The Chicago Bears didn’t secure a first-round bye on Sunday, but they did the next best thing: they picked up another win, and they ended the playoff hopes of a divisional rival in the process.
With their 24-10 victory against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears finished the 2018 regular season with a 12-4 record, their best record since they went 13-3 in 2006. A few minor injuries to the likes of Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel depleted Chicago’s offense, but a consistent ground game helped them create a comfortable lead over the Vikings.
The Bears already have their sights set on their matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday in the NFC Wild Card round, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look back at this week’s game. Here are some of my takeaways and notes from the win.
The Bears ended the game with their top three wide receivers on the bench, with Allen Robinson inactive and the aforementioned Miller and Gabriel both leaving the game due to injury. That said, it wasn’t surprising that their passing attack didn’t set the world on fire. However, that doesn’t mean that Mitchell Trubisky had a bad game.
His 163 passing yards and zero touchdowns aren’t all that pretty in the box score, but he did well enough to keep the Bears moving offensively. He was accurate throughout the game, his passes showing off good velocity and touch. His pass to Taylor Gabriel on the 40-yard sluggo was one of the best throws he has made all season, as he stayed calm in a pocket that was quickly collapsing after a six-man rush by Minnesota. Chicago took a more conservative approach to their offensive gameplan this week, and though Trubisky didn’t have a lot of chances to truly shine, he looked like the type of quarterback who can help lead his team to a deep playoff run.
The Bears relied a lot on their ground game this week, and it certainly paid off. Jordan Howard put together a very good game, totaling 109 yards on 21 carries and adding two touchdowns to the mix. He will finish the regular season with 935 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, which is a respectable total, even if it falls short of the 1,000-yard mark. He showed some promise near the end of the season, and his presence will greatly benefit Chicago’s offense if he can catch fire in the playoffs. Tarik Cohen contributed 24 rushing yards and a touchdown on five attempts. Though he had a very bad game on special teams - one that saw him fumble one return and lose two yards on another - his game on the ground was decent.
Chicago was depleted at the wide receiver position, which required some of their other offensive weapons to step up. Luckily for the Bears, they had a handful of guys who did just that. Gabriel led the team with 61 receiving yards on four receptions, with most of those yards coming off of the aforementioned 40-yard gain. Trey Burton put together a good game, catching five passes for 33 yards. Even linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski got in on the action, snagging a two-point conversion pass from Trubisky in tight coverage.
The real surprise in this game was rookie Javon Wims, who had four receptions for 32 yards. He looked sharp in his first game with substantial snaps, as he created good separation and showcased physicality and body control. He made an impressive sideline snag on an out route that knocked over a Vikings cheerleader in the process. Though he probably won’t do much in the playoffs, he could be in line for an increase in touches in 2019.
Kudos to the Bears’ offensive line for not only keeping Trubisky upright, but also for paving the way for the likes of Howard and Cohen to combine for three rushing touchdowns. They allowed zero sacks all game, and they held up very well against a talented Minnesota defensive line. With the Eagles, Rams and Saints presumably in their way if they are to make it to the Super Bowl, the Bears would be greatly benefitted if their offensive line can play like they did this week.
Any time you can hold an offense to less than 150 passing yards, you know that you had a good day defensively.
If not for 52 yards allowed in the last five minutes of the game with their backups in, the Bears would have stopped Kirk Cousins from reaching 100 yards on the day. He was clearly rattled by Chicago’s pass rush, as he made several ill-advised throws throughout the game. Minnesota’s big free agency splash was sacked four times on Sunday, with 1.5 coming from Akiem Hicks, who wrecked havoc in the backfield all day. Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris all contributed with sacks of their own.
The Vikings have been a pass-first offense all year, which makes sense, given their offensive line’s inability to consistently create holes for Dalvin Cook all year. It wasn’t all that surprising that the Bears held them to 63 rushing yards as a team, but it was encouraging. Chicago didn’t allow a single pass to go over 20 yards, and no Vikings receiver topped 50 yards for the day. Stefon Diggs came close with 47 yards, but it took him eight catches to get there. Adam Thielen, who has been very good all season, was only targeted four times.
The Bears also did surprisingly well when they took their starters out late in the fourth quarter. They held the Vikings inside their own territory in the second-to-last drive of the game, forcing four straight Cousins incompletions. Though a pair of first downs sent Minnesota onto Chicago’s side of the field on the next drive, the Bears stepped up in the clutch to shut their rivals down late.
It was a well-rounded defensive effort for the Bears, one that will bode well for them when they take on the Eagles next week.
Three and out
3. In three seasons as head coach of the Bears, John Fox won 14 games. If Matt Nagy can help the Bears advance to the NFC Championship this year, then he can knock that total off in one season. With the regular season officially behind us, it really is remarkable to see how much the franchise has turned around in one offseason. Nagy should at the very least be in consideration for Coach of the Year, while Ryan Pace deserves to be the Executive of the Year front runner. Colts general manager Chris Ballard should be in the mix, as well, but Pace managed to turn his team from the worst team in the NFC North to a first-place, 12-4 team. If that isn’t enough to win the award, then I don’t know what is.
2. Pace hit a home run with nearly every decision this offseason, from the hiring of Matt Nagy to the decision to go all-out in signing and trading for new talent. The lone blemish on his offseason, though, was his decision to sign Cody Parkey. The kicker simply hasn’t lived up to the hype, and he finished off his underwhelming season with a missed extra point. Though it would make more sense financially to wait until after the 2019 season to release him - his dead cap would be just over $1 million, as opposed to just over $5 million if they cut him this year - the Bears may have to consider moving on already. On a team that doesn’t have many holes, kicker sticks out as a weakness on their roster.
1. The Eagles are a talented team who underachieved to start the year, but they have one five of their last six games. Nick Foles will likely man the helm for them at quarterback, despite leaving this week’s game against the Redskins early with a rib injury. He will be playing hurt, but he has a handful of dangerous weapons to throw to. Philadelphia also has a tenacious pass rush led by the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Michael Bennett, who are sure to give Chicago’s offensive line fits next Sunday. The weaknesses in their roster come on the ground and in their secondary, where injuries have been prevalent. With a relatively clean bill of health and a home-field advantage, the Bears will be in good position to take it to the defending champions in the Wild Card round.