By: Will Burchfield
The Chicago Bears had Matthew Stafford’s number in 2016.
They shut him down in Week 4 in Chicago and they derailed his MVP-worthy campaign in Week 14 in Detroit when they left him with an injured right finger.
As costly as that second game proved to be, it’s the first one that sticks with Stafford. He threw no touchdowns, two interceptions and posted a season-low passer rating of 56.8 in a 17-14 loss.
It’s a game he’d rather forget, but Stafford forced himself to rewatch it ahead of Sunday’s clash with the Bears at Solder Field. He didn’t make popcorn.
“Watched that game on Monday, just at home, and not a fun one to watch. We played about as poorly as we can play,” Stafford said. “Their defense played well and we didn’t execute really at any position at a good enough level to win the game, so it’s a motivating factor looking at that tape.”
The low point for Stafford came just before halftime when a miscommunication with Golden Tate led to an easy interception for the Bears. Stafford was livid afterward, gesturing angrily at Tate on the sideline. The receiver was benched for the rest of the game.
“As far as that play,” Stafford said on Wednesday, “I tried to give some signal out to Golden, we were on different pages and the guy picked it.
“I thought I communicated well enough to be received. In the end, I’m the guy giving the signals or giving the words out, so I’ve got to be better at that.”
As bad as the game was for Stafford, it was worse for Tate. He had one reception for one yard, the lowest output of his career when making a catch.
It was also the nadir of his early-season slump. Through four games, Tate had 14 receptions for 95 yards — the kind of stats he usually piles up in a single week.
Afterward, he acknowledged he needed to step up.
“I’m a very accountable person and I think I’m going to need to dig deep and just find a way, whether that’s studying another hour in the playbook or in the facility or with Matt. Whatever I need to do, I need to find a way to be more of an asset to this team, and right now I’m not coming through,” Tate said.
He responded in a huge way, tallying 982 receiving yards over the final 12 games. So did Stafford, who was arguably the best quarterback in football from Week 5 through Week 13.
Then the Bears struck in Week 14.
Stafford will be out for revenge on Sunday, at a stadium where he’s 3-5 in his career with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“I’ve played in a bunch of games there. I’ve played early in the season, played late in the season. You never know what you’re going to get. That’s how we’ll prepare. You have to go out there and see the way the game’s unfolding, see the way the weather is either affecting the game or not affecting the game,” he said.
Sunday’s forecast in Chicago calls for clear skies and a high of 34 degrees.
“Our biggest opponent is their defense,” Stafford said. “They’re really talented. Big, physical guys up front. They can get after the passer, stop the run and their guys on the outside do a really nice job of keeping everything in front of them. So, we’ll have a good challenge for us to go with whatever the weather brings.”
If all goes according to plan, Stafford will have some more pleasing film to watch next time around.