With the Cardinals losing to the 49ers on Saturday, the Bears only needed to beat the lowly Jaguars on Sunday to move into the seventh seed for the playoffs.
Following a sluggish first half, the Bears exploded in the second en route to a 41-17 drubbing of Jacksonville.
The offense played well for the fourth straight week behind another solid outing from Mitch Trubisky and David Montgomery.
Trubisky efficient again, with one glaring mistake
Much like last week’s outing against the Vikings, Trubisky played a sound game. He completed several nice throws on the money and orchestrated chain-moving drives.
Also like last week, while he played mostly error-free football, he made one particularly egregious throw, forcing an interception in the end zone.
While plays like that could be game-changers if and when the Bears sneak into the playoffs, they fortunately did not cost the Bears the past two weeks.
Instead, I’m impressed with how well Trubisky has played since returning to the starting lineup. The Bears have now scored at least 30 points in four straight games. That is a good enough offense to win with in the NFL, especially with a strong defense.
Montgomery and the ground game continue to excel
In conjunction with Trubisky’s resurgence of late, the run game continues to churn out strong production.
Montgomery rushed for 95 yards on 23 carries, an average of 4.1 yards per attempt. He also scored a rushing touchdown and caught two passes for 26 yards.
Part of this swell in the ground game is attributable to the offensive line. The Bears have found a nice combination in the middle of the offensive line with Sam Mustipher, Cody Whitehair and Alex Bars. But the other component to the run success is the commitment to it. Montgomery rushed 17 times against Detroit, 32 against the Vikings and 23 this week against Jacksonville.
It’s hard to say whether Trubisky’s efficiency or Montgomery’s success has been the bigger reason for the Bears’ offensive resurgence the past month. But one thing is certain: they work well together and make it tough for defenses to defend.
Defense finds second gear in second half
The collective groans of Bears fans everywhere were almost audible as the Bears took a meager 13-10 lead into halftime.
I could almost hear: “Oh, great! The Cardinals do the Bears a favor by losing, and the Bears can’t even put away a team headed for the first overall draft pick.”
To make matters worse, the Bears’ third-quarter struggles this season have been well documented.
But the Bears threw away all conventional wisdom to open the second half and start putting the nails in the Jaguars’ coffin. The Bears scored three third-quarter touchdowns to pull away and take a big lead into the fourth.
The defense, which looked a little sluggish in the first half, came to play in the second.
On the day, the Bears picked off former teammate Mike Glennon two times, hit him three times, and held him to a 75.4 passer rating.
Aside from a 64-yard touchdown drive against some Bears reserves, the defense almost completely shut down the Jags in the second half.
Playoffs very much a possibility as Bears enter final week of regular season
This wasn’t the way the Bears were supposed to enter the final week of the season. At 5-1 the Bears were in excellent shape to cruise into the postseason.
Then they lost 6 games in a row and looked ready to blow up the organization.
But after winning three straight, the Bears find themselves in control of their own destiny (as much as I hate that inaccurate phrase). The Bears will be postseason bound with either a victory over the Packers or another Cardinals loss.
Obviously, with as great as the Packers are playing and as shaky as the Bears have been against them, I think the Cardinals losing is a better path to get in.
However, quarterback Jared Goff of the Rams — whom the Cardinals are playing against next week — injured his thumb this week and might not play in Week 17. However, the Rams need to win or they could be out of the playoffs, which makes them a very dangerous team.
With all that said, I still want to see the Bears go out and earn their way into the postseason. As difficult as the task appears, the Bears need to defeat the Packers. They need to prove they belong, and enter the playoffs on a high, rather than backing their way in. The Bears and Packers and Cardinals and Rams all play at 3:25. That means there won’t be any scoreboard watching from the players — just the fans of all three teams still hunting for the playoffs.