Up 14-0 with 3 seconds left in the first half, the Bears found themselves in firm control of the outcome of their game on Sunday.
Then, they fell apart.
Chicago was outscored by the Vikings 31-3 from that point on, allowing 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter alone. The Bears ended up falling 31-17, ending their season and giving them a measly 6-11 record to finish the year.
Time will tell what they do from here on out, but Sunday figures to be the end of an era in the Windy City.
Here are some of the takeaways from the season finale.
Matt Nagy forgot about David Montgomery when it mattered most.
The Bears had three opportunities to convert on 4th-and-1, and they opted to throw the ball each time. All three plays resulted in sacks and a turnover on downs. Instead of trusting their top running back to pick up the short gain, they overthought the process and tried to catch the Vikings off guard, failing miserably.
Though Andy Dalton’s completion percentage of 68.8 seems good on the surface, very little was done by the veteran to truly put the Bears over the hump. All three of his passes that traveled 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage fell incomplete, and 10 of his 33 completions came on passes that traveled behind the line of scrimmage. Part of that does stem from conservative playcalling, but especially in the second half, the Bears were unable to march down the field on a consistent basis. He also threw two interceptions in the second half, with one of them resulting in a game-clinching pick-6 by Patrick Peterson.
Granted, it’s not like Dalton had all day to throw the ball. According to PFF, the Bears’ offensive line allowed 30 pressures on 56 dropbacks on Sunday, which along with the Vikings’ 7 sacks and 10 quarterback hits saw Dalton under duress often. There weren’t any offensive linemen who seemed to stand out in a good way, but Larry Borom and Cody Whitehair had some issues in pass protection this week.
The passing attack’s biggest benefactor was Darnell Mooney, who was able to haul in 12 of his 16 targets for a total of 126 yards. Topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, the second-year weapon was able to get open consistently and make defenders miss in space, tallying 89 of his yards after the catch. He used his speed to make plays and give Chicago a spark they desperately needed.
Cole Kmet was able to secure four of his five targets and had 48 yards, while Damiere Byrd was a reliable short-yardage target who caught five of six targets for 47 yards. Damien Williams caught the lone touchdown on a well-designed wheel route, but no other weapon really stood out. Allen Robinson finished with just 2 receptions and 22 yards for the afternoon.
David Montgomery got a sizable workload with 20 carries and 72 yards, but one could argue the Bears didn’t run the ball enough. A 7:3 designed pass-to-run ratio was a bit lopsided, especially considering the offensive line’s inability to consistently pass protect. While the offensive line also had occasional issue in the run game, Montgomery still had 51 yards after contact and was able to fight hard for every yard he was given. Khalil Herbert played a minuscule role in the offense with just four carries, while the aforementioned Williams only saw touches through the air.
The Bears struggled offensively, which has been a trend this season and in many others. While they weren’t responsible for their defense’s collapse in the second half, they certainly didn’t do anything to help relieve their mistakes. They likely find themselves entering 2022 with a new coach, several new starters and an identity crisis.
It truly was a tale of two halves for the Bears’ defense.
In the first half, they were aggressive, technically sound and playing hard. They held the Vikings to just 3 points, with that field goal coming at the very end of the second quarter. Kirk Cousins was unable to put much together, and Minnesota’s first four offensive drives resulted in a combined 22 yards and punts on each drive.
The second half, however, saw the Bears fall apart. They were passive in coverage and appeared completely confused with their assignments, and that allowed the Vikings to attack the air game vertically and march down the field with ease. Three of their first four drives after halftime resulted in touchdowns, and Chicago found themselves in a hole their offense was unable to get out of.
Chicago’s secondary proved to be a massive liability in the second half after limiting Cousins to going just 3-for-7 with 13 yards in Minnesota’s first four offensive drives. The veteran starter finished the game 14-for-22 with 250 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Bears really struggled defending the deep ball, as out of Cousins’ 8 attempts that traveled beyond 15 air yards, only one of them fell incomplete. Ihmir Smith-Marsette beat Marqui Christian for a 44-yard touchdown, Justin Jefferson beat Eddie Jackson for a 45-yard score, and KJ Osborn took advantage of a confused secondary in deep zone for a 21-yarder.
The Vikings were able to generate some nice push up front in the run game, too. Dalvin Cook finished the game with 79 yards on 14 carries — 5.6 yards per carry — and averaged 3.9 yards before contact. The Bears’ defensive line was inconsistent in its ability to plug up holes in the ground attack, though Khyiris Tonga did show promise with 3 tackles. Roquan Smith was able to clean up pretty well at the second level with 6 tackles, giving him 163 tackles in total this season.
The biggest positive to come out of the Bears’ defensive performance was their pressure up front. As a unit, they sacked Cousins three times, tallied 8 quarterback hits and 17 pressures. Bilal Nichols contributed 5 pressures, 3 hits and half of a sack in what was quietly an incredible performance rushing the passer. Angelo Blackson added another sack with 3 pressures, while the likes of Robert Quinn, Trevis Gipson and Mario Edwards Jr. all had half-sacks of their own.
All told, though, the Bears crumbled with the lead in their possession and were unable to prevent a high-powered Viking offense from stretching the field against them with ease. Sean Desai showed some promise in his first year as a defensive coordinator and had his defense looking really good at times, but miscommunication in the secondary killed them this year. If he is retained, it will be interesting to see if he can improve as a schemer with what is likely to be a better secondary with offseason additions.
Three and out
3. I need to get the last bit of negativity out of me so I can head into the offseason an optimist looking forward to the future.
This was the most Bears way to lose a game, and even though it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I can’t say I was surprised with how the second half of Sunday’s action turned out. We’ve seen this song and dance too many times before.
2. As I’m writing this on Sunday night, Matt Nagy is still the head coach of the Bears. That might not be the case by the time you read this.
No matter what happens with Nagy, Ryan Pace and much of the coaching staff and front office, it will definitely be an interesting offseason. Many starters and key contributors are slated to hit free agency, and they have some cap flexibility to work with. Change is coming in 2022; it’s just a matter of it will pay off.
1. I wanted to take this time to thank you all for tuning into Windy City Gridiron for all of your pre-game, postgame and mid-game needs.
I’ve enjoyed writing these day-after note columns this year, even if the team I’ve been covering hasn’t been very good. I’m grateful for your readership and look forward to working with the rest of the WCG crew to put together a strong offseason of content for you all.