By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The 2018 NFL regular season concluded league wide on Sunday and many thought Week 17 would be the equivelant of a second bye week for the Chicago Bears.
Faced with a desperate opponent in a hostile environment, the Bears made the decision to end this winning season the only way they know how to, by giving an all-out effort and shutting down the opponent, this time the Minnesota Vikings, who fell to the Bears 24-10 for the second time this season.
It was a surprising result since the Vikings were the team in this equation with the most to play for but on the field it was the Bears who looked like the team with more on the line. As it turned out the win eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs and provided a surreal capper to a year-long reversal for the two teams.
A year ago the Bears came to Minnesota on New Year’s Eve as a last place team and got beaten down, the Vikings had the NFC North in hand and would advance all the way to the NFC Championship game.
Fast forward a year and now the Bears look like a favorite in the NFC. While the Bears were beating the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles were taking care of business against Washington with a win of their own. As a result of the Eagles win and Vikings loss the Bears get to host defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Sunday at 3:40 pm in the final game of Wild Card Weekend.
It will be a lot of fun breaking down this matchup, which stands as the first playoff game for the Bears since 2010. The Minnesota win was another great Sunday in a season full of them for the Bears in which a division championship was won and 12 win were collected, not too shabby for a first-year head coach and a majority of players without postseason experience.
Here are some takeaways from the season-capping over the rival Vikings.
Once again, the Bears really put together a complete game in a situation where not much was expected of them. That is so impressive from this young team and they gained some great confidence from this game.
There were certainly elements of Chicago’s game that could use cleaning up and could get the Bears beat in the playoffs. For example, the Bears committed too many pre-snap penalties because of late play calls from the sideline or quarterback Mitch Trubisky not aware of the play clock running out, this meant the Bears had to burn away too many timeouts throughout the game. On special teams kicker Cody Parkey missed an extra point, raising more questions about the team’s trust in their kicker.
Punt returner Tarik Cohen also muffed a punt and fumbled but was very fortunate to recover the ball. Aside from these mistakes, which could have been mere accidents, the rest was very good. The Bears’ defense absolutely dominated, allowing only 164 yards total and holding the Vikes to 1-11 passing on third down with quarterback Kirk Cousins covering just 2.7 yards per pass. The Bears’ offense wasn’t far behind the defense in domination, Trubisky was somewhat pedestrian with his numbers but he played well outside of some play clock issues.
Chicago’s offense scored 24 points and gained 332 total yards of offense with 169 of those yards coming on the ground. Perhaps the most impressive stat of the day, the Bears dominated time of possession 37:08 to 22:52 and on one second half drive alone the Bears ate up just over nine minutes of game clock.
If this is the type of play we are going to see from the team in a hostile environment then January might be epic. This game provided exactly he blueprint to playoff success the Bears could use. It looks like these Bears are ready for next weekend.
Trubisky’s development over his second year has been a whirlwind rollercoaster for Bears fans. Fans have seen quarterbacks from the same draft in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson who have put up electrifying stats and have been mainstays in headlines, making themselves look like better options for the Bears to draft.
Those two may be better overall but at this point it can’t be argued that Trubisky hasn’t shown what he’s capable of with a few big games throughout 2018 to his credit.
The problem with Trubisky is he seems to play inconsistently more often when compared to the other two. Very quietly it seems like Trubisky — who’s been at the front of Bears fans minds if not first in line for their props — is sneakily playing really well. After returning from the shoulder injury that had him miss the final two games on November, Trubisky has since struggled against the Rams but played pretty well in the three games since.
Yesterday’s game showed a lot from the young quarterback, he hit on a couple nice deep throws, continues to convert big third downs and was efficient throughout the whole game without a turnover.
Think about how Trubisky looked week one compared to yesterday, fans can see a far more competent and confident quarterback. Instead of just trying to run, Trubisky is looking to move in and out of the pocket to throw before tucking it away, he has become better at read progressions and isn’t so heavily reliant on his number one read. Trubisky may never be as good as Mahomes and Watson (sounds like an off-brand Holmes and Watson) but Eli Manning isn’t better than Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
Given that comparison, tell me how many Giants fans would rather have the prolific stats of Rivers and/or Roethlisberger and their combined one Super Bowl over the two Eli has been able to provide?
The answer is none, even if Manning is a borderline a Hall of Famer.
Trubisky looks like a quarterback capable of leading a winner. If he can continue his recent play then perhaps Trubisky’s first championship season will be this year.
The Bears will now turn their attention over to the Eagles with an upcoming playoff game at 3:40 pm Sunday afternoon.
Chicago’s biggest concern in the Vikings game was getting out of Minnesota without major injury and it seems that the Bears were able to do so for the most part.
Wide receivers Anthony Miller has a shoulder issue and Taylor Gabriel is dealing with a ribs injury that didn’t allow either of them to finish.
Before the game safety Eddie Jackson (ankle sprain), wide receiver Allen Robinson (ribs) and linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow sprain) were ruled out from playing. The team also saw the return of guard Kyle Long who played 40 percent of the offensive snaps. The Bears would ideally have all these players available come Sunday but if not, it seems like the team has enough to win with the healthy players they have.
The Eagles will come in as a confident bunch with backup quarterback Nick Foles once again looking ready to save the day and capable of leading a deep playoff run.
Previously, the Bears hosted the Eagles in the 2001 playoffs, it went poorly with a lot of fans leaving unhappy and suburban Chicago native Donovan McNabb with all the bragging rights in the moment. The Bears will be the favorite and the healthier team this time around though the Eagles come in as a battle-tested playoff group.
Ultimately, the Bears don’t care who shows up to Soldier Field because this team is playing as well as anyone. When you are a healthy team and you peak at the right part of the season, skies the limit to what this team can do.
Not many believed the Bears would be in this position this year, that means now is a good time to go out and celebrate Bears fans, and enjoy the build up to this weekend’s game.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR