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Notes: Bears win ugly over Vikings in first NFC North win since 2021

The Bears improve to 4-8 with their narrow victory on Monday night.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty, but Matt Eberflus finally picked up his first divisional win as head coach of the Chicago Bears.

The Bears came away with a close win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, securing a 12-10 victory in Minnesota. It was a road win against an NFC North rival, which is always a nice feather in one’s cap if you’re an NFL player or coach. In a game that saw the defense intercept 4 passes and the offense only score in the form of field goals, it feels like Chicago didn’t legitimately outplay the Vikings; they just played less worse.

Here are some of the takeaways from Monday’s prime-time action.

Offense

Justin Fields’ performance on Monday seemed like a strong “yes, but” outing.

That works both in a positive and negative light. He had a 72.9 completion percentage and didn’t throw any interceptions. Yes, but he also fumbled the ball twice in the fourth quarter and got bailed out by his defense. Yes, but he hit a dime down the field to DJ Moore to set the Bears up in field goal range to win the game. Yes, but the inability to score any touchdowns was glaring. Yes, but Luke Getsy...

When you balance everything out, it was an okay game for Fields. He made some plays with his feet, rushing for 59 yards on 12 attempts and showing improved awareness extending the play and avoiding pressure. Minnesota’s blitz-heavy defense wasn’t a nightmare for him to work with, as he was able to get the ball out more often than not. His athleticism helped him make some plays that most other quarterbacks can’t, and for the archaic, boring offense he was asked to run, he did what he needed to do most of the time. The inability to finish on big plays and the two late-game turnovers loom large, however.

The bulk of the passing attention went to the aforementioned Moore, Cole Kmet and Roschon Johnson. Johnson caught all 5 of his targets for 40 yards as a checkdown option, and Kmet caught all 7 of his targets for 43 yards (granted, 6 of them came in the first quarter). It was Moore who stole the show, though, catching 11 of his 13 targets for 114 yards, getting him over the 1,000-yard mark for the 2023 season and marking his fourth game with over 100 receiving yards this year. Darnell Mooney and Trent Taylor were the only other targeted receivers, and neither did much of note.

Chicago’s interior offensive line struggled a bit on Monday, and a blitz-heavy approach allowed the Vikings to free up the likes of Danielle Hunter, Ivan Pace Jr. and Josh Metellus for sacks. Hunter alone had 9 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3 QB hits. The run game itself wasn’t too much of note, as the aforementioned Johnson and Khalil Herbert averaged 3.5 and 4.0 yards per carry, respectively. That said, the generation of 7 QB hits and 3 sacks seems more like an indictment on the offense’s inability to adjust for a blitz-heavy defense, rather than too many failed one-on-one assignments.

The Bears had some decent individual outings, even if their play-calling was uninspired and bland. Justin Fields’ stock is roughly unchanged compared to how it was going into the game. While one could look at that as a positive, the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft is a major factor in what Chicago does at the quarterback position. A performance which sees Fields’ value stay stagnant probably won’t do anything to help his case to stick around.

Defense

Though the Bears’ offense was putrid and horrible and a bunch of other synonyms for the word “bad”, the defense was anything but.

Generating 4 interceptions against Joshua Dobbs stands out as a highlight, as it should for anybody. Dobbs didn’t play a good game on Monday night, and Chicago made him pay for it. They had their hands on the ball often, breaking up 8 of his passes over the course of the evening. The defense generated pressure pretty well, tallying 9 QB hits to go with their 2 sacks. Though Alexander Mattison had a handful of nice runs en route to a 5.2 yards-per-carry night, Minnesota’s leaning towards the passing game paid off well for the Bears.

Jaylon Johnson stood out as a star in prime-time, breaking up 3 passes and intercepting one for his third INT of the 2023 season. He read a hitch route targeted for T.J. Hockenson perfectly, breaking up the pass but dropping what would’ve been another interception. He also sniffed out a screen and shed a block earlier in the game for a tackle near the line of scrimmage. He looked lights-out in coverage and played a big role in limiting Minnesota’s passing attack along the perimeter.

Montez Sweat stood out as another difference-maker. He finished with 1.5 sacks, putting him at 9.0 on the year. He added a tackle for a loss and made his presence felt in the opposing backfield, generating pressure consistently off the edge and opening up opportunities for teammates like Jaquan Brisker to make plays. Gervon Dexter had some serious flashes up the middle, and DeMarcus Walker had a strong game with 3 hits on Dobbs.

The interior defensive line was a bit hit or miss against the run, but Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards combined for 13 tackles and did a solid job cleaning up at the next level. Terell Smith led the team with 8 total tackles, having some rookie growing pains in place of the injured Tyrique Stevenson but still setting the tone with his physicality.

Ultimately, the Bears’ defense was able to take advantage of self-inflicted wounds Dobbs caused for the rest of his team. With Johnson, Edwards, Brisker and Kyler Gordon all intercepting passes, the turnover battle was firmly in Chicago’s favor. They were aggressive rushing the passer and showed good heads-up awareness to make plays off deflections to intercept throws. It was a strong outing that arguably was the biggest reason they won the game.

Three and out

3. Don’t get it twisted: this win does not save this Bears coaching staff.

The play-calling on offense was atrocious, and had it not been for the defense bailing them out with Dobbs’ poor quarterback play, it would have been a certain loss 9 times out of 10. I know that sounds nitpicky after an NFC North win, and as a fan of the team, I’m happy they won. That said, I can’t objectively look at this performance and say definitively that I’m positively swayed in any way after seeing the gameplan and issues with penalties.

2. Before the game, I sent out my Pro Bowl picks on the Bears’ roster. Here they are in slightly more elaborate detail, with a few honorable mentions:

  • Jaylon Johnson (no-brainer)
  • Teven Jenkins (might not make it due to injuries, but his play has been stellar)
  • DJ Moore (top-notch production in a stagnant offense)
  • T.J. Edwards (run defender extraordinaire, cleaning up plays at the second level)

And those I almost put:

  • Montez Sweat (didn’t make the initial cut, but he proves himself more each week)
  • Cairo Santos (mostly automatic this year)
  • Cole Kmet (could sneak in, but competition is tough)

1. I felt happy near the end of the Bears’ game because I switched it over to my laptop and watched CM Punk’s first WWE promo in nearly 10 years on USA Network on my TV. Once my undivided attention returned to the game, they came back from behind and won. I should pay less attention to games more often.