BUCCANEERS (3-1) AT BEARS (3-1)
8:20 p.m. ET; FOX, NFLN
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will go for their fourth win in a row when they visit the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.
The 43-year-old Brady is coming off his best performance since joining the Buccaneers as a free agent during the offseason. He threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, which improved Tampa Bay’s record to 3-1 to stay atop the NFC South.
Through four games, Brady has thrown for 1,122 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is No. 2 in NFL history in passing yards (75,693) and touchdowns (552), trailing Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints in both categories.
“How can you not believe in him?” Tampa Bay wide receiver Scotty Miller said. “He’s the greatest to ever do it. We just needed to go in there and follow his lead. We know he’s gonna get the job done, so we’ve just gotta do what we do and help him out a little bit.”
Chicago enters with a 3-1 record, as well, one game back of the Green Bay Packers for the top spot in the NFC North. The Bears opened the season with three straight wins before losing 19-11 against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4.
In that loss, Bears quarterback Nick Foles threw for 249 yards and one touchdown in his first start since replacing Mitchell Trubisky in the second half one week earlier. Foles remains the starter heading into Thursday’s prime-time matchup.
Bears coach Matt Nagy is hoping for a more cohesive performance on offense after an inconsistent start to the season. The Bears are No. 24 in the league in total offense with an average of 343.3 yards per game, and they are No. 25 in scoring with 21.3 points per game.
By contrast, Tampa Bay is No. 16 in offense (371.5 yards) and No. 8 in scoring (30.0 points).
Running back Ronald Jones has emerged to bring balance to the Buccaneers’ offense, a mission the Bears have not been able to achieve in 2020.
“It’s about being decisive,” Brady said of Jones. “There’s a lot of things that are happening very quickly and you’ve got to make good decisions. … When you play aggressive, you play with your (maximum) ability. If you’re not sure (or) you’re in between, it’s no good. I think being decisive and watching Ro run like he has this year — and watching Leonard (Fournette) run, watching Ke’Shawn (Vaughn) run — they can be very decisive because they trust the line, they know when to make their cut, they’re in a good position to get downhill in the running game and then be decisive and run through the holes and really attack the defense. Ro’s been doing a great job of that all year.”
On the defensive side, Tampa Bay is fourth in the league in allowing only 312.0 yards per game, while Chicago is No. 8 in total defense with an average of 345.3 yards allowed.
The Bears’ defense is run by Tampa head coach Bruce Arians’ former boss in Indy, Chuck Pagano. Arians filled in as Colts head coach on an interim basis when Pagano underwent cancer treatment and today Arians says Pagano is “like my brother from the West Coast. I hate going against friends.”
Injuries have hit Tampa Bay more than Chicago through the first quarter of the season.
Veteran tight end O.J. Howard tore his Achilles tendon last week for the Buccaneers and was placed on injured reserve, which could mean a bigger role for Rob Gronkowski going forward.
Four other receivers — Mike Evans (ankle), Chris Godwin (hamstring), Miller (hip/groin) and Justin Watson (chest) — are dealing with injuries that kept them out of practice to start the week. Running back Leonard Fournette (ankle) is a question mark after missing Week 4.
As for Chicago, health is less of a concern, although top pass rusher Khalil Mack was listed as a limited participant in practice to start the week because of a sore knee. A pair of defensive backs, Deon Bush and Sherrick McManis, did not participate because of hamstring injuries.
Wideout Allen Robinson said the Bears can’t afford to exhale.
“We’ve got a good team coming in here in Tampa Bay that’s playing well right now, that’s starting to heat up a little bit,” Robinson said. “Again, we have to take on the challenge. We have to come here and play better.”
–Field Level Media