If you squinted hard enough, you could almost see the Chicago Bears wearing leather skullcaps and heavy cotton rugby jerseys in their 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. For the second straight week, Chicago turned back the clock and played old-school (like, really, really old-school) football, seemingly forgetting the concept of the forward pass. Instead, the Bears relied on a pair of first-half defensive touchdowns—a fumble-recovery return score and a pick-six, both by rookie safety Eddie Jackson—and four quarters of stout defensive play to upset the Panthers at home.
It seemed like Bears head coach John Fox read my Ringer colleague Kevin Clark’s deep dive into the Jaguars’ quarterback-less strategy and devised a parody game plan in response. The result? One of the wackiest winning-team box scores you could imagine: Rookie signal-caller Mitchell Trubisky attempted just seven passes all day and completed just four of them. Those quirky stat lines made the Bears the first team to win a game with five or fewer completions since the Tim Tebow–led Broncos in 2011 and the first to win with seven or fewer pass attempts since 2006. Chicago’s offense gained just 153 total yards (the fewest yards a winning team has gained since 2015) on 37 offensive plays (only twice in the modern era—the last time coming in 2009—has a team run fewer plays and won). The Bears picked up just five first downs (the lowest first-down total for any team, winner or loser, since 2014, and the first time a team’s won with five or fewer first downs since 2006).
Basically, all Fox asked Trubisky and his offense to do was not turn the ball over. The offense managed to avoid interceptions and fumbles, and Chicago’s defense took care of the rest, limiting the Panthers to just a second-quarter field goal. The Bears sacked Cam Newton five times, knocked down six of his passes, intercepted him twice, and recovered a fumble en route to an easy win. It didn’t matter that the Chicago offense went three-and-out on five of its six second-half possessions.
Of course, the Bears’ winning formula probably shouldn’t be too surprising, especially if you watched their 27-24 win over the Ravens last Sunday. In two straight wins, Trubisky completed a total of 12 passes: Last week, he connected on eight throws, including one touchdown, and the ground game carried the rest of the offensive load, picking up 231 yards on 54 rushes. It helped to get trick-play touchdown pass out of running back Tarik Cohen and a 90-yard interception return from safety Adrian Amos, too.
Is this a consistent winning strategy? No, probably not. The Bears can’t rely on defensive touchdowns week in and week out in the long term, so they’re probably going to need to get a little bit more out of their rookie signal-caller going forward—maybe they should shoot for 10-plus completions a game—if they want to contend for a playoff spot in a wide-open NFC North. But we can expect the team to keep leaning on its run game and swarming defense while Trubisky learns the ropes of the pro game.