MINNEAPOLIS – Establishing an effective running game early in Sunday’s regular-season finale in Minnesota enabled the Bears to set the tone in an eventual 24-10 win over the Vikings.
Jordan Howard rushed for 55 yards on three carries on the Bears’ opening possession, including a season-long 42-yard run and a 6-yard touchdown. The third-year pro finished the game with a season-high 109 yards and two TDs on 21 carries.
“Just starting off the game like we did, the whole first drive was basically all run plays,” said center Cody Whitehair. “Anytime you can do that to start the game, it just sets the tempo for the whole game.”
As a team, the Bears rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns on 37 attempts.
“You have to be able to run the ball, especially when you’re in the environment we’re in here with the fans being so loud,” said coach Matt Nagy. “They have 33-out-of-50 sacks this year at home, on the turf with the crowd noise. If you can’t run the football, you’re in trouble being one-dimensional. We did not one to be one-dimensional.”
Shining stars: The Bears defense delivered another stellar performance, limiting the Vikings to only 164 yards and 12 first downs and allowing just 1-of-11 third-down conversions, a meager nine percent success rate.
The defense permitted a total of two touchdowns over the Bears’ final four regular-season games—victories over the Rams, Packers, 49ers and Vikings.
“Definitely I think that we are approaching excellence, approaching greatness,” said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who registered 1.5 of the Bears’ four sacks Sunday. “We’ve still got a lot to push for, but I think that we are a really good defense and a really good team.”
Welcome back: Right guard Kyle Long returned to the starting lineup after missing eight games with a foot injury and played most of the first half before being replaced by Bryan Witzmann.
“[Long] did well,” Nagy said. “He got just under 30 snaps and it was perfect really for him. We communicated after every drive to see how he felt. For him to just get back into a game environment, hear the plays in the huddle and then play the way he played, I’m glad. I like where he is at.”
Long reported that he felt good after the game.
“It has been a long time since I have had game reps,” Long said. “I wouldn’t say it is like riding a bike, but it is somewhere near that. Probably more like riding a skateboard, some balancing and stuff like that involved. Felt good, foot feels good and I knew I was going to be on a pitch count, so I just tried to make the most of my opportunities in there and try to help the team.”
Stepping up: Active for the fifth time this season, rookie receiver Javon Wims registered his first NFL reception, a four-yarder from Mitchell Trubisky midway through the first quarter. The seventh-round pick finished the game with four catches for 32 yards.
Wims produced two key plays to sustain a key 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second half, catching passes of 16 yards on third-and-six and nine yards on third-and-seven.
“He’s been having a great season in regards to just being able to learn in practice,” Nagy said. “You can watch him growing every day. I think that can do so much for him—whether it’s this year or down the road—for his confidence. He’s a great kid; he works hard.”
Catch this: Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski became the 19th Bears player to score this season when he caught a two-point conversion pass from Trubisky midway through the fourth quarter. Also on the field for the play was cornerback Prince Amukamara, who went in motion.
Health update: Receivers Anthony Miller and Taylor Gabriel both exited Sunday’s game with shoulder injuries.
“We’ll get them checked out and see where they are at,” Nagy said. “I feel good about them. I can’t say for sure because we have to look at them a little further, but I feel confident that they will be OK.”
Receiver Allen Robinson II (ribs), safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) all sat out Sunday’s game with injuries.
News and notes: The Bears swept the season series from the Vikings for the first time since 2011 and snapped a six-game losing streak in Minnesota … The Bears went 5-1 against NFC North opponents this year after compiling a 4-20 record against their division foes the previous four seasons … Nagy’s 12 wins are the most by a head coach in his first season in Bears history … The Bears improved to 12-0 this year when holding their opponents under 24 points.