The Bears tightened their grip on the division lead with a 25-20 throttling of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night. Yes, the teams play again in Minnesota in the regular-season finale, but this was a statement game for the Bears, who almost nobody expected to contend for a division title this season.
Next season, sure. But this season?
Even after picking up Khalil Mack in the heist of the season, the Bears were projected by most to finish around .500. This was only Mitchell Trubisky’s second season, and his first with new coach and offensive guru Matt Nagy. Allen Robinson was coming back from an injury.
But Trubisky has progressed further and faster than expected, and the Bears defense is nasty enough to make up for his mistakes.
Take Sunday night. Trubisky threw two interceptions, and had a couple of other passes seemingly intended for a phantom Bear that only he could see. But he made enough plays with both his feet and his arm, and the defense did the rest with a pick-six and two sacks.
This was the first game in what will be a critical stretch for the Bears. They have a quick turnaround before Thursday’s game in Detroit, then host the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 9 and Green Bay the following week.
There’s still a long way to go, but the Bears showed their spot atop the NFC North is no fluke.
Here’s what else we learned from the win:
1. Cousins makes Vikings pay: Games like these are why the Minnesota Vikings broke the bank for Kirk Cousins.
They might want to ask for some of that cash back.
Cousins was dazzling in two fourth-quarter drives that made the final score look a lot closer than it really was. Until then, however, he was completely ineffective. Yes, the Bears defense is making a case as the best in the league, and Minnesota’s offensive line was repeatedly pushed around.
But Cousins has to do better than two interceptions and a 76.5 quarterback rating. Too often he made throws where no Vikings were even close, and if he scrambled even half as much as Mitchell Trubisky, the outcome might have been vastly different.
Cousins and the Vikings will get another crack at the Bears in the regular-season finale and he’ll have to be better. Much better.
2. Clean up your act: Chicago got away with its late-game sloppiness.
Minnesota scored its only touchdown on a drive that was extended by a pass interference call on Roquan Smith. The Vikings failed on the two-point conversion, but got another try with a roughing-the-passer call on Akiem Hicks and made that attempt to cut Chicago’s lead to 22-14.
Both fouls were blatant. And stupid. Smart teams, teams that make deep runs in January, don’t give up free plays like that.
3. Nagy isn’t afraid to mix it up: It was the second quarter, and Chicago was comfortably in the lead after Trubisky’s 18-yard pass to Anthony Miller. The conventional wisdom would have said kick the extra point for the 10-0 lead and be done with it.
But Nagy kept his offense on the field for a two-point conversion. A two-point conversion in the second quarter? Yep.
Trubisky connected with Joshua Bellamy, giving the Bears the very odd-looking 11-0 lead. But the unorthodox move made a lot more sense with just under a minute left to the half when Cody Parkey made a 41-yard field goal. That put the Bears up by two touchdowns, which, given the way the Vikings were playing, seemed almost insurmountable.
Nagy went for two again midway through the fourth to make it 22-6, but that was to ensure the Vikings would need two touchdowns and then some to tie the game.