Hub Arkush: Bears punctuate remarkable regular season with beatdown of rival Vikings
They say you can’t be the champ until you beat the champ, and the Bears will get that chance soon.
By beating the Minnesota Vikings, 24-10, in Minneapolis Sunday, the Bears in essence chose their own first-round playoff opponent. Had they lost, they would have played the Vikings again next week, and there was no other way for the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to get into the tournament.
Now, the Eagles will be underdogs to the Bears in Soldier Field next Sunday.
The question is, did the Bears make the right choice? But that is far from the only significant result of the Bears’ domination of a Vikings team that many — including Pro Football Weekly and Las Vegas — picked at the beginning of this season to represent the NFC this February in Atlanta.
The Bears didn’t just beat the Vikings, they neutered them, leaving serious questions as to how the Vikings will recover and what that organization’s future now holds. Their world-class defense was anything but that Sunday, and the most expensive player in football, Kirk Cousins, regularly becomes a shuttering mess when a big game is on the line — or at least when he has to face the Bears defense.
It seems safe to say after today that these Bears won’t be going away for a while.
The first bouquet has to go to Bears head coach Matt Nagy, for the way he orchestrated what has to be his team’s most impressive win of the year.
Nagy entered the day with no good answers to a riddle that was running in several directions.
The Bears knew that if the Rams lost to the 49ers at home, it would offer their one avenue to a first-week bye and Week Tw0 home game that has been a requirement for each of the past 10 teams to get to a Super Bowl.
He also knew that it was an extreme longshot, and that if he went all out against the Vikings and lost any critical players to injury, he could do serious damage to his club’s playoff hopes and make himself a target for pundits and fans who wouldn’t be silenced by anything less than a Bears Super Bowl.
The assumption was that Nagy would start committed, but if at any point it became obvious the Rams weren’t losing, he’d call off the dogs.
Instead, with it imminently clear at halftime the Rams wouldn’t be losing, Nagy stayed all in into the fourth quarter and sent a message to the rest of the NFC that his Bears are ready for any test they’re asked to take over the next three weeks.
After seeming helpless to fully grasp the value of RB Jordan Howard or how to best leverage it, he rode Howard’s 21-109-2 rushing to his team’s most dominating performance of the year.
Mitch Trubisky is far from a finished product, but Nagy created a playoff warmup for him with all the accouterments of a postseason game, asking him to make all the throws required to win, and Trubisky aced his test without a single flub, other than a tendency to lose sight of the play clock.
On defense, Leonard Floyd appeared to be everywhere, Akiem Hicks owned the line of scrimmage, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith turned the middle of the field into a no-fly zone, Kyle Fuller pitched a shutout to the point the Vikings gave up on his half of the field and Khalil Mack was such a force that the Vikings double- and triple-teamed him, allowing Mack to dictate the outcome of the game without even denting the box score.
Most importantly, the Bears came out of the game relatively healthy, we think.
Yes, Anthony Miller’s shoulder looked bad, and it’s hard to envision him ready next Sunday, but it appeared to be a non-contact injury that could have happened anywhere.
Sunday was a day when Nagy and every one of his Bears got everything right and left the rest of the NFC a lot more worried about them than they were Saturday night.
It’s hard to imagine how they could have accomplished anything more than that.