Sunday was one of the most consequential days in the NFL this season. With only one week remaining until the playoffs, teams were eliminated from contention, Lamar Jackson locked up the MVP award, and the NFL draft order was shaken up once again. Of all the happenings around the league though, nobody had a better day than Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles.
Poles celebrated New Year's Eve by watching his team thoroughly destroy the Atlanta Falcons 37-17 in the snow at Soldier Field, and it's tough to think of a better way to spend one's holiday. The win was the most complete performance by the Bears this season, with the offense, defense, and special teams vastly outperforming Arthur Smith's overmatched squad.
The win validated nearly every move Poles has made in the past year, and combined with the Carolina Panthers' loss to clinch the #1 overall pick for the Bears, it was a banner day for both the franchise and the general manager who has steered it to the precipice of long-term success.
Justin Fields chose the perfect time to have his best game as a Bear. Chicago's third-year quarterback has never looked more in control than he did in wintry conditions Sunday, and he played a near-perfect game as he nailed his audition to remain the Bears' starter in 2024. By my count, Fields missed one throw all day, an overthrow to Tyler Scott in the second half. Everything else was on point, and his stat line of 268 yards through the air and 45 on the ground would have been even better if not for a few drops and penalties that negated excellent plays.
Fields worked through his progression to find open receivers, he fit the ball into tight windows with expert precision, and he escaped pressure to turn sure sacks into game-breaking first downs like almost no other player in the league can do.
Poles is going to have a difficult quarterback decision on his hands, because on the day that Fields showed out and was serenaded by a boisterous contingent of Bears fans shouting, "We want Fields," the Bears also locked up the #1 pick in the 2024 draft thanks to the Carolina Panthers shutout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Poles' trade with Carolina is well on its way to joining the infamous Vikings-Cowboys Herschel Walker deal as one of the most lopsided trades in NFL history. The Bears now control the upcoming draft, and with USC quarterback Caleb Williams, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, and Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. all available, they couldn't have picked a better year to do it.
Poles now has nearly four months to decide how to spend his newfound draft riches, but his landmark deal with the Panthers yielded much more than just one of the most coveted picks in years. It also brought D.J. Moore to Chicago, and the former Panther receiver has been nothing short of outstanding.
Moore had one of the best games of his career on Sunday, hauling in nine passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, and with one game left in the season, he has already set career highs in receiving yards and scores. Just two receptions against the Packers next week would allow him to break his career mark in receptions, too, and eight grabs would get him to the 100-catch mark, a feat that's been accomplished only five times in franchise history.
I feel like a game show host, because this is the part where I get to say, "But wait, there's more!" Poles also procured the Panthers' first-round selection in last year's draft, which he turned into budding franchise cornerstone right tackle Darnell Wright, and their second-round pick, too, which he then used to trade up five spots to select Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.
Stevenson entered the league with the reputation of being a high-risk, high-reward defender, capable of jumping routes and making interceptions, but just as likely to get beaten deep by gambling too much. The rookie has improved exponentially all season, though, and he's fit in beautifully with what has become the best young secondary in the NFL.
Sunday was his best game as a pro, and it might be enough to win him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The former Hurricane intercepted Falcons starter Taylor Heinicke and his replacement, former starter Desmond Ridder, while also breaking up four passes and chipping in five tackles, and he looked confident and decisive no matter who he was matched up against.
As an added bonus, fellow rookie Gervon Dexter, Sr., and Roschon Johnson also killed it, with Dexter recording 1.5 sacks and Johnson finding the end zone after a tough run.
The man that Poles hired as head coach, Matt Eberflus, has also been on the rise, having left behind the historically bad start to the first year-and-a-half of his tenure to guide the Bears to four wins in five games. Eberflus has all but locked up a return engagement as the Bears' coach next year, and he'll carry a wave of positive momentum into the season, especially if he can end the Packers' playoff chances in Week 18 with one more victory.
That Poles was able to turn last year's #1 overall selection in an objectively weaker draft into an All-Pro receiver, a decade-long solution at right tackle, and a ball-hawking cornerback, plus the #1 overall pick in 2024 and a second-rounder in 2025, is an Ocean's Eleven-level heist that will be talked about for years to come, and that's to say nothing of the best in-season front office move of the year, the trade with the Washington Commanders that brought stud defensive end Montez Sweat to Chicago.
It's a good day to be a fan of the Chicago Bears, and it's an even better one to be Ryan Poles, the man primarily responsible for turning things around. Many people had their fill of champagne on New Year's Eve, but if there's any left, raise a glass to the man who's going to get the Chicago Bears to the promised land. Happy New Year, Ryan Poles. We can't wait to see what you have in store for us in 2024.
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