It was a night for defensive football, the kind of still, bone-chilling evening that conjured memories of frozen tundra, the Monsters of the Midway and players with more vowels in their name than teeth in their mouth.
And the Rams defense lived up to the hype, holding Chicago to one touchdown and a season-low 15 points and picking off three passes. But when the players got back to the warmth of the locker room, they had nothing to show for it since the Bears defense was even better, giving up only six points.
“It’s a team sport,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “We lost as a team so we’ve got to get better as a team.”
It’s going to be hard to get better as a defense.
Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky completed only 16 passes for 110 yards. Two drives didn’t gain a yard and one lost nine yards, yet still ended with a field goal.
“We’ve got room for improvement,” Donald said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better and better.”
Said cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman: “This one loss doesn’t define who we are. No finger-pointing at all. This was a night where we showed up, everybody gave their best effort and we didn’t get what we wanted.
“That happens. It’s football. It’s a tough league and it isn’t easy to win.”
The game kicked off in a windchill of 25 degrees and it only got colder. Donald never did get hot. With the Bears double-teaming him for most of the game, the NFL’s sacks leader finished with one tackle and one quarterback hurry.
The game had been billed as a showdown between Donald and linebacker Khalil Mack.
Mack was the defensive player of the year in 2016 and Donald in 2017. And when both held out in training camp, the Rams talked to the Oakland Raiders about trading for Mack.
Instead, they signed Donald to a $135-million extension, making him the richest defensive player in league history. A day later, Mack surpassed that record by signing with the Bears for $141 million.
Donald said the two spoke after the game but wouldn’t share what was said. During the game, however, Mack spoke loudest with two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, making his presence felt on the Rams’ third snap by taking an inside rush off the edge and hurrying Jared Goff into a third-down incompletion, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal.
On the other side, the Bears controlled Donald by rolling Trubisky out of the pocket and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly.
“We had a plan for him,” Trubisky said. “He didn’t have any game-destructive plays that he usually causes. That’s something that we definitely kept in the back of our minds.”
Still, the Rams secondary was among Trubisky’s leading receivers, with Marcus Peters, John Johnson and Robey-Coleman picking off passes, giving the Rams 10 takeaways in their last three games.
That didn’t hurt the Bears much, though, because while the first interception led to a field goal, the Rams offense gave the ball back on turnovers after the other two interceptions.
“We definitely want to build off this,” Robey-Coleman said. “And we hope what we learn from it will help us down the line. The bus don’t stop here.”
The Rams bus, in fact, is on the way to the postseason since the team already has earned a playoff berth. The Bears could clinch one next week, setting up a possible showdown in January, likely in Los Angeles, where there won’t be talk of windchills and frozen tundra.
Robey-Coleman can hardly wait.