When New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones faked the handoff to Saquon Barkley in the first quarter Sunday at MetLife Stadium and then spun out to his left, a clear 21-yard lane to the end zone lay before Jones.
With Chicago Bears defenders Trevis Gipson, Jaquan Brisker and Dominique Robinson in chase mode, Jones picked up speed. Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon was unable to shake tight end Tanner Hudson’s block near the goal line, and Jones squeaked into the corner of the end zone behind Hudson for the QB’s first of two touchdown runs in the first half.
The Giants never trailed the Bears again in their 20-12 victory, and Jones contributed 68 rushing yards to the Giants’ 262 for the day, a season-high by a Bears opponent.
“He’s a good athlete,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said of Jones. “He’s got some long legs, so he’s got a good stride and can kind of get out there a little bit. But there are some rules we’ve got to follow to make sure we can contain some of those runs.”
Jones’ second touchdown came in similar fashion — a fake to Barkley, a sprint to the left corner of the end zone, an 8-yard touchdown.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said the Bears made adjustments to stop similar bootleg plays in the second half, but they needed to come more quickly. The damage of two touchdowns was done, and coupled with a Bears offense that failed to get in the end zone, it was too much to overcome.
“It’s just eyes — you’ve got to keep your eyes in the right spot,” safety Eddie Jackson said of defending Jones on play action. “They were doing a good job setting it up, running with Saquon. Running, running then slip the boot here and there. We just have to do a better job with our eyes and on the edges.”
The threat Barkley posed helped the Giants pull off the plays. After he was limited the last couple of seasons with injuries, Barkley continued his bounce-back season with 31 carries for 146 yards and two catches for 16 yards.
His performance continued a concerning trend, as the Bears have allowed more than 175 yards rushing in three of their four games this season.
“He came out and played a great game, but there were a lot of mistakes on our behalf,” linebacker Roquan Smith said. “He’s a heck of a player, but that’s no excuse. We’ve just got to all get better and look ourselves in the mirror, including myself.”
Jones was hobbled by a left ankle injury midway through the second half, and then backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor left the game to be evaluated for a concussion. The Bears held the Giants to just two second-half field goals from kicker Graham Gano. Jackson came up with a big interception early in the fourth quarter — his third in four games — but the Bears offense failed to capitalize on the takeaway that gave them the ball at their own 4-yard line.
Through four games, the Bears defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown after halftime, giving up just 18 total second-half points.
But the running thread in the Bears locker room from defenders after the game was that mistakes here and there kept the unit from putting together the game-altering performance the team needs — especially as the offense struggled and special teams made costly mistakes, such as the muffed punt by returner Velus Jones Jr. in the fourth quarter.
Morrow lamented a missed tackle on a short pass from Jones to Barkley on the Giants’ second touchdown drive. On third-and-9, Morrow was right on Barkley when he caught the ball, but Barkley spun out of his grasp for a 15-yard gain.
Gordon was called for a 40-yard defensive pass interference penalty on the Giants’ first field-goal drive of the second half. And Smith obviously wasn’t pleased that Taylor twirled out of his grasp on third-and-4 on the Giants’ final field-goal drive.
“Self-inflicted wounds. That’s the biggest thing. That’s what hurts the most,” Jackson said. “Player for player, we felt like we had ups on them. We just have to do the little things right. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot, myself included, and both sides of the ball I’m sure, even on special teams.”
Eberflus said a focus this week for the whole team as the Bears prepare for the 3-1 Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium will be putting together a full game after Sunday’s first-half miscues.
“We just have to be consistent all the way through,” Eberflus said. “That’s going to be something we’re going to preach this week and do a better job of. Apparently, we’re doing some good things in this second half, but we have to play 60 minutes in this league.”