It’s about damn time.
After an ugly four-game losing skid, the Monsters of the Midway were finally able to get back on track this past Sunday, defeating a Matthew Stafford-less Lions team at home 20-13. It wasn’t the prettiest, by any means. Nonetheless, the offense was able to take a step in the right direction and the defense held up just enough for the Bears to walk away with the win.
In the divisional battle, Detroit still managed over 350 yards over total team offense, but much of this came in garbage time (over 150 yards in the fourth quarter). While they’ve still been nowhere near the impenetrable group from 2018, Chuck Pagano’s unit performed admirably and again put the Bears in a position to come out victorious.
Nobody played a bigger role in this than inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
The fourth-year pro’s number was called upon midway through the first quarter after Danny Trevathan, the team’s leading tackler, suffered an arm injury that knocked him out the rest of the contest – and unfortunately maybe the rest of the season. Even in his absence, head coach Matt Nagy was confident Kwiatkowski could get the job done.
You hate to lose a guy like Danny because he’s such a leader for us. We look at him for so many intangibles. But with Ryan [Pace] and his personnel, they created this depth chart throughout our team where when guys go down, you have guys step up. Kwit has done that, and that’s what it’s all about. Sweeping the sheds, not being too big to do the little things. He’s a pure example of that.” – Matt Nagy
So how exactly did Kwiatkoski respond to extended field time?
The former fourth-round pick was arguably Chicago’s best defender on the field Sunday, doing a little bit of everything. Not only did Kwiatkoski notch double-digit tackles, but he also chipped in with a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a pass defended, a quarterback hit, and an interception – the first of his career.
Turned this one into points.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 10, 2019
This takeaway proved to be the difference in this seven-point victory, as the team would go on to score just three players later on a 24-yard touchdown strike from Mitchell Trubisky to Taylor Gabriel.
A player that’s been scrutinized for his suspect coverage skills throughout his young career, Kwiatkoski was far from a liability in this one. In fact, whenever given the opportunity for extra playing time this season, he’s flourished. Back in Week 4 against the Vikings, he was forced into a starting role when Roquan Smith was a last-minute inactive, where he responded with 10 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.
When asked how he’s been able to step right in and perform at such a high level after seeing limited reps with the starters, Kwiatkoski exclaimed the role his preparation plays.
“Just the preparation. I’ve said it before, as a linebacker room, we prepare like we’re playing – every last one of us,” said Kwiatkoski. “Things happen throughout the course of a game, throughout the course of a season, and you have to be ready for it.”
Kwiatkoski is no stranger to playing an every-down role for the Navy and Orange, starting 13 games in the middle for the back in 2016 and 2017. With the acquisition of Roquan Smith in the 2018 NFL Draft, the West Virginia alum knew he’d be in for a reduced role, but when his name was called, he’d be ready.
He’s proven that in 2019.
Starting cornerback Prince Amukamara had nothing but praise for his teammate after the game, knowing the 26-year-old would shine in his opportunity. He suggested his abilities have somewhat been kept a secret on a loaded Chicago linebacking corps.
“We all know Kwit could be a starter on any team in this league,” said Amukamara. “He’s like our hidden gem. Whenever his number is called, he’s always ready.”
With Trevathan likely out for the foreseeable future, the Bears will need Kwiatkoski to continue to show up big. If what he’s already shown on the field, along with his coaches and teammates’ comments on him are any indication, chances are good he’ll do just that.