The Bears were in a unique position entering Sunday’s game with the Minnesota Vikings. They had the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs wrapped up, with an outside shot at the No. 2 hanging in the balance. To get that coveted first-round bye, the Bears needed help from the woeful 49ers, who needed to beat the Rams in Los Angeles.
It was clear midway through the first quarter in LA that the Niners were of no use. They turned over the ball on their first two possessions — once on a fumble, once on an interception — and the Rams put up two quick touchdowns to take an early 14-0 lead.
Bears fans watching television at home, and even those who made the trek to Minnesota, knew immediately that the Bears were destined for a Wild Card matchup next week. Speculation suggested that once the coaching staff found out they had little chance of improving their playoff seeding, they’d yank their key players from the Vikings game and preserve their health for next week.
Head coach Matt Nagy and his team had other plans.
Bears pummel feeble Vikings
I think playoff seeding had little to do with the Bears’ energy and motivation on Sunday. They wanted to kick the snot out of the rival Vikings — and they did, for the second time this season.
Make no mistake, this is not the same Minnesota team of yesteryear.
The Bears defense smothered the inept Vikings offense early, holding them to three-and-outs on their first four possessions. It wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that they even converted a first down.
The Vikings had one successful possession: a 12-play, 94-yard touchdown drive on their first possession out of halftime. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Bears answered that with a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive of their own.
The Bears defense went to work from there. They forced a turnover on downs on the Vikings’ final three possessions of the game.
Offense has its way with Vikings’ defensive front
From the game’s outset, the Bears seemed to do whatever they wanted against the Vikings’ defensive line and linebackers.
On their first possession — a 6-play, 71-yard touchdown drive — the Bears marched right down the field using five run plays. Howard had runs of 7, 42, and 6 yards. Anthony Miller rushed once for 8 yards — and then a second time for minus-1 before leaving the game with an injury. But the offensive line clearly paved the way for success early and often.
The Bears rushed for 169 yards on the day and yielded zero sacks to a defense that ranked third in that department on the year.
Mitch Trubisky’s passing numbers were pedestrian, but I can’t argue with the results. He completed nearly 70% of his 26 pass attempts, finishing with just 163 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions.
But as Nagy said after the game, “[Trubisky] orchestrated everybody and got everybody in the right spot and did a great job.”
Trubisky’s ability to command an offense continues to impress.
Bears offense still working out kinks
I’ve always been one to advocate for playing your best players if there is something to gain. And even though their playoff seeding was all but cemented by the second quarter of the Rams-Niners game, the Bears still had something to play for.
My only strong inclination to keep the starting offense on the field is how inconsistent they’ve been. I’m not sure one extra half of football will matter a great deal, but they sure do need to clean things up to make a run in the postseason against some better offenses #CHIvsMIN
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) December 30, 2018
Although the flow of the game didn’t require it, there remains work to be done in the passing game if the Bears are to contend with some of the better offenses in the postseason.
The Bears offense has had its ups and downs all season. That’s to be expected in the first year of a complex offense with a second-year quarterback and new offensive weapons.
In fairness to Trubisky, he did complete a well-thrown 41-yard bomb to Taylor Gabriel, setting up one of Howard’s touchdown runs against the Vikings on Sunday. But there were also some missed throws on mid-to-deep routes — as there have been all season — that I’m sure Trubisky would like to have back.
But my greatest fear is, and will remain until dispelled, the Bears’ ability to consistently push the ball down the field quickly and in big chunks if necessary. I know that the Bears contained the Rams’ explosive offense on a cold Chicago night back in Week 14. But things can — and likely will — be different in Los Angeles in the Divisional Round, should the Bears survive their Wild Card game.
To put it another way, if the Bears are to become Super Bowl champions this year, they’d have to go through — likely, or potentially — the Eagles, Rams, Saints, and Chiefs — the Murderers’ Row of explosive offensive potential.
The Bears offense has to be able to score more quickly and in larger chunks to keep up.
Bears have a date with the Super Bowl champions
At some point during Sunday’s shellacking of the Vikings, when it became clear that the Bears would remain the No. 3 seed, random proposals came flooding in from the Twittersphere.
“The Bears should let the Vikings win,” was the general consensus.
The theory behind this was that the Bears knew they could dominate the Vikings, as they had done once previously and were currently in the midst of repeating. And if the Bears allowed the Vikings to win, then they’d have a date with them in the Wild Card round and could thrash them for a third time this season.
But, alas, the Bears had other plans. And I liked their plans better than that of the Twittersphere. Those plans involved playing to the best of their ability, and with the intent to win, against whomever was on the field opposite them.
With the Bears’ victory, and Philadelphia’s defeat of Washington, the defending champion Eagles will now visit Soldier Field in next week’s Wild Card matchup.
Eagles present a dangerous challenge
There’s something a little unnerving about facing the defending Super Bowl champions.
Sure, they may not be as potent this season as they were last. They may be lacking the weaponry that propelled them to a victory over the Patriots in the title game. But they have a solid offensive system in place, and the experience to know what it takes to win in the postseason.
Bring on the defending champs. They offer a very unique challenge given that they run a very similar offense to the Bears. If the Eagles somehow find the offensive magic that they exhibited in the Super Bowl, that’ll be tough sledding for the #Bears. #PHIvsCHI
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) December 31, 2018
Eagles coach Doug Pederson is well acquainted with Bears coach Matt Nagy. The two worked together under Chiefs coach Andy Reid in both Kansas City and previously in Philadelphia. They run similar offensive philosophies, except Pederson has been doing it for longer. If anyone knows how to scheme against Nagy’s offense, it should be Pederson.
The Bears have the homefield advantage at their disposal, which could help to some degree. But the playoff experience ought to keep the Eagles competitive throughout the game.
This will be one nerve-packed week of preparation. But this is why you play a 16-game regular season schedule. It’s for the opportunity to enter the tournament and compete for a title. And the Bears are about as prepared and equipped for a title run as any team in the postseason.