The NFC North champion Bears closed the regular season with a decisive 24-10 win over the Vikings Sunday in Minnesota. Here are three things that stood out in the game:
(1) The Bears once again showed incredible focus, rising to the challenge as they have done all season, this time in a hostile environment against a talented division rival.
The Vikings were fighting for their playoff lives, but the Bears played with more intensity and urgency, eager to build momentum heading into the playoffs.
The offense and defense both excelled from the outset as the Bears jumped to a 13-0 second-quarter lead as Jordan Howard rushed for two touchdowns and the Vikings mustered just two yards on their first 12 plays on four straight three-and-outs.
"Our guys do an amazing job every single week of playing the game that week," said coach Matt Nagy. "They don't ever look ahead, they don't ever look behind. Whatever the new test is, that's what they care about. They don't care where it's at—home, away or neutral site—we just play together as a team and as a family."
The Bears have rebounded from adversity all year. They followed a season-opening loss in Green Bay with three straight wins, back-to-back defeats to the Dolphins and Patriots with five consecutive victories and a loss to the Giants with four wins in a row. Through it all, they've focused solely on the task at hand.
"They're just believing in their coaches," Nagy said. "They're believing in the direction of where we want to take this team. They know that when you start looking ahead or looking behind, normally good things don't happen. They just focus on the now. They're good at doing that.
"You go into a game like yesterday and you really don't truly know how they're going to respond to that situation. But I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised at all how they handled it. That was a playoff atmosphere. Everybody that was there knows it. And for all three phases of our game to handle it the way they did and to win that game the way we did, that's a good thing."
(2) The Bears played most of their starters the entire game, even though it became evident that they probably wouldn't be able to earn a first-round bye.
Nagy was informed at halftime that the Rams were blowing out the 49ers 28-3, meaning that the Bears likely wouldn't be able to supplant Los Angeles as the No. 2 seed. But the first-year head coach was determined to close the regular season on a winning note heading into the playoffs and kept the pedal to the metal.
"That's what his mindset was all week," said cornerback Prince Amukamara. "Of course he could have sat us. I remember earlier in the year he got some flak for sitting us during that preseason game. He doesn't let anyone control what he thinks and he's going to do what he wants to do for the team. I hope he is the coach of the year. I know he's not thinking about it, but we are thinking about it."
Amukamara isn't the only Bears player who has total faith in Nagy. "Coach has a great plan in place for us," said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. "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."
The Bears clinched the NFC North title and eliminated the Packers from playoff contention Dec. 16 with a 24-17 win at Soldier Field. Two weeks later, Nagy's aggressive approach led to another convincing victory that eliminated the defending division champions from the postseason. With the win, the Bears swept the Vikings for the first time since 2011 and snapped a six-game skid in Minnesota.
"They have been successful against us for a couple years," Amukamara said. "[But] it's great for us to kind of change that narrative and let people know in our conference that this is our first year together, but we are going to be a force for the future."
(3) Second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continued to show great growth with an error-free performance against one of the NFL's best defenses.
Leading an efficient offense that didn't commit any turnovers or allow a sack, Trubisky completed 18 of 26 passes for 163 yards and an 85.9 passer rating. He was a major reason the Bears converted 8-of-14 third-down opportunities (57 percent) against a Vikings defense that led the NFL in that category this season at 30.5 percent.
"Mitch had a great game," Nagy said. "He was a leader of the offense. He's been really, really strong and consistent with his progressions and his reads on third down the last two games. He's doing great things, and when you do that, you protect the football, you get conversions."
Trubisky was at his best on a key 16-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by Tarik Cohen's 3-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It came after the Vikings had cut the deficit to 13-10. The Bears converted all four of their third-down plays on the drive. Trubisky scrambled for 12 yards on third-and-five and completed passes of 16 yards to Javon Wims on third-and-six, nine yards to Trey Burton on third-and-six and nine yards to Wims on third-and-seven.
Asked what stood out about Trubisky on third down, Nagy said: "His ability to trust guys. He doesn't care who it is. He stays within the play. He stays within the system. He trusts it and the other guys are trusting him. They know, 'If I run this route on time, then he's going to throw me the ball on time and then we have a chance for a conversion.'"