Any slim odds the Bears had of making a Cinderella run into the playoffs were dashed on Monday night, as they fell to 4-10 and were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.
The box score of their 17-9 loss to the Vikings more or less reflects what Chicago put forth onto the field: a pretty good defensive outing, but nowhere near enough offensive firepower to take advantage of a mediocre team. That’s a new concept.
Here are some of my jaded takeaways from this week’s loss.
It took some play in garbage time for him to do so, but Justin Fields put forth one of his better stat-lines of his rookie season this week.
Fields finished with 285 passing yards and a touchdown, going 26-for-39 on the evening. Granted, 163 of those yards came went the Bears were down by two scores, but he was able to string together some nice throws and some decent drives against a Vikings defense that was playing conservatively late in the game.
His completion percentage over expected was at a positive 3.8 percent, and he excelled when asked to stretch the field, though that didn’t come too often.
Justin Fields was most effective passing downfield, completing 8 of 11 passes traveling 10+ air yards for 128 yards and a TD.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 21, 2021
Fields completed +23.6% of his 10+ air yards passes over expected, a career-high.#MINvsCHI | #DaBears pic.twitter.com/iw9FVFV3QL
That’s not to say Fields had a great night by any means. He had his fair share of bone-headed decisions, like choosing to not slide on the run that resulted in a fumble and multiple miscues to try and roll out to inevitable accept a sack without throwing the ball away or climbing the pocket. He looked like what he was: a rookie, especially in the first half when the game was tighter.
Fields showed some flashes down the stretch, but he’s had better outings than what he had on Monday night. It wasn’t an awful performance, per se, but it wasn’t a great one, either.
His receivers had some nice snags, but there were a couple instances of the Bears’ weapons not coming down with passes they arguably should have. The likes of Cole Kmet, Jimmy Graham and Khalil Herbert all dropped passes over the course of the evening. Kmet led the team with 6 catches and 71 yards, though, while Darnell Mooney and Damiere Byrd each had 5 receptions for 63 and 62 yards, respectively.
David Montgomery had some nice runs, but he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in an 18-carry, 60-yard outing. He was able to break away for some solid gains and showcase his incredible contact balance on more than one occasion, but as is the case with basically every back, he was only as productive as his offensive line was good, and the offensive line wasn’t consistent blocking for the run.
The biggest issue for the Bears’ offense was an inability to execute in scoring position. They entered the red zone five times and came away with just 9 points, with 6 of those points coming on a garbage-time drive to close out the game. They fumbled the ball on one drive, scored one field goal and had two turnover-on-down drives. The offense was also given favorable field position twice after a Deon Bush interception and a blocked punt by Damien Williams, but despite starting inside Minnesota’s 40-yard line both times, they were unable to turn either drive into point.
Matt Nagy’s decisions to go for it on fourth down five times wasn’t the issue, but rather the fact they only converted twice. The Bears panicked on multiple occasions and ran the ball repeatedly in scoring position against a Vikings run defense that had their number most of the night. The scheming around their passing attack on fourth downs wasn’t necessarily fantastic, either.
The Bears struggled on offense, and it took a last-second touchdown pass to Jesper Horsted for them to take advantage of one of the many chances they had to score. Finishing the job was a major issue for Chicago, and that’s ultimately what cost them the win.
Thomas Graham Jr., Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith. These four men stole the show on Monday.
Graham, a sixth-round rookie who made his debut on the active roster, was every bit a force to be reckoned as a sixth-round rookie who made his debut on the active roster could have been. He finished with three pass deflections, showcasing an aggressive edge at the catch point and the fluidity needed to stick with receivers in coverage. He also contributed 7 tackles, finishing second on the team and displaying physicality when wrapping up with ball-carriers. It’s not wise to rush to conclusions and say he’s a long-term starter after just one game, but he proved that he’s definitely someone who deserves to stay on the active roster.
The Bears’ secondary as a whole actually wasn’t bad at all, as they limited Kirk Cousins to a 12-for-24, 87-yard outing. Justin Jefferson was held to just 4 receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets, which in itself is an insane statistic. Marqui Christian also held his own in coverage, allowing just two catches on five targets and tallying a pass deflection.
Chicago’s pass-rushing unit was also solid, sacking Cousins four times and hitting him six times. Akiem Hicks’ stat-line was simply bananas, notching two sacks, four hits and three quarterback pressures. Robert Quinn added two more sacks onto his Pro Bowl season, putting him at 16 sacks on the season and making him just 1.5 sacks away from tying Richard Dent’s single-season franchise sack record. Both veteran defenders showcased a combination of quickness and agility that made them consistent forces in Minnesota’s backfield.
Dalvin Cook was held to just 3.2 yards per carry, rushing for 89 yards on 28 attempts. The Bears were able to finish with four tackles for a loss and 18 carries that resulted in a gain of two yards or fewer. Part of Cook’s limited production came from the play of Roquan Smith, who fresh off of a Pro Bowl snub tallied 10 total tackles. He was especially on fire early in the game, as he had 6 of his tackles in the first quarter alone. A solid outing by the defensive line also helped plug up running lanes.
The Vikings were able to capitalize on some one-on-one battles in the red zone and take advantage of favorable field position on two of their three scoring drives, but the Bears more than held their own for a team who was ravaged by injuries and COVID inactives. The defense can take solace in knowing they kept their team in the game.
Three and out
3. Kudos to Sean Desai for how he handled the defense on Monday night.
The Bears were faced with their toughest challenge to date in terms of their own personnel in the secondary — which says a lot — but Desai arguably coached his best game with almost all backups in coverage. The assignments were executed more often than not, the defensive backs held their own in man coverage, and there was less miscommunication in zone than normal.
2. Can we as Bears fans see Thomas Graham Jr. in the starting lineup going forward, please?
I’ve already gone on about how he performed on Monday night, but his outing should show the Bears that there’s more upside with him than there is with any other cornerback on the roster not named Jaylon Johnson. With the likes of Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor struggling in starting roles and the Bears having been eliminated from playoff contention, there’s no reason not to see if Graham can continue to build momentum to close out the year.
1. There’s nothing to play for anymore other than bragging rights, so there’s no use pretending the rest of the season is for much more than giving guys more reps to close out the year.
That said, can the Bears finally just bite the bullet and clean house? Please?