Bears

Bears extend NFC North lead with Week 11 win over Vikings

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USA TODAY

Bears extend NFC North lead with Week 11 win over Vikings

The Bears have gotten to 7-3 a few times in the last decade, but something about 2018 feels different.

They reached 7-3 after two-straight losses in 2012, marking the beginning of the end of Lovie Smith’s final season in Chicago. They were 7-3 the year before too, but Jay Cutler went on injured reserve after that 10th game.

In 2018, 7-3 is good for first place in the NFC North for a Bears team rising into contention, and Sunday night’s win over the Minnesota Vikings only extended that division lead.

Neither the Green Bay Packers nor Detroit Lions are out of contention yet, though.

Aaron Rodgers and company have a chance to get back on track with a Sunday night matchup against the Vikings, perhaps their last chance to gain ground in a division slipping away.

Their Thursday night loss to the Seattle Seahawks kept them in third place in the NFC North.

The Lions kept hope alive with a nail-biting victory over the Carolina Panthers. They were a Cam Newton two-point conversion away from giving up on the season.

The weekend as a whole was fruitful for the Bears, establishing themselves as a legitimate contender and a clear front-runner for the division.

NFL Power Rankings Week 15: The Bears came at the king and didn't miss

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 15: The Bears came at the king and didn't miss

The Power Rankings, along with the Rams' shot at home field throughout and just the Rams in general, took quite a hit last night. 

No longer is the Rams' offense invincible. The consensus #1 team is consensus no longer. THERE'S DRAMA EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK AND NOT JUST IN THE MEDIOCRE WILD CARD HUNT. 

Not a Bears or Rams fan? That's okay, I guess. You can find out how your team did right here. 

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Grades: The Bears had the NFL's best defensive game of 2018 against the Rams

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USA Today Sports Images

Grades: The Bears had the NFL's best defensive game of 2018 against the Rams

QUARTERBACKS: D-

Mitch Trubisky was sharply critical of his play after the game, which was defined largely by the three interceptions he threw — all of which felt like unforced errors. He sailed two throws over Josh Bellamy and Trey Burton, respectively, and made a poor decision and poor read when he threw into zone coverage on third and 10 late in the second half, leading to another interception. In addition to those picks, he rarely looked on time with his receivers, missing — for instance — a makeable third-and-five throw toward Burton on third-and-five just after the Bears entered Rams territory in the second quarter. Trubisky’s passer rating of 33.3 set a new career low. 

Saving Trubisky from an F here is the 81-yard drive he helped engineer with three good, on-time throws to Allen Robinson, and then the “Santa’s Sleigh” touchdown toss to Bradley Sowell. That was an important drive in the game not only because it resulted in the night’s lone touchdown, but because it came after a safety and firmly shifted momentum in the Bears’ favor. But as you’ll see by the rest of these grades – the Bears’ offensive struggles were almost entirely on Trubisky on Sunday night. 

RUNNING BACKS: A

Jordan Howard rumbled for 101 yards on 19 carries, which represented not only the first time he’s gone over 100 yards in 2018, but the first time he’s gone over 8 yards all season. It was his first truly good game in almost exactly a year (the last one being a 23-carry, 147-yard day against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 10, 2017), and it came in the face of Aaron Donald lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage. None of Howard’s 19 runs went for negative yardage. 

Meanwhile, Tarik Cohen had an explosive game with the ball in his hands, ripping off a 32-yard run — the longest by a Bears running back in 2018 — and finishing with 69 yards on nine carries. The larger point here, though: Cohen and Howard combined for 93 yards on 16 carries (5.8 yards per attempt) in the second half, helping salt things away and keep the ball out of the hands of the Rams’ offense. 

WIDE RECEIVERS: C-

Perhaps for no fault of their own, this group didn’t make much of an impact during an evening when Trubisky struggled to consistently get them the ball. There was an illegal shift penalty flagged on Anthony Miller and fullback Michael Burton, and a block in the back flag on Robinson backed the Bears up further from the goal line after Roquan Smith’s interception.  

TIGHT ENDS: C

Again, sort of like the receivers, it wasn’t totally this unit’s fault that it wasn’t productive. But some credit for the Bears’ running success does go to Kevin Gilbride’s group. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: A

Holding Donald to two tackles and one hit was the result of masterful work by Harry Hiestand’s group. James Daniels played well within the scheme, trusting he’d have help to block the game-wrecking guy across from him. Cody Whitehair and Bryan Witzmann, too, had excellent games to win the interior of the line of scrimmage. And outside Bobby Massie getting beat by Dante Fowler for a sack on third down, the Bears’ tackles played well and kept Trubisky upright. 

Also, it should be mentioned — Bradley Sowell’s got some great hands. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: A+

Akiem Hicks was a menace, notching a sack, a tackle for a loss and a pressure that helped force an interception while being one of the prime reasons for Todd Gurley’s minimal impact (11 carries, 28 yards).  The same goes for Eddie Goldman, who had a safety and steadily anchored the interior of the line, as he’s done all year. Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard both had disruptive games, too, with Bullard’s pressure of Jared Goff leading to a bad throw picked off by Smith and Robertson-Harris combining with Hicks to sack Goff on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

While he didn’t hit home with a sack, Leonard Floyd played his best game of the year, consistently getting pressure on Goff and doing well against the run. Floyd’s five-yard tackle for a loss on a Gurley run to open the second half set up Goldman’s safety and set the tone for a massively dominant final 30 minutes for this defense. He also did well in coverage, breaking up a pass intended for tight end Gerald Everett. 

Khalil Mack, too, had another monster game in primetime, with a sack and a forced fumble while rattling Goff with his consistent presence in the backfield. And Aaron Lynch had a strong game as well, rounding out a banner day for Brandon Staley’s group. 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A+

Smith was all over the field and, outside of one play where he allowed Gurley to pick up 11 yards on a pass over the middle, played well in coverage. His strong, physical tackling — along with the same from Danny Trevathan — was important in setting the tone for the kind of evening the Rams were in for on Sunday. Trevathan, in particular, came up with a key play: With the Rams at the Bears’ 22-yard line in the fourth quarter and facing a second-and-15, he dropped Gurley for a zero-yard rushing attempt. Goff threw incomplete on the next play, and after that, Greg Zuerlein missed a field goal attempt, keeping the Bears’ advantage at nine. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A+

Kyle Fuller may have came up with the biggest play of the night when he picked off Goff on the first play after Trubisky threw an interception that gave the Rams the ball on the Bears’ 27-yard line with about four minutes left in the third quarter. It was his seventh interception of the year, tying him for the league lead. Eddie Jackson notched another interception, too, when he snatched a Goff Hail Mary at the end of the second quarter. Prince Amukamara felt like he should’ve had one or two picks before he intercepted Goff late in the fourth quarter, too. This unit also did well to mitigate the loss of Bryce Callahan in the second quarter, with Sherrick McManis playing well and winding up leading the Bears with seven tackles. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-

Pat O’Donnell had a good game punting and making sure the Rams didn’t get advantageous field position: Los Angeles obtained possession, on average, on its own 11.8-yard line on O’Donnell’s five punts. There were some issues with the rest of Chris Tabor’s special teams unit, though — Cody Parkey missed a 38-yard field goal that woud’ve given the Bears a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter, and while Benny Cunningham had an inspired effort, he wasn’t able to keep the Rams from converting a fake punt. There appeared to be some mis-communication on the post-safety punt, too, which Cohen fielded at the 19-yard line and then stepped out of bounds. 

We’ll end with two positives, though: Leonard Floyd tipped a Johnny Hekker punt, which only went 29 yards, and having Ben Braunecker intentionally false start on a punt midway through the fourth quarter was a smart time-wasting move (even if Nagy denied it was intentional on Monday). 

COACHING: A+

Vic Fangio’s defensive gameplan scrambled the playcalling of Rams coach Sean McVay, who after the game repeatedly took the blame for putting his players in bad positions all night. Part of that: Fangio stuck with a lot of base defense after Callahan’s injury, which dissuaded McVay from pounding the ball to Gurley — as he did the last time the Rams played a good defense in the cold (at Denver in October), a game in which Gurley ran for over 200 yards. And when Fangio did go to nickel, not only did McManis play well in coverage, but he pressured Goff on three of his five blitzes. Holding the Rams to two field goals was the result of, first and foremost, a coaching masterclass by Fangio.

While Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did well to drop into plenty of zone and get those unforced errors from Trubisky, credit Matt Nagy with a good halftime adjustment. Trubisky threw 20 passes in the first half, completing nine with two interceptions, while Cohen and Howard combined to rush 12 times. In the second half: Trubisky threw 10 times, while Cohen, Howard and Taquan Mizzell carried the ball 19 times. 

And to throw it back to the Fangio-McVay matchup for one final note: Goff threw 22 times in the second half, while Gurley rushed only six times. Yes, the Rams were chasing nine points for all but one offensive play of the second half, but one of the league’s best offensive minds didn’t turn to his All-Pro running back when his quarterback was rattled by the temperature and Bears’ pressure. Again: Massive credit goes to Fangio for not only what the Bears did on Sunday, but what the Rams weren’t able to do, too.