or more yards in the previous two games. Yes, the Broncos defense is in shambles and the Commanders are on pace to allow the most points in NFL history, but previously Fields had rough times against almost any opponent. So, these two games stand as evidence that Fields and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy are meshing well as the offensive line settles in. The play-action game has been explosive and DJ Moore is being highlighted. One would imagine opportunities for big plays will exist this coming week against a Minnesota Vikings defense that gambles a lot under defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

Kane: Improved.

Fields had the best two-game stretch of his career, statistically speaking, in the last two weeks with 617 passing yards, eight touchdown passes and one interception. But beyond that, you could see the increased comfort level within the pocket, the blossoming chemistry with his receivers, especially DJ Moore, his determination to make a play with his arm as well as his legs, and his understanding of when and how to get rid of the ball. And then finally, in the win against the Commanders, you could see Fields finish, coming up with the winning touchdown pass rather than a fourth-quarter turnover. The performances were very encouraging. Yes, they may have been against bad teams. But he has to do it against bad teams as well as good ones. Now, can he keep the growth going?

Wiederer: In command.

Start first with Fields’ statistical output: 43-for-64 passing for 617 yards, eight touchdown passes, one interception and a 131.1 passer rating plus 82 rushing yards. On the surface alone, those are the numbers of a big-time QB1. But Fields also passed the eye test in those two games, showing a better feel for everything around him. He ripped conviction throws into tight windows more regularly. He took the open checkdowns when it felt right. He had 12 completions of at least yards — eight of those to Moore — and operated with the juice that fuels an entire offense. The big step now is to play and produce that way on a consistent basis, particularly against higher-end defenses. But growth was clear in the performances against the Commanders and Broncos.

The Bears’ off-the-field drama this season has been ___.

Biggs: Enough to fill an entire calendar year.

But I don’t think any of it had staying power in the locker room with the players and that’s probably the most important point if you’re looking strictly at what impact it could have on this season. The players were stunned when defensive coordinator Alan Williams split, but a day later they had moved on with the realization that nothing really changed for them. Justin Fields’ “coaching” comment created headlines and rightfully so, but it’s worth wondering after the last two games if that was a moment that drew him and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy closer together. I think most of the players recognized wide receiver Chase Claypool was a bit of a lone ranger in the way he operated. His self-inflicted issues stand as a good lesson for younger players of what not to do when adversity comes. Organizationally, the drama doesn’t reflect well. You can make a case Claypool should have been handled differently after his walk-through effort in the season opener against the Green Bay Packers. The team didn’t compound an error by deciding to keep him away and then trade him. Coach Matt Eberflus stumbled a couple of times discussing the matter after the loss to Denver in Week 4 and then the following day. If the Bears can start playing more consistently on the field, often that takes care of stuff behind the scenes that would otherwise appear to be potential distractions.

Kane: An unwanted distraction.

Players have said the right things about staying focused on what they can control and the football tasks in front of them. But wow, the Bears have dealt with a whole season’s worth of controversy in just five weeks. From Alan Williams’ resignation to kerfuffles with the media to the Chase Claypool situation, it would be hard for players to not be affected by it all, especially the Williams departure for conduct-related reasons. And Eberflus’ and the Bears’ handling of some of the issues — at times being secretive or not entirely clear publicly about what was happening — didn’t help quiet the drama. Thursday’s win undoubtedly helped lighten the mood among the players. Some of them were almost giddy afterward. Now they could use a reprieve from the outside distractions too.

Wiederer: A lot to deal with.

The abrupt and abnormal resignation of defensive coordinator Alan Williams with what sources told the Tribune was a conduct-related exit was the biggest fire general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus have had to contain and clean up after. The shaky performance and moody outbursts of receiver Chase Claypool rank second on that list, leading Poles to trade away the 25-year-old after he played just three games this season and less than a calendar year since the Bears traded for Claypool. Throw in the frustrations and agitation that bubbled up as the team’s losing streak ballooned to 11, 12, 13 and 14 games and the Bears have had an inordinate amount of messes to clean up this early in a season — and that’s before the injuries and absences that have been part of their slow start. Perhaps now, with Williams and Claypool gone and that losing skid over, the Bears can return to a state of calm, to a more normal routine, to an uninterrupted process of getting better.

The Bears defense needs

___

Biggs: A combination of pressure from the line and coverage on the back end.

With free safety Eddie Jackson and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon hopefully returning soon — perhaps this week — a healthier lineup will help. It’s difficult to believe this defense can take large or consistent steps forward this season unless the rookie tackles Gervon Dexter and/or Zacch Pickens start to shine consistently. That’s an awful lot to ask of Day 2 picks, too. It is what it is right now. Matt Eberflus is going to have different plans based on each opponent but he showed a more aggressive side against the Commanders with pressures, particularly ones involving cornerbacks, that proved effective against Sam Howell. The run defense has been much improved this season although Washington didn’t hand the ball off once in the second half of that game, a statistical oddity. Defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker had a little more success and if they can carry that into coming weeks, that will help. Opponents are averaging 31.4 points per game and the Bears need to see if they can get that number under 25 so it’s not going to require a shootout to win each week.

Kane: To keep producing sacks and takeaways.

Given that Commanders quarterback Sam Howell entered Thursday having been sacked 24 times, there was a clear opportunity for the Bears pass rush to get going. And it finally did, with the Bears defense coming up with five sacks, more than double their season total to that point. The Bears also got two takeaways, a Greg Stroman Jr. interception and a Terell Smith forced fumble and recovery. They were the type of big plays Eberflus has based his defense on — and which need to appear more if the Bears are going to beat better teams than the Commanders. The Bears also need to see more of those game-changing plays from their defensive leaders. It should help if the Bears — who have been missing Eddie Jackson, Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon — get healthier.

Wiederer: A more consistent pass rush.

On Thursday in Washington, the Bears took advantage of a struggling Commanders offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback in Sam Howell to produce five sacks and 11 quarterback hits. The sacks came from defensive ends and a linebacker and a cornerback, a total team effort in creating the kind of pressure that is needed to win games. Repeating that production will become more difficult in the coming weeks against a series of veteran quarterbacks — Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr. But the Bears have to push to continue creating and manufacturing pressure through a combination of persistent effort and shrewd schematic wrinkles. If an improved pass rush can be paired with a productive offense, suddenly the team may unlock its path to success.

Biggs: A combination of pressure from the line and coverage on the back end. With free safety Eddie Jackson and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon hopefully returning soon — perhaps this week — a healthier lineup will help. It’s difficult to believe this defense can take large or consistent steps forward this season unless the rookie tackles Gervon Dexter and/or Zacch Pickens start to shine consistently. That’s an awful lot to ask of Day 2 picks, too. It is what it is right now. Matt Eberflus is going to have different plans based on each opponent but he showed a more aggressive side against the Commanders with pressures, particularly ones involving cornerbacks, that proved effective against Sam Howell. The run defense has been much improved this season although Washington didn’t hand the ball off once in the second half of that game, a statistical oddity. Defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker had a little more success and if they can carry that into coming weeks, that will help. Opponents are averaging 31.4 points per game and the Bears need to see if they can get that number under 25 so it’s not going to require a shootout to win each week. Kane: To keep producing sacks and takeaways. Given that Commanders quarterback Sam Howell entered Thursday having been sacked 24 times, there was a clear opportunity for the Bears pass rush to get going. And it finally did, with the Bears defense coming up with five sacks, more than double their season total to that point. The Bears also got two takeaways,MNG-TribPub Wire ()

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