Week 17’s of NFL seasons can veer into a sort-of faux preseason games 3 or 4 depending upon teams’ personnel strategies. Like game 3’s they can be modest “tells” hinting at futures, either short-term (playoffs) or a little longer (next season).
For the Bears (12-4), their 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) was a dominating performance, in which they imposed their will on a division rival who has so often done exactly that to the Bears over the last decade. The Bears doubled the yardage of the Minnesota offense (332-164), converting nearly 60 percent of their third downs while holding the Vikings to one conversion out of 11 third downs, and winning in Minneapolis for the first time since 2012.
Coach Matt Nagy considers the Bears’ 25-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings back on Nov. 18 to be a tipping-point win for his team. It was a game in which the Bears offense imposed its will on a rival that had won the NFC North two of the past three seasons, going on three scoring drives of 10 plays or longer the first four times they had the football. The defense imposed its will on quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense in the form of three-and-out’s on the Vikings first four possessions, with a combined net of 2 yards.
It was a template the Bears have sought to establish, and they did nothing short of impose their will on the Vikings with their opening drive and on through a dominant first half.
“We’ve gotta build that consistency and that mindset that we want to impose our will on defenses,” Mitchell Trubisky said last week, “and whatever we call and whatever we’re playing, we gotta go with the mindset that it can’t stop.
"We just gotta be consistent more of the time and I think that’s when we’ll get to the point of when we’re more imposing our will instead of playing inconsistent.”
The Vikings drew to within a field goal at 13-10 in the third quarter, at which point the Bears, the only NFL team to have a second-half lead, in every game this season, reimposed their will and answered with a 16-play drive going 75 yards for a clinching touchdown and two-point conversion.
Feeling no draft
For the first time since the 2010 season, the Bears don’t know what their draft position is at the close of football business on Sunday No. 17. Making the playoffs by definition means a standard slot no sooner than No. 21, plus the Khalil Mack trade took the Bears out of round one’s entirely for 2019 and 2020, sending those picks to the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders.
The Raiders haven’t enjoyed their own 4-12 season and the Bears’ playoff season certainly hasn’t improved the mood of Jon Gruden and his front office, with the draft pick from the Bears setting up, not in the top 10 as Chicago’s last four have been, but at a 20-something slot to be named later.
The roads not taken…
Sometimes the best things in life are the ones that don’t work out.
Early in the 2017 offseason the Bears were kicking the tires on myriad quarterback options. Very high on the interest scale was Kirk Cousins. But he was ultimately franchise-tagged by Washington, with the result that the Bears went in an entirely different direction, for Mike Glennon over Brian Hoyer in free agency as a placeholder.
And Mitchell Trubisky in the draft.
With the No. 1 seed in the NFC clinched, the New Orleans Saints opted to sit starters, including quarterback Drew Brees. That made them the exception rather than the rule, if only because they were the only team in the NFC playoff bracket to lose on Sunday: the Bears, Rams, Cowboys and Seahawks all won with their A-listers, as did the Eagles, who of course went with their varsity in the 24-0 win over Washington to make the playoffs.
“We weren’t looking ahead, we weren’t thinking about sitting out,” Trubisky said.
Same in the AFC: The Patriots, Chiefs, Chargers, Texans and Ravens all went with and won with starters, as did the Colts and Titans, obviously, in their playoff play-in game Sunday night.
“I didn’t want anybody talking to me about score in the first half,” Matt Nagy said. “I love winning. I think it’s fun to win… Let’s just play football.”
A kick in the…
Kicker Robbie Gould was jettisoned after missing a couple of field goals in the 2015 season and two PATs in the 2016 preseason. Cody Parkey established himself as an early 2019 roster longshot on Sunday with his third missed point-after of the year, to go with roughly missing one-quarter of his field-goal attempts – a hint at why the Bears are Parkey’s fourth team in the last four years.