After watching tape of Sunday's 33-27 win over the Vikings in Minnesota, Bears coach Matt Nagy on Monday discussed three things that stood out to him in the game:
(1) Nagy was excited to see another strong performance by the offense.
After opening the game with a three-and-out, the Bears scored on six straight possessions, not counting a kneel-down to end the first half. The unit produced three touchdowns and four field goals in the game, a vast improvement over the first meeting with the Vikings Oct. 8 when the Bears failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 19-13 loss at Soldier Field. The Bears have now generated at least 30 points in three straight games for the first time since 2013.
Pat O'Donnell's punt on the Bears' first drive was his only one of the day. It was his fewest punts in a game since Dec. 24, 2016 when he also had one in a 41-21 loss to Washington at Soldier Field. "Offensively, to have one punt was definitely good," Nagy said. "To score points on most possessions, that part we liked."
There was a lot to like about David Montgomery's performance. The second-year running back rushed for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. It was the most prolific day by a Bears back since Dec. 10, 2017 when Jordan Howard ran for 147 yards and two TDs on 23 attempts in a 33-7 win over the Bengals in Cincinnati.
In four games since he returned after missing one contest with a concussion, Montgomery has rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries, a stellar 6.1-yard average. Only the Titans' Derrick Henry has more yards and TDs during that span.
Nagy has also enjoyed seeing Montgomery emerge as a team leader. "It's neat for me to be able to have discussions with him and just see his growth as a leader," Nagy said. "He's naturally an introverted person. That's just who he is. He also has a funny side to him, but what's happening now is, with the way he's playing, his leadership skills are coming out through his actions, and guys are seeing that. It's a pretty cool growth for him."
(2) Although the defense allowed three touchdowns and 407 yards, Nagy praised the unit for making plays in key situations.
The Bears permitted the Vikings to score on four straight possessions from late in the first half through the middle of the fourth quarter to keep the game close. In fact, Minnesota climbed to within one score three separate times in the second half with two touchdowns and one field goal.
But the defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most, protecting a narrow lead by stopping the Vikings on their final two drives. First, Brent Urban pressured Kirk Cousins into a fourth-and-1 incompletion from the Vikings' 29 with 1:54 to play. And then Sherrick McManis intercepted Cousins' Hail Mary pass in the end zone as time expired.
The defense also forced the Vikings to settle for two short field goals after Minnesota had reached the Bears' 6 and 4. In addition, John Jenkins and Bilal Nichols teamed up to stop Dalvin Cook for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from the Vikings' 34 in the second quarter. "Defensively, I thought it was more about situation football," Nagy said.
The defense gave up seven plays of at least 20 yards after allowing only one a week earlier in a win over the Texans. But Nagy was pleased with the end result. "There were some chunk plays, but when we had to make plays at the right time on defense, we did," Nagy said. "And that's a sign of guys that care and that's a sign of a group of guys that know they can get better, and they will. But they never quit and they made plays at the right time."
(3) Nagy singled out defensive lineman Bilal Nichols and young defensive backs Duke Shelley and Kindle Vildor for their performances.
Nichols was a force against the run and pass, recording a career-high seven tackles and splitting sacks with Urban and Khalil Mack. With a full sack in each of his last three games, Nichols has increased his season total to a career-high 5.0. "I do think that Bilal Nichols really stood out," Nagy said. "I thought he had a really good game."
The Bears played Sunday without two of their main five defensive backs as cornerback Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) and nickel back Buster Skrine (concussion) sat out with injuries. But their replacements—Vildor at cornerback and Shelley at nickel back—filled in admirably. While what appeared to be a miscommunication between the two left receiver Adam Thielen wide open in the end zone to catch a 3-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, both young defensive backs avenged that mistake.
Vildor registered five tackles, while Shelley recorded seven tackles—including a pair of key stops one yard short of a first down—on a Cousins run and a Cook reception—on drives that concluded with the Vikings failing to convert fourth-and-1 plays.
"There were a couple times where, assignment-wise, they could've been a little bit better on the mental side, but that's natural, that's going to happen," Nagy said. "I think what you do see out of those two young guys is they battle every play and they're not scared to stick their nose in the briar patch and make some plays. Duke Shelley made two huge tackles that resulted in us getting the ball back because of the tackles he made. Vildor, he's sticky and he gets on you and he makes plays, and he's going to grow."