What to watch for in Buccaneers-Bears on 'Thursday Night Football'

Once upon a time, the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers shared space within the NFC Central.

The two will lock horns once more to open Week 5, but it’s the reunion of Super Bowl LII foes Tom Brady and Nick Foles that is no doubt of more intrigue.

Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) will square off with Foles and the Chicago Bears (3-1) at 8:20 p.m. ET from Soldier Field on Thursday Night Football, airing on NFL Network, FOX and Amazon Prime.

Brady and Foles are the first pair of opposing starting quarterbacks to start versus each other in a Super Bowl and then meet again with each QB on a different team, per NFL Research. But there are plenty more stars under the TNF lights such as the Buccaneers’ Shaquil Barrett, Rob Gronkowski andMike Evans along with the Bears’ Khalil Mack, Allen Robinson and Eddie Jackson.

Here are four things to watch for Thursday night when the Bears host the Buccaneers:

Tom Brady vs. Nick Foles Round 2

Before looking ahead to Thursday night’s matchup, take a look back to this time last year. Mitchell Trubisky was starting for the Bears — he’s on the bench now. Jameis Winston was starting for the Buccaneers — he’s on the bench now in New Orleans. Foles was a Jaguar and, of course, Brady was a Patriot. And now, Brady and Foles, leading the Buccaneers and Bears, respectively, will face off in a Super Bowl rematch from when they were with the Patriots and Eagles, respectively. Got all that? Nonetheless, Thursday night pits perhaps the greatest quarterback of all-time against perhaps the greatest backup QB of all-time, and it will be the first time they’ve squared off since Foles’ Eagles defeated Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Foles won the MVP (and the game, obviously) with four total touchdowns and 373 yards passing, while Brady’s losing effort saw him put up a monster game, as well, with three scores and a Super Bowl-record 505 yards passing. It’s a much different setting now with new clubs on a Thursday in the regular season. Thus far, in sample sizes with their new squads, they’ve each had their ups and downs. Foles rallied the Bears to a win in Week 3 against the Falcons, but was stymied in his first start and the team’s first defeat in Week 4 against the Colts. Brady’s driven the Bucs to three straight wins after a stumble in his Week 1 debut. Brady’s coming off his best game yet with Tampa Bay, which garnered him NFC Offensive Player of the Week. They’re each on new teams now and likely still getting the feel of their new offenses, but once before they brought out the best in each other. Perhaps Thursday’s round two will see that happen again.

Will Mike Evans continue racking up TDs?

Evans has had a statistically baffling season. He’s had touchdowns in each game — five total. He’s had a pair of 100-yard outings and, in sync with Brady, is coming off his best showing last week. However, in the two games in which he didn’t hit 100 yards, he combined for three catches for four yards — and two touchdowns. Evans has a nose for the end zone and is the kind of big-bodied target Brady loves. He’s also still a deep threat, but with Brady has become a huge asset at the goal line. Evans, who has scored in five straight games dating back to last year, is having another stellar season even with some mercurial stat lines. His 17 receptions and five TDs lead the Bucs, but his 230 yards receiving trail Scott Miller, who’s taken on a key role with 15 grabs for 250 yards and a score as Chris Godwin has struggled to stay healthy.

Akiem Hicks, Bears D need to be at best vs. Brady’s Bucs

The Bears defense is overflowing with talent. Khalil Mack is a beast among men impacting each game. Mack is the face of this unit for good reason. Roquan Smith has become a tackling terror, Eddie Jackson is one of the league’s top safeties and on and on. But the man who’s been long regarded as the unheralded key to the Chicago defense is Akiem Hicks. After an injury-riddled 2019 campaign, Hicks has returned in phenomenal fashion. So far, Hicks has produced a team-high 3.5 sacks to go with 18 tackles and team-highs of nine QB hits and five tackles for loss. His only game without a sack was in the team’s only loss to the Colts and their stellar offensive line. The Bears defense is still terrific, though it’s clearly lost some of its luster and dominance. Hicks’ return has boded well, though, and faced with a likely future Hall of Fame QB for the third straight week, Chicago’s defense must be at its best. After all, Brady’s never lost to the Bears, standing at 5-0 for his career, including a 38-31 win in Week 7 of 2018 when the Chicago defense was at its most elite.

Allen Robinson catching on after QB change

A season ago, Robinson was very much the lone bright spot in a bumbling Bears offense. This year, most of the talk surrounding Robinson has centered around a new contract. Along with that talk came a slow start. Perhaps not coincidentally, Robinson’s production has soared since Foles took the reins. On the season, Robinson has 25 catches (11th in the NFL) for 331 yards (ninth) and two touchdowns. He also caught Trubisky’s last pass — a five-yarder in the third quarter of a Week 3 win against the Falcons. With Mitch, Robinson had 14 catches for 176 yards and no touchdowns in 11 quarters. With Foles, Robinson has 11 receptions for 155 yards and both his TDs in five quarters. Foles struggled last week, but Robinson really didn’t. At least at the onset, the Foles-Robinson connection seems to be catching on fast. And the Bucs will need to curb it.

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