Chicago Bears vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Preview, predictions – Chicago Tribune

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The Chicago Bears travel to Tampa, Fla., to take on Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon.

As kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.

Chicago Bears (3-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1)

  • Kickoff: 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
  • TV and radio: CBS-2, WBBM-AM 780, WCFS-FM 105.9, WRTO-AM 1200 (Spanish).
  • The line: Buccaneers by 12½. Over/under: 47.
  • Sign up now to get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts first

1. Player in the spotlight

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks before throwing a pass during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 8, 2020.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks before throwing a pass during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Oct. 8, 2020. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

A lot has happened since Brady held up four fingers in confusion last October, thinking a late fourth-down incompletion had come on third down. The Bucs lost that game to the Bears 20-19 after a late Cairo Santos field goal, but they went 12-3 the rest of the way in the regular season and the playoffs to win the Super Bowl.

Brady wasn’t keen to answer questions about his gaffe a year ago. But time — and another ring — allowed him to joke about it on TikTok during the summer and address it again Thursday.

“That hasn’t happened very often in my career,” Brady said. “For some reason it happened in that moment. That was a tough loss, and I think we learned a lot from that loss last year. There (were) a lot of self-inflicted issues, there (were) a lot of penalties, there was a lot of miscommunication, there (were) a lot of things that weren’t clean. And then ultimately, we have a chance to win the game in two-minute (drill) by going down and kicking a field goal, and we don’t get the job done.”

Brady went on to talk about how the Bucaneers “can’t take the foot off the gas” despite their 5-1 start. With the benefit of a year together in the offense, the Bucs are averaging an NFL-best 340.7 passing yards per game and have won three straight after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai talked about how the offensive chemistry makes it a challenge to affect Brady.

“They’re a timing-based offense and they’ve been playing together with the O-line for quite some time,” Desai said. “These receivers and the tight ends have been playing together this year for quite some time. And so they’re in a rhythm. And so you’re able to get the ball out on time when everybody is in their spots that they’re supposed to be in and the quarterback knows what the coverages are and he knows where he’s got to deliver the ball. Pre-snap to that one second post-snap, he’s got a really good idea of where he wants to go with the ball.”

How will the Bears fare against the Buccaneers run defense?

Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Oct. 17, 2021.

Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field on Oct. 17, 2021. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

The Bears have put up more than 120 rushing yards in every game this season except the loss to the Cleveland Browns. That includes 143 and 140 yards the last two weeks without running back David Montgomery.

But Bears coach Matt Nagy called Sunday’s game a “true test” for the run game behind rookie Khalil Herbert, who has filled in with Montgomery injured and Damien Williams on the COVID-19 list.

The Bucs have allowed an NFL-best 54.8 rushing yards per game and 3.36 yards per play, ranked second, and quarterback Justin Fields said they have “one of the best front sevens in the league.”

“They’re a stout run defense,” Nagy said. “They’ve got a lot of great players on that front line, the second level with their linebackers. And the amount of respect that I have for Todd Bowles as a defensive coordinator and what he does is real. So that combination of how he schemes and then the players they have, there is a reason why they are that good.”

Herbert said he had a couple of his friends add him on their fantasy teams after he rushed for 97 yards against the Green Bay Packers. To keep up his production this week, he said he has to be ready to capitalize on rare opportunities.

“Famine, famine, feast is something we talk about in the running back room,” he said. “You might get your 3-yard gains, 4-yard gains, but eventually one is going to burst. So just taking those 3 yards, taking what they give you and then making them pay when they misfit or something like that.”

Chicago Bears linebacker Trevis Gipson (99) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the third quarter at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Oct. 10, 2021.

Chicago Bears linebacker Trevis Gipson (99) sacks Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the third quarter at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Oct. 10, 2021. (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

When Trevis Gipson was coming out of Cedar Hill High School in Texas, his only college scholarship offer was from Tulsa. Two years into his NFL career, Gipson still hasn’t forgotten, insisting he is still fueled by that lack of interest and on an everyday quest to prove himself.

“I really felt overlooked,” Gipson said Thursday. “I’ve been going on a revenge tour.”

The tour’s next stop is at Raymond James Stadium, where, depending on the status of Robert Quinn, Gipson figures to see increased playing time. He’ll also have his opportunity to get after Brady, admitting it would “mean a lot” to register his third career sack against such a legend.

“I’ll pay my respect to Brady,” Gipson added. “But I’m not going to treat this week any different. I’m going to prepare the same way I have. I’m not going to put too much on my plate and make myself overthink. I’m going to go out there, let it all loose and have fun.”

As a whole, the Bears defense will do its best to sack Brady. But the pass rush, which has produced a league-best 21 sacks through six games, can also affect the game flow if players such as Gipson and Khalil Mack manage to hit Brady repeatedly and provide consistent disruption to the pocket.

Quinn remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list after testing positive for the virus earlier this week. His official status for Sunday’s game is not yet known. If he can’t make the trip to Tampa, the Bears will lean more on Gipson and Christian Jones.

Gipson’s growth has been obvious, positioning him to take advantage of a heightened role.

“The more reps I’ve gotten during the preseason and the beginning of this season has just given me more and more faith that I can dominate this game,” Gipson said.

Desai didn’t flinch Thursday when asked about safety Eddie Jackson failing to take down Packers wide receiver Davante Adams on a 41-yard pass play Sunday.

After Adams got by cornerback Jaylon Johnson to catch the pass, Jackson tried to knock Adams out of bounds instead of wrapping him up. Adams stayed up and gained another 8 yards before stepping out of bounds, the only thing that kept him from scoring.

“You guys point out pretty eloquently some issues with the tackling, and there are,” Desai said to reporters. “We’re not going to shy away from those issues. We’ve got to address them and attack them, and we’ve got to do it at all levels of the defense. Usually a function of explosive plays, in my experience, comes from one of two things: it’s either tackling or miscommunication or bust.

“If they get us on something schematically, then hats off to them and they got me in terms of a play call. That’s what happens in this league. Sometimes you get that as a coach and a player. So we’ve got to do better overall, and that’s been a continued point of emphasis.”

Jackson’s wasn’t the only miss against the Packers. Safety Tashuan Gipson couldn’t pull down Aaron Jones on his 12-yard touchdown catch. Cornerback Kindle Vildor said Desai and secondary coach Deshea Townsend made tackling a clear focus this week.

“That’s something we’ve been doing in practice this week, getting back to the fundamentals,” Vildor said. “Not looking over it because we’re in the season. … That’s just something we harp on.”

Tight end Jimmy Graham was the latest Bears player to be added to the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday afternoon and, by league rules, figures to miss Sunday’s game. Graham is the third Bears player to wind up on the list over the last two weeks, joining Quinn and Williams. Receivers coach Mike Furrey also missed Sunday’s game against the Packers as well as a handful of practices after testing positive for COVID-19.

Safety Tashaun Gipson, meanwhile, has been declared out for Sunday’s game with a hip injury. Seven other Bears were tagged as questionable, including Khalil Mack (foot), Akiem Hicks (groin), Bilal Nichols (knee) and Allen Robinson (ankle).

Mack and Hicks were able to practice as limited participants Friday after missing on-field work Wednesday and Thursday.

Even with a long week following their Thursday night win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6, the Buccaneers remain significantly banged up themselves. Most notably, receiver Antonio Brown (ankle), tight end Rob Gronkowski (ribs), linebacker Lavonte David (ankle) and cornerback Richard Sherman have been declared out for Sunday afternoon.

When Tom Brady made light of Aaron Rodgers’ comments at Soldier Field last Sunday, he was chuckling as if to send a message that said, “Wait until you see what I do.” This is a troubling matchup for the Bears. The only thing they do well on offense — run the ball — is what the Buccaneers are best in the league at stopping. The Bears may have to cut it loose with Justin Fields to keep pace with Brady and his ridiculous cast of skill position players, most of whom injured before last season’s meeting at Soldier Field, and that might turn messy.

The Buccaneers are averaging 426 yards and 32.5 points per game. The Bears are averaging 246 yards and 16.3 points per game. Yes, there were some promising moments from Justin Fields on the Bears’ two touchdown drives against the Packers. But there were just two scoring drives. The Bears haven’t provided evidence they can keep up, especially given the way the Bucs defense has stopped the run so far this season. Plus I wonder if Tom Brady is quietly motivated by the four-fingers embarrassment last season. The Bears defense is capable of keeping the game from getting out of hand, but an upset is improbable.

The Bears still have the league’s worst passing offense, averaging just 117.2 yards per game. That’s a mind-boggling number in the NFL’s 2021 pinball machine scoring world. The Bears offense has also only scored multiple touchdowns in a half twice this season — in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions and Week 5 against the Las Vegas Raiders. (By contrast, the Buccaneers have scored multiple offensive touchdowns in five quarters this season.) That leaves the Bears with their hands full against a nasty rushing defense and, oh yeah, arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time. This figures to become a chase game pretty quickly. And right now, the Bears offense can’t successfully chase much of anything.