Haugh: Chase Daniel Delivers For Bears In Key Win

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- His name is Chase Daniel, Chicago.

Not Chase Daniels.

For future reference, leave the "S" off the end.

But expect more Ws like the one that Daniel helped deliver Sunday in a 16-6 victory over the Vikings at Soldier Field if the Bears defense continues playing at an elite level. And get used to saying Daniel’s name correctly; it looks like he could be around for awhile – and, surprisingly, that isn’t a threat.
Daniel replaced injured starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky after the sixth play of the game and executed the offense with impressive efficiency. You could make the argument that Daniel ran the Bears offense better than Trubisky has this season, but you would be unlikely to find anybody in town to argue on behalf of Trubisky. Daniel’s performance was that convincing in relief, as he completed 22 of 30 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 101.4.

"That’s the beauty of having a guy like Chase," Bears coach Matt Nagy said.

With their backup quarterback and several other reserves pressed into action due to injuries to four key starters, the Bears sent the rest of the NFC North a resounding message. This domination of the Vikings was all about depth, the kind of game that galvanizes subs and stars alike, the type of satisfaction enjoyed as much in the front office as in the locker room. In other words, you wouldn’t blame general manager Ryan Pace for celebrating postgame at the football executive’s version of Club Dub. This was an organizational victory the Bears badly needed, a big reason Nagy called it one of the top three or four most satisfying of his short Bears tenure.

"The amount of guys who stepped up shows what kind of roster we have," Nagy said.

Before Trubisky went down with an injured shoulder, the Bears already were without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, linebacker Roquan Smith, right guard Kyle Long, deep threat Taylor Gabriel and running back Mike Davis. Good luck telling the Vikings that they were beaten soundly by a team at less than full strength. Coming up with so many answers on an overcast day on the lakefront raised some fun questions. Does it matter what Bears player misses a game due to injury if his name isn’t Khalil Mack? Does it count if the Bears found the right quarterback for this offense if they weren’t looking? Whose backup was better, the quarterback’s or the defensive line’s?

Reserve defensive lineman Nick Williams, a rotational player who saw more time in Hicks’ absence, registered two of the six sacks on a day the Bears held the Vikings to 222 total yards. Mack was vintage Mack, ruining Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff’s day and wrecking Minnesota’s game plan. On the first play of the second half, Mack overpowered Reiff for a strip-sack-fumble of quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Bears took over at the Vikings' 16-yard line to set up kicker Eddy Pineiro – Automatic Eddy? – for his second of three field goals. The entire defense swarmed to the ball every time running back Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s leading rusher who was held to 35 yards, touched it.

But this is a football city so, naturally, what created most of the postgame conversation in barrooms and living rooms all over town revolved around Daniel – the unlikeliest of heroes.

On the sixth play of the game, Trubisky spun away from the rush and into the path of Danielle Hunter, who forced a fumble and game-ending injury. Trubisky’s left shoulder landed awkwardly on the turf and, as officials huddled to discuss the defensive holding penalty that negated the turnover, Daniel jogged onto the field for the next snap. All eyes shifted to the Bears sidelines, where Trubisky disappeared under the blue tent for examination. He later walked slowly into the locker room followed by the Bears medical team, which included Dr. Mark Bowen, and watched the second half from the sidelines with his arm in a sling. Nagy offered no prognosis postgame but didn’t sound worried either.

"That’s why Chase is here," Nagy said.

Enter Daniel, the 32-year-old career backup who showed little signs of rust. He exuded the confidence and command the Bears have come to expect from the veteran, moving the offense downfield on a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ate 7 minutes, 16 seconds and culminated with a touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen. Daniel’s prettiest pass came on a 37-yarder on a sideline route to wide receiver Javon Wims. No, that wasn’t an exhibition game against second-teamers but Daniel connecting with Wims for a key completion in a must-win game against an NFC North opponent.

I asked Daniel if nerves ever became a factor.

"You think I’m lying but, no, it felt like a practice," Daniel answered.

It looked like it too. Only twice did Daniel throw passes that made anyone cringe, and both overthrows occurred on third down. In the second quarter, Daniel missed badly to Anthony Miller, and he sailed a pass over David Montgomery in the fourth quarter. But other than those rare misfires, Daniel's accuracy kept the Vikings in the trail position. Not bad for a guy who made his last NFL start last Dec. 2 in a loss to the Giants. In two starts last season, Daniel completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 515 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 85.8. Daniel’s consistency Sunday speaks volumes of his professionalism and preparedness.

"We’re very, very lucky to have Chase as our quarterback," Nagy said.

Nobody dares to suggest Daniel possesses more talent than Trubisky. His overall skill set is weaker and his ceiling lower. But nobody can deny that the offense ran more efficiently against the Vikings under Daniel than it had in three previous games under Trubisky. The Bears signed Daniel because of his understanding of the scheme, and that comfort level was on display. Daniel developed a rhythm and hit receivers in stride. He read coverages quickly and looked off covered receivers even quicker. He moved the chains.

He's also a career backup for a reason, and those limitations should prevent anybody from getting too carried away with his instant success. Even in a league that saw quarterbacks Gardner Minshew of the Jaguars and Kyle Allen of the Panthers also win games Sunday, Daniel needs to do this again a couple more times before Nagy considers anything but getting Trubisky back as soon as possible.

But this was a fascinating development in a year that was supposed to see Trubisky make tremendous strides. And it came as a surprise to many of us who paid attention to preseason. By any measure, Daniel struggled in August. It didn’t help that Daniel played with mostly unproven backups trying to establish themselves, but he did little to remind anybody why he was still in the NFL. Nagy consistently supported his veteran backup, but trained and untrained eyes alike saw the same guy missing open targets and rushing throws.

Consider Daniel’s performance against the Vikings in Week 4 as the latest reason to ignore whatever happens before the games count.

"I honestly don’t remember preseason," Daniel said with a straight face. "All I remember is this last game."

It was memorable for the right reasons. The least everyone can do is remember how to pronounce his name.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.