On a night when the defense was playing lights out and doing everything it could to win the game, the Bears offense was seemingly trying to do all it could to give it away.
But with the game on the line and Justin Fields operating the two-minute drill, the offense executed a game-winning field goal drive to beat the Minnesota Vikings, 12-10, on Monday Night Football.
Fields was the Bears’ leading rusher for the second-straight week, and if not for his exceptional athleticism, the night could have looked a lot worse.
Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores always runs a blitz-heavy game plan that constantly keeps the quarterback under duress. And Fields was exactly that for most of the game. The offensive line couldn’t handle the extra pressure, and Fields had little time to throw, much less drop back in the pocket and wait for the routes to develop.
However, because of Fields’ athleticism, he was able to elude the pressure, get rid of the ball, and even lead the offense on a strong first drive of the game, a 14-play, 47-yard drive that chewed up 9 minutes of game clock. Unfortunately, Cairo Santos missed a 48-yard field goal that would have given the team an early lead.
On their ensuing drive after the defense held Minnesota to a three and out, Fields again led a long drive, this one a 10-play, 67-yard drive that was capped off by a Santos 25-yard chip shot field goal.
For the remainder of the half, the offense could not get anything going, recording a three and out and two four and outs. The defense, meanwhile, continued to lock it down and keep the game in check. The Vikings got a field goal at the end of the second quarter to send it to halftime tied at 3.
Things picked up in the second half where they left off at intermission. The offense struggled, but at least was able to tack on two field goal drives to take a 9-3 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Bears defense, meanwhile, recorded a turnover on downs on the Vikings’ first possession of the second half, followed by two consecutive interceptions.
However, despite the takeaways, the offense could not do anything with them.
Fields’ otherwise good night started to turn sour when, on back-to-back possessions, he coughed up the ball while trying to scramble. The Vikings scored the game’s only touchdown following one of those turnovers, and held on to a 10-9 lead with three and a half minutes to play.
At this point, I’m sure a vast contingent of Bears fans were surely experiencing that “oh, no, here we go again” feeling. That same stomach churning every time the Bears cough up a late lead.
Surely, the Bears couldn’t count on their defense to step up one more time and save them from despair, could they? They were left on the field for far too long and were starting to show signs of breakdown on the previous Vikings touchdown drive.
But no, the defense was not done yet. They had at least one more stand in them.
Following Fields’ second turnover, the Vikings got conservative as they attempted two rushes that the defense stonewalled for only one yard, followed by a short pass that was stopped for a loss of one.
With that three and out, the defense gave Fields one more chance to redeem himself.
That’s exactly what Fields needed as the embattled quarterback led the Bears in the two-minute drill, marching them down the field with a combination of passes and scrambles, the latter of which he showed aggression as well as ball security.
On third and ten from about midfield, Fields stepped up in the pocket and threw a perfect strike to D.J. Moore down the middle of the field for 36 yards, setting up a Santos game-winning field goal a few plays later.
Obviously, we know the turnovers need to stop. Perhaps the biggest faults exhibited by Fields through his short career are the unnecessary sacks he has taken, plus the turnovers — specifically fumbles — he has lost.
But one of the other labels that he’s been branded with, which really has been unfair due to his surrounding cast the two previous seasons, is that he hasn’t been successful in game-tying or game-winning situations. Monday night’s game-winning drive showed growth and promise, an example of what he can do when he’s surrounded by talent such as Moore, and an offensive line that gave him protection — if only for that last drive in a game where they were overwhelmed by pressure.
But enough about Fields and the offense. I can’t throw enough kudos at the performance of the defense. This unit has looked awfully good this season, specifically the past month or so. When this defense is healthy, they look energetic and they fly around to the football. Since the addition of Montez Sweat, the front four has really picked up its performance. Sweat recorded another sack and a half — he’s got 2.5 in four games with the Bears — and his constant pressure off the edge is creating opportunities for his linemates.
With pressure up front, it is freeing up the back seven to make plays on the ball. The Bears recorded another four-takeaway game, their second in as many weeks. The secondary is stepping up and capitalizing off opportunities presented to them — although Jaylon Johnson missed yet another chance at a Pick 6, something that Ryan Poles and the Bears surely will bring up to him during contract negotiations.
All in all, just a fantastic performance by the defense. And if the Bears want to pick up a few more wins in the home stretch of this season, they’ll need that same toughness and opportunistic playmaking to lead them along the way.
The Bears now head into the bye with a 4-8 record. When they return, they’ll have a chance at revenge against the Lions. The Bears legitimately have a shot at going 3-2 down the stretch (with an obvious caveat that they could just as easily lose all five remaining contests).
They have home games against the Cardinals and Falcons, which are certainly winnable games. The Falcons are tied with the Saints atop a bad NFC South and are certainly beatable. Aside from those two games, the Bears have a tough road matchup with the Browns, who don’t have Deshaun Watson at quarterback and are 7-4 on the season. The Bears finish the season with a chance at revenge on the Packers.
The chance at a feel-good end to this rocky season — as well as a chance for Matt Eberflus to keep his job — could hinge on those two division games remaining. Eberflus finally recorded his first division victory in two seasons after besting the Vikings; if he can lead the team to two division victories to close out the season, and if the defense keeps playing the way it has been lately, the Bears front office will have an awfully difficult decision to make on whether to retain its head coach for a third season — whether the fans think it’s a tough choice or not.
Buckle up, because the last five games could be a wild ride.