MINNEAPOLIS – Fueled by stellar performances on both sides of the ball, the Bears knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs with an impressive 24-10 victory in Sunday’s regular-season finale in Minnesota.
The NFC North champion Bears (12-4) will enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed and host the No. 6-seeded Eagles (9-7) in the wildcard round at 3:40 p.m. (CT) next Sunday at Soldier Field. Philadelphia leapfrogged the Vikings for the final playoff spot Sunday with a 24-0 road win over the Redskins.
“It’s a huge win in a hostile environment,” said coach Matt Nagy. “I give a lot of credit to the Vikings, their coaches and players. They are a really good football team and for us it was a huge challenge.
“The fans get loud and this environment is loud and I thought our players handled it really well. The noise, at times, was a factor for us. To be able to come here and in all three phases play pretty well, it’s pretty awesome.”
The Bears needed a win over the Vikings coupled with a Rams loss to the 49ers Sunday to supplant Los Angeles as the No. 2 seed and earn a first-round bye. But the Rams beat San Francisco 48-32.
Although the Rams jumped to a 28-3 second-quarter lead, most Bears starters finished Sunday’s game, with only a few being removed in the fourth quarter.
The Bears won nine of their final 10 regular-season games to finish with their best record since they went 13-3 and won the NFC championship in 2006.
“There have been a lot of times we have been challenged throughout this season,” said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. “We stepped up to the plate and took care of business. You have to be proud of a team like that.”
The Bears raced to a 13-0 second-quarter lead Sunday behind two Jordan Howard touchdown runs and a dominant defense that opened the game with four straight three-and-outs, registering two sacks of Kirk Cousins and limiting the Vikings to two yards on 12 plays.
After Minnesota closed the gap to 13-10 early in the second half, the Bears answered with a magnificent 16-play, 75-yard drive that burned 9:05 off the clock and culminated in Tarik Cohen’s 3-yard touchdown run.
The Bears held decisive advantages over the Vikings in first downs (17-12), total yards (332-164) and time of possession (37:08-22:52). There was even a greater discrepancy on third down; the Bears converted 8-of-14 (57 percent), while the Vikings were successful on just 1-of-11 (9 percent).
Howard’s 6-yard touchdown run gave the Bears a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game. The six-play, 71-yard drive was highlighted by Howard’s season-long 42-yard run and Mitchell Trubisky’s 9-yard pass to Trey Burton on third-and-three.
The Bears rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries, including Howard’s season-high 109 yards and two TDs on 21 attempts.
“We definitely wanted to establish the run today and that’s what we did,” said center Cody Whitehair. “Credit to all 11 guys, even the perimeter guys out there blocking and the guys that ran the ball too.”
Taylor Gabriel’s diving 40-yard reception of a perfectly-thrown Trubisky pass on third-and-seven to the Minnesota 1 later set up Howard’s 1-yard TD run with 7:17 remaining in the second quarter. Cody Parkey’s extra-point attempt hit the right upright, but the Bears led 13-0.
After cutting the deficit to 13-3 on Dan Bailey’s 45-yard field goal with :53 left in the first half, the Vikings closed the gap to 13-10 with 1:51 to play in the third quarter on Cousins’ 2-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs. The touchdown capped a 12-play, 92-yard drive that seemed to swing the game’s momentum.
But the Bears answered with their longest drive of the season in plays (16) and time (9:05), increasing their lead to 21-10 on Cohen’s TD run and Trubisky’s two-point conversion pass to Nick Kwiatkoski, an inside linebacker.
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 Burton on third-and-six and nine yards again to Wims on third-and-seven.
Parkey’s 42-yard field goal made it 24-10 with 4:25 remaining. The kick came after Adrian Amos had drilled Diggs with a well-timed hit, breaking up a Cousins pass on fourth-and-three from the Minnesota 32.