After five of the first six Bears games this season were decided by seven points or less, Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Jets sure should’ve been relieving. And yet, the 14-point victory left something to be desired. Sure, not all wins are going to be perfect – Cubs Manager Joe Maddon quote has some pretty prescient philosophy about that – but it probably should’ve have looked better, especially down the stretch.
One example is this third-down play in which safety Eddie Jackson was called for a penalty that negated what would have been a third-down stop.
— Greg Braggs Jr. (@GBraggsJr) October 28, 2018
When Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy talks about finishing, it’s not always about the offense completing drives with points. The defense has to do the closer thing, too. Which makes Jackson’s penalty look that much worse: the Bears were otherwise supposed to be doing the thing with the finishing.
Not only did Jackson’s late-hit penalty look bad and dumb, it kept a fourth-quarter Jets drive alive for no good reason. And as the broadcast team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo pointed out, it allowed New York to get past the 50-yard-line for the first time in the half. A few plays later, the Jets scored a touchdown to make it a one-possession game. It’s penalties like those that drive you mad and the Bears are fortunate things didn’t spiral from there.
At least Jackson had an explanation for what happened:
#Bears safety Eddie Jackson on his unnecessary roughness penalty: "It was a crazy call to me because I’m not anticipating the guy to drop the ball. I was already into tackling, with all the new rules I already had him lined up and everything."
— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) October 28, 2018
Jackson gets to the root of the issue here, though I’m not sure he intended to do so. The NFL’s new rules and enforcement has made their way into the players’ heads. And because a vast majority of the rules have penalties that punish the defense far worse than the offense, it’s defensive players who are coming up as the biggest losers. But it’s worse than that.
The NFL has also been a little inconsistent with their calls (LOL), and that can lead to problems. For example, we’re only two games removed from a Chiefs linebacker admitting that fear of a roughing-the-passer penalty against Tom Brady was in his head when this seemingly embarrassing play developed:
— Kevin Boilard (@247KevinBoilard) October 15, 2018
Breeland Speaks didn’t finish the play and he was punished for it by allowing a touchdown run. Weeks later, we’re watching Jackson finish the play against the Jets … only to be punished for it. It’s not exactly the same thing, but I think it’s fair to ask … What’s up with that? And do we really expect players to change their behavior if their peers aren’t being called for something similar? No one wants that fourth-quarter penalty, but REALLY nobody wants Tom Brady to walk in for a touchdown, either. There’s a gap there that needs bridging.
I understand the importance of policing the game and protecting players from unnecessary hits, but it’s starting to become clear how these rules are changing the essence of playing defense at the highest level. Where is the consistency in the calls? What are defensive players supposed to do as an alternative? These are fair questions to ask and hope the league has answers for moving forward. Unfortunately, the Bears don’t have a bye week to clean this up, so it will be on coaches and players to get to the fine print and try to get to the bottom of it before it costs the team in a bigger way.