The Chicago Bears’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI was 12 seasons ago. The Bears have been back to the playoffs once since then.
That drought looks like it’s about to end. The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers came into the season as the clear favorites in the NFC North, but the Bears let everyone know they’re the best team in the division with an impressive 25-20 win over the Vikings on Sunday night. Bears kicker Cody Parkey, who was under heat all week after hitting the upright four times last week, hit a big 48-yard field goal late, which was very important when the Vikings scored a touchdown in the final minute. The Bears are 7-3, a game-and-a-half better than the Vikings and light years ahead of the reeling Packers.
The Bears’ hot start was mostly built on wins against bad teams. The Vikings might be disappointing, but they’re not bad. They were manhandled on Sunday night. It was quite a statement by the Bears.
And if the Bears do make it back to the playoffs, it’s going to be because of the famous trade for Khalil Mack that turned Chicago’s defense from very good to one of the best in the NFL.
Khalil Mack leads dominant Bears defense
The smartest thing Bears coach Matt Nagy did this season might have been to sit Mack for two games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Mack was struggling with an ankle injury. Nagy might have privately thought the Bears could win those games without Mack, then get their most dominant player back at 100 percent for a division title push. The Bears won those games, and Mack looks great.
Mack was a factor again on Sunday night. Early in the game he set the tone by stripping Vikings running back Dalvin Cook for a fumble deep in Bears territory. In the third quarter, when the Vikings got to the Bears’ 17-yard line, Mack had an 8-yard sack on first down. Minnesota settled for a field goal.
It wasn’t just Mack. There was constant pressure on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Defensive end Akiem Hicks was dominant. Minnesota had no running game. An Eddie Jackson pick-six in the fourth quarter pushed thee Bears’ lead to 22-6. It was a fantastic performance by the Bears’ defense, led by Mack. Minnesota had fewer than 200 yards of total offense before a final drive after the Bears took a 25-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings’ big offseason pickup didn’t have such a great night.
Kirk Cousins struggles vs. Bears
Cousins has not had a bad season. But he’s going to hear about his stinker against the Bears. When the Vikings signed Cousins to a fully-guaranteed $84 million deal, it was to win games like Sunday night.
Cousins rarely got much going until some late drives after the Bears opened up a big lead, and threw a pair of awful interceptions. The first one came in the second quarter, on first down at the Bears’ 32-yard line. That probably cost the Vikings some points. So did Jackson’s pick-six. Those plays turned the game around.
The Vikings signed Cousins to push them to the next step. A win on Sunday night would have put the Vikings in first place of the NFC North. It wasn’t entirely Cousins’ fault that he had a pass rush in his lap all night and Minnesota’s run game was awful. But he’s paid handsomely to be very good in the biggest games, and he wasn’t good on Sunday night.
Bears now control the NFC North
The Vikings will have to be nearly flawless down the stretch just to make their rematch against the Bears in Week 17 interesting.
Four of Chicago’s next five games are against the Lions, Giants, Packers and 49ers. All four of those teams have losing records. There’s a game against the Rams too, but if the Bears take care of business against teams they should beat, the Vikings have practically no margin for error the rest of the season.
Nobody expected this before the season. Even when the Bears traded for Mack from the Oakland Raiders, it was hard to buy the Bears as a playoff contender. That seemed to be a year off, at best.
The Bears let everyone know on Sunday night, they have arrived. You can probably plan on seeing more of them in January.
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