Handing out Bears superlatives after surprise 2-1 start originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It was an eventful September in the NFL, filled with several surprises, significant injuries, and juicy storylines.
The Bears entered the season as a trendy pick to have one of the NFL's worst records. Given their soft schedule, that always seemed improbable. Thanks to an upset of the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 at a rain-soaked Soldier Field and a sloppy win over the lowly Houston Texans, the Bears head into October at 2-1.
It hasn't been pretty. Head coach Matt Eberflus' club has a lot of things to iron out. But the Bears are above water and have a good chance to open October with a win against the New York Giants on Sunday to improve to 3-1.
Eberflus has been handing out awards after each game this season. He won't discuss the winners with the media. So, I'm going to hand out some of my own for the month of September.
Player of the month
Winner: Jaylon Johnson
There were a couple options here. I could have gone with Roquan Smith, who played like a man possessed against the Texans. Both David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert have had good games.
But consistency is essential.
While Johnson missed Week 3 with a quad injury, the Bears' star cornerback effectively eliminated half the field in the first two games. He has yet to be targeted this season, proving opponents view him as one of the best corners in the league.
My other option was Eddie Jackson, who looks revitalized this season. Don't worry, he gets a trophy later on.
Rookie of the month
Winner: Trenton Gill
This category didn't have a lot to offer.
Kyler Gordon has struggled. Jaquan Brisker has been solid but has missed a lot of tackles. Velus Jones Jr. hasn't played. Dominique Robinson flashed in Week 1, but he hasn't been heard from since.
So, let's give some love to the punter.
Gill is averaging 46.9 yards per punt this season, with a net of 40.2. He has had three punts downed inside the 20 and has only had six of his 14 punts returned.
He has been an excellent field-flipping weapon for a Bears team still finding its footing offensively.
Winner: Khalil Herbert
I knew Herbert was a talented back who fit well in the Bears' wide-zone scheme. But his one-cut-and-go explosion will be a big weapon for the Bears this season, especially if Montgomery missed significant time with an ankle/knee injury.
Herbert popped a little running in the rain in Week 1, but his 157-yard performance against the Texans showed how good he can be in this system.
The Bears have the potential to have the best one-two punch in the NFL behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Winner: Kyler Gordon
Rookie cornerbacks almost always struggle to start their NFL careers. So Gordon's tough three-game stretch isn't unheard of, but how teams have effectively picked on him is concerning.
Per Pro Football Focus, Gordon has given up 19 catches on 24 targets for 326 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Most of that damage has come when Gordon is at nickel. The Washington product has looked more comfortable when lined up at outside corner in the Bears' base defense.
Asking Gordon to handle both outside and nickel responsibilities was always going to be a lot, but the Bears aren't ready to change their plan yet.
It will get better. Gordon is too talented for there not to be improvement. But the initial stats are troubling.
Winner: Cody Whitehair
The Bears' offensive line was seen as a massive issue entering the season. While the advanced metrics have been kind to the group, the eye test says it has been good in the run game but shaky protecting quarterback Justin Fields.
Now, sacks should be a shared stat between the line and the quarterback. Fields often holds onto the ball too long and gets pressured because of it.
Tackles Braxton Jones and Larry Borom have been iffy at best, while center Sam Mustipher has been surprisingly solid. The Teven Jenkins-Lucas Patrick rotation at right guard has been OK. Jenkins should be getting all the snaps, in my opinion. He has been better than Patrick through three games.
But Whitehair has been the picture of consistency to start the season. He has given up just three total pressures this season, has not allowed a sack, and has not been flagged.
The Bears needed Whitehair to be reliable at left guard, and he has been everything they were hoping for through three games.
Winner: Cole Kmet
This could go to the Bears' entire passing game if we're being honest.
But if I have to pick one guy who has been missing, it's Kmet.
The third-year man has all the tools to be one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme should highlight everything Kmet does well.
But through three games, Kmet has just two catches for 40 yards on five targets.
To be fair, Kmet's struggles are a product of Fields' issues and the Bears' ineffective passing attack. His stats should improve once Getsy finds a way to unlock the passing game.
But it has been a subpar first month.
Winner: So ... what's up with Justin Fields?
All the offseason talk centered around the expected second-year leap for Fields. The footwork and mechanics had supposedly improved, and he found himself in an offense tailored toward his strengths.
The preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns seemed to signal that Fields and Getsy's system were the perfect marriage.
Things haven't gone that way early on.
A Week 1 monsoon saw Fields only throw the ball 17 times. But he made plays in winning time, throwing two touchdowns to lead the Bears to a win.
Then came Week 2 when Fields only threw the ball 11 times (17 dropbacks) in a 27-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. That raised some alarms about the Bears' trust in Fields. Then came the Week 3 stinker against the Texans when Fields completed just 8 of 17 passes for 106 yards and two interceptions.
Fields called the performance "trash" and vowed to be better.
This season is supposed to be all about Fields' development. So far, the second-year quarterback is trending in the wrong direction.
There's time for Fields and the passing game to get clicking. The Bears must find a way to make him more comfortable early in games and help him settle into a rhythm.
It's not time to sell Fields stock. But we are monitoring the situation.
Winner: Eddie Jackson
There was no other possible choice for this award.
Jackson has been the Bears' most consistent player. He has 19 tackles and two interceptions on the season. He has only given up one catch for -1 yard this season.
The 28-year-old has taken to Eberflus' H.I.T.S principle and has been a leader for the Bears' young secondary.
Hustle, intensity, takeaways, and smart football describe Jackson through three games.
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