Bears ring in the New Year with a victory plus the first overall pick

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Sunday began with the proverbial “Bear Weather” as a wintry powder sprinkled Soldier Field. What immediately followed was a familiar script that we’ve become accustomed to during the Bears’ stretch of five wins in their last seven games.

The Bears started fast and finished strong as they thoroughly demolished an overmatched Atlanta Falcons team, 37-17 on Sunday. The victory moved the Bears to 5-3 at home and 7-9 overall on the season.

The theme of the day was, “Could this be Justin Fields’ last game as a Bears starter at Soldier Field?” With the fans chanting, “We want Justin!” sporadically throughout the game, the bulk of the fan base let the front office — as well as the rest of the league — know what they wanted the Bears to do this offseason.

Fields did not disappoint with one of his best games as a Bear against the Falcons. He completed 20 of 32 passes (62.5%) for 268 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. His average yards per attempt was an impressive 8.4. And he finished with a passer rating of 99.5.

Per usual, he also dazzled with his legs, extending plays and even scrambling out of trouble to pick up first downs. He finished with 45 yards on 11 carries and added a touchdown run.

Fields’ go-to target was none other than D.J. Moore, who continues to put up some of his best numbers as a pro. Moore made some impressive sideline catches as well as a toe-tapper in the back corner of the end zone on a dart from Fields. He finished with 9 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown on the day.

Fields sprinkled the ball to a handful of other receivers including tight end Robert Tonyan — who was playing a bigger role with Cole Kmet banged up — Roschon Johnson, Tyler Scott, Khalil Herbert, and even Collin Johnson, who was activated from the practice squad for this week’s game.

Herbert, meanwhile, strung together his second consecutive impressive performance on the ground, rushing for 124 yards on 18 carries. He also tacked on a touchdown. The rookie Johnson rushed for 21 yards on 7 carries plus a touchdown. He was instrumental in the passing game with 3 catches for 38 yards.

The defense continues to be the engine of the team. They forced the quarterback combination of Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder into four interceptions and held the Falcons to 17 points. Rookie corner Tyrique Stevenson had four pass defenses and two picks. T.J. Edwards had a tackle for loss, a pass defense, a quarterback hit, and another pick. Kyler Gordon added the fourth interception.

Since the Bears acquired Montez Sweat, the Bears defense has allowed an average of 18.7 points per game. Extrapolated over an entire season, that would rank them fifth in the league in points allowed — to give you an idea of how effective they’ve been since the trade.

Winning a meaningless game in late December might be fun, and it was memorable to see the crowd and his teammates rally around Fields. But the real joy of the day came from what happened in Jacksonville and Philadelphia.

The Jaguars pounded the Panthers, 26-0, and the Cardinals upset the Eagles, 35-31. The Panthers’ loss dropped them to 2-14 and the Cardinals’ victory improved their record to 4-12, clinching the first overall pick for the Panthers — which belongs to the Bears.

Securing the first overall pick for the second-straight year is unheard of, especially if you’re not a terrible team who finished at the bottom of the league both years. And given that the Bears’ got a major haul for last year’s top overall pick and that this year’s draft class contains some better quarterback prospects, the juicy thought of what the Bears could get for this year’s top pick is a fantasy worth having.

Or, if you’re one of those types, drafting one of those top quarterback prospects is probably an enticing thought for you, too.

The season isn’t over yet, of course. As much as we all look forward to the next four months of speculation with what the Bears will do in the draft, they still have one more game to go. And it’s a game of consequence. Against a hated rival.

If the Bears can beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in next week’s season finale, they will keep their rivals out of the playoffs. And that is meaningful January football.

Former high school and college kicker. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I've been writing about the navy blue and burnt orange since 2007. You can follow on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or email me.