MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears danced and yelled in Club Dub. Matt Nagy ripped off three of his trademark “boom” celebrations. The Bears won, again. Same as it ever was, right?
For the 12th and final time in 2018’s regular season, the Bears celebrated a win, this one a 24-10 extinguishing of the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. This wasn’t a trip to Minnesota to rest starters and make sure players were as fresh as possible for the playoffs, relegating the outcome of the game to a secondary focus. The Bears aren’t a team that, pardon the expression, half-asses anything.
That starts with Nagy, who told his players after they clinched the NFC North against the Green Bay Packers that their goal for the final two weeks of the season was to go 2-0. There was no talk about resting guys who weren’t hurt, or hiding things within the playbook to save for the playoffs.
And it wasn’t just that the Bears’ focus was to win — it was the manner in which they did it on Sunday, not holding anything back against a team with everything to lose.
“They probably could’ve thought, like hey they’re already in the playoffs, we might be taking our foot off the gas a little bit,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “But that wasn’t the case today.”
So Nagy called “Lollipop,” which featured Amukamara running four wind sprints along the line of scrimmage and Mitch Trubisky converting a two-point attempt with a pass to linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. The Bears got after Kirk Cousins, again tormenting the Vikings’ quarterback and causing a public quarrel between him and wide receiver Adam Thielen on the sidelines. Dalvin Cook, the basis for Minnesota’s offensive success after the firing of ex-coordinator John DeFilippo, was held to a meager 39 yards on 11 carries – while Jordan Howard physically rumbled for 109 yards on 21 carries.
While Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel both exited with injuries, Javon Wims stepped up with the first four catches of his career for 32 yards, some of which were critical plays. The Bears’ depth flexed its muscle on Sunday, too.
It wasn’t until Trubisky engineered one of his best drives of 2018 — a 16-play, 75-yard march on which he converted four third downs — did Nagy call off the dogs, with his team up by two scores midway through the fourth quarter. And even then, the replacement dogs — in this analogy — forced back-to-back four-and-outs on which Cousins completed none of his seven passing attempts.
So while the Los Angeles Rams cruised to a bye-clinching win over the San Francisco 49ers — rendering the outcome of Sunday’s game meaningless for the Bears’ playoff seeding — Nagy didn’t care. He wasn’t informed of that Rams’ score until FOX reporter Erin Andrews told him at the start of halftime, and it didn’t alter the approach he wanted his team to take.
“Coach has a great plan in place for us,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who had yet another spectacular game, said. “I believe in him. He has done us right so far, going through OTAs, training camp and now in the regular season. If he feels like it is time for us to play, we are going to go out there and play ball.”
If the Bears looked like the team with everything to play for, it’s because they believed that was the case. These players didn’t care about playoff seeding, or who their opponent may be in the playoffs — which now will be the streaking Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 6 at 3:40 p.m. Finishing the season with a win over a division opponent was incredibly important to this group. Having the starters be pulled from a game that wasn’t in hand — or not being played at all — would’ve sent a conflicting message to the one consistently provided by Nagy all year.
“I love it because resting starters, I mean, you only got a certain amount of opportunities for this game that you play,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said.
Would the Bears have rather faced the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs? Based on the results of their two games this year, probably. But there’s a reason why they won’t face the Vikings: The team that was the presumptive favorite to win the NFC North prior to this season wasn’t, actually, all that good. Linebacker Anthony Barr admitted his team didn’t deserve to make the playoffs; by the lackluster way they played on Sunday with everything on the line, he was spot-on correct in that assessment.
So the opponent will be the Eagles, a team that’s won three games in a row and embraces its underdog mentality. This will not be an easy game for the Bears to win, even if Nick Foles — who suffered a rib injury in the Eagles’ win over Washington — winds up not being available.
But the Bears will welcome the Eagles to Soldier Field next Sunday with loads of confidence they can win their first playoff game in eight years. And what they did in Minnesota to end the season only added to that.
“We didn’t care who was going to be — we’ve been through so much already this season, we’ve been battle-tested — it doesn’t matter who comes to Soldier Field, we’re ready to play them,” Leno said. “Just let us know what day it is. We’ll be there.”