It has been a season to remember for the Chicago Bears and their fans. It started with the hiring of head coach Matt Nagy (almost a calendar year ago). Then it was followed by an active free agent period and (on paper), one of Ryan Pace’s best draft classes. The final cherry on top was the acquisition of pass rusher Khalil Mack, which set them up well heading into the season.
Even so, the Bears lost a heartbreaker to the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 after blowing a 17-point half time lead. Unlike previous years, this team did not let that define their season and finished their season winning nine of their final 10 games, including going (5-1) in the NFC North.
All in all, it has been an incredible season, but Sunday’s win was a perfect way to cap it off. Just two games after eliminating the Packers from playoff contention, the Bears eliminated another divisional rival with a (24-10) win against the Minnesota Vikings. In all reality, it was somewhat hard to tell which team was fighting for their playoff life. It started with a defensive three and out, followed by a touchdown on their first offensive drive. From that point forward, it appeared as if Chicago had all of the momentum.
All of this despite despite sitting Allen Robinson II, Aaron Lynch and Eddie Jackson.
It was also just the third time in 10 years that the Bears have won their season finale. For more on Sunday’s top performers, let’s dive into Week 17’s game balls.
RB Jordan Howard
No, Howard was not able to reach 1,000 yards for the third time in as many years, and it hasn’t been a great year for the former University of Indiana product.
But in Week 17 he had one of his best performances of the year, and it was just the second time this season that he broke the 100-yard mark. Howard finished the game with 21 rushes for 109 yards and more importantly, a pair of touchdowns.
It hasn’t been Howard’s best year, but as the season has worn on, he has started to play his best football and that is what is truly important here. He finished the season with 935 rushing yards, but over his last five games, he totaled 399 rushing yards (79.8) yards-per-game. He also has has four touchdowns over his last three games, which brings his season total to nine.
On a day where the passing offense missed their top three receivers for the majority of the game, Howard’s performance was needed to grab that 12th win on the season. It’s also worth noting that Minnesota’s defense had really hit their stride since about Week 10. All in all, it was a big time performance for Howard and a good sign as they head into the playoffs.
DL Akiem Hicks
I can’t remember the last time that Hicks had a bad game. It’s really been that long.
Even on a defense filled with Pro Bowl players and a gluttony of ascending talent, Hicks has continued to be one of their best defensive players. On Sunday, that trend continued.
Hicks finished the game with three tackles (one for a loss), (1.5) sacks and a pair of quarterback hits. Not only did he get after the quarterback with regularity, he was his usual self against the run as well. They gave up just 39 rushing yards to running back Dalvin Cook and 63 overall.
After being snubbed the past two years for the Pro Bowl, Hicks finally got the recognition he deserved in 2018. While his sack total may not be as high as it was a year ago, I think it’s safe to say that he’s having the best year of his career. More importantly, he’s been worth every penny of his extension and then some.
Honorable Mention: DL Bilal Nichols
You may look in the box score and wonder why Nichols made the list, but upon further review you may understand my choice.
The fifth-round rookie only finished the game with two tackles (one for a loss), but he also had a sack and three quarterback hits. It’s been a very impressive rookie season for the big defensive lineman out of Delaware. It’s also one that only someone like Mike Mayock may have seen coming.
To start the year, most had wondered who would step up and replace former Bear Mitch Unrein. At the time, my best guess was Roy Robertson-Harris (who has played well). Even Jonathan Bullard has played well at times, but it has been the rookie who has stolen the show.
Overall, Nichols has been impressive for most of the year, but this was one of his most impactful games in a year. Especially in a game where the Bears only managed three sacks for the game.