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4 things to watch in Bears-Jaguars game


The Bears (7-7) will look to record their third straight victory Sunday when they visit the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13) at TIAA Bank Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the game:

(1) Will the Bears extend their winning streak and remain in control of their playoff destiny?

Back-to-back victories over the Texans and Vikings have helped put the Bears in control of their postseason hopes and given them a chance at a second playoff berth in three seasons under coach Matt Nagy. With the Cardinals losing 20-12 to the 49ers Saturday, the Bears will earn the third and final playoff spot in the NFC by winning their final two games or splitting their last two contests and a Cardinals loss to the Rams next Sunday. The Bears have already clinched the tiebreaker over Arizona.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, have lost 13 straight games since beating the Colts in the season opener. With the previously-winless Jets pulling off a stunning upset of the Rams last Sunday in Los Angeles, Jacksonville is now in position to land the No. 1 pick in next year's draft and select Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Nagy spent the week vowing that his team is not taking the Jaguars lightly, however. "It's two real simple things for us," said the Bears coach. "No. 1, if anybody watched the Rams-Jets game, you can see what it means to play in the NFL. It does not matter, your record. And No. 2, we haven't done anything yet. So that's the way we approach this thing."

The Jaguars have lost five games by a combined total of 14 points this season to the Titans (33-30), Texans (27-25), Packers (24-20) Browns (27-25) and Vikings (27-24 in overtime). "They've been in a lot of tight games," Nagy said. "This team is fighting and they're playing hard and we know that. So the last thing we're going to do is look past anybody. That's just not where we're at. We're going to be completely focused."

(2) Will the Bears offense continue to perform at a high level?

Seeking to jump-start a stalled offense during their bye week in November, the Bears reinstalled Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback and reconfigured their offensive line, inserting promising young Notre Dame products Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars into the No. 1 unit at center and right guard, respectively.

The results have been remarkable. In four games since the changes were made, the Bears have generated 14 touchdowns and averaged 31.0 points and 386.5 yards per contest. In the previous seven contests, they had mustered just nine TDs and averaged 16.7 points and 272.1 yards per contest. The Bears have scored 30 points in three straight games for the first time since 2013 and have a chance to make it four in a row Sunday for the first time since 1965.

Trubisky has excelled since regaining the starting job. In four games he has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 978 yards with eight touchdowns, three interceptions and a 99.7 passer rating.

On Sunday, the Bears will face a struggling Jacksonville defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in points and 32nd in total yards. The Jaguars permitted at least 30 points in six straight games heading into their bye. They followed by holding their next five opponents to under 28 points but have since allowed 31 and 40 points the past two weeks in lopsided losses to the Titans and Ravens.

(3) Will the Bears defense build on some of the positives from last Sunday's win and improve in other key areas?

After its most dominant performance of the season in a 36-7 rout of the Texans two weeks ago, the Bears defense struggled at times last Sunday against the Vikings, allowing three touchdowns and 407 yards. The Bears permitted Minnesota to score on four straight possessions from late in the first half through the middle of the fourth quarter. But the defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most, protecting a one-score lead by stopping the Vikings on their final two drives. The Bears also forced Minnesota to settle for two short field goals after reaching the 6 and 4, and stopped the Vikings on two fourth-and-1 plays.

"We show signs that are really, really good and then we have lapses and give up some big plays," said defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. "A couple series in that game last week were bing, bang, boom and they're right down the field and scored a touchdown. That's not us. That's not our identity. [But] we did do some good things in that game. There were a couple stops in the red area that were big, a couple fourth-down plays that were pretty big. So there were some good things and we did get the 'dub,' so I'll take it."

The Jaguars will play without star running back James Robinson, who was downgraded from questionable to out Saturday due to an ankle injury that kept him from practicing all week. In 2020, the Rockford native and Illinois State product became just the fourth undrafted rookie to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season. Robinson entered Week 16 ranked third in the NFL in rushing behind the Titans' Derrick Henry and the Vikings' Dalvin Cook with 1,070 yards.

(4) Will Bears running back David Montgomery continue to shine?

The 2019 third-round pick from Iowa State has been red hot since returning to action after missing one game with a concussion. In the last four contests, Montgomery has rushed for 434 yards and five touchdowns on 71 carries, a sparkling 6.1-yard average. Only Titans star Derrick Henry has more yards and TDs during that span. Montgomery has topped 100 yards in three of those four contests, highlighted by a career-high 146 yards on 32 carries last Sunday in Minnesota.

"David's a great running back," Trubisky said. "You get David in the open field, he's a special back. He's going to make guys miss. Guys are going to bounce off him. He runs harder than anyone I've seen in person. It's special when he gets the ball in his hands."

In their final game before their bye week, the Bears were limited to 41 yards rushing in a Week 10 loss to the Vikings at Soldier Field. Since then, they've increased their output on the ground each week from 122 to 140 to 169 to 199 yards.

The Jaguars defense ranks 30th in the NFL against the run, yielding an average of 146.5 yards per game. In its last four games, Jacksonville has permitted 207, 145, 249 and 159 yards on the ground.

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