The Bears are legit, y'all. Yes, they came into this game atop the NFC North with a 6-3 record, but here's who they had beaten: The Seahawks, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Jets, Bills and Lions. On Sunday night, they took it to the Vikings, 25-20. And we have to think of them as something other than a novelty. Partly because of the continued growth of their young quarterback -- thanks to their young coach -- but mostly because of this world-beating defense (and Cody Parkey ... at least this week).
If nothing else, this is a much happier ending than the last time the Bears had a meaningful game after Week 8; in Week 16 of the 2013 season, they were 8-6 and eyeing the postseason only to have their doors blown off by the Eagles, 54-11. They lost again in Week 17, finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for third straight year (going back to 2010) -- and haven't been back since. Apparently, that's about to change.
The Bears can win with Trubisky with patience
Mitchell Trubisky had his best game of season last week against the Lions. The Bears cruised to a 34-22 victory to stay atop the division and the second-year quarterback was 23 of 30 for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He was smart, efficient, and looked every bit the franchise quarterback the Bears envisioned when they selected him second overall in the 2017 NFL Draft.
On Sunday night, Trubisky didn't put up the numbers we saw against the Lions, but this was his second-best effort of the year. That's is a huge development because other than his six-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers in Week 4, there were plenty of reasons to wonder if he'd ever grow into the role. Trubisky too often looked to pull the ball down and run, too impatient to stay in the pocket to let the routes unfold in front of him. But first-year coach Matt Nagy, who spent 10 years on Andy Reid's staff, never wavered; he knew this would be a process, and it appears we're starting to see the glimpses of what Trubisky can become.
"He's slowly improving, which I love," Nagy said after last week's win over the Lions. "It's not going to be an overnight thing; he had a good game and we want to continue to have those good games. But there's a process to it."
In the first half, Trubisky went 12 of 14 for 92 yards with a touchdown and an interception but perhaps even more impressive were his six rushes for 37 yards. And it's that athleticism that makes him so dangerous; he finished 20 of 31 for 165 yards with a touchdown and two picks, but the stats don't tell the entire story.
As a pure passer, Trubisky has a long way to go. But when you add his ability to run the ball, that changes the complexion of what play calls Nagy can make. For an idea of just how effective Trubisky has been, consider this: He came into this game ranked ninth in value per play among all quarterbacks, according to Football Outsiders' metrics.
But here's the thing: All Trubisky has to be is a game manager. This isn't a pejorative term, it's the reality of what the Bears have: a young quarterback, a smart young coach easing him into his job, and a tenacious defense that can dominate even the best offenses.
The Bears can dink and dunk their way down the field, mixing in Tarik Cohen runs with the occasional Trubisky scramble, along with some short easy throws, all while avoiding the dumb mistakes. Which brings us to Bad Trubisky.
This first-quarter throw is ... something.
Triple coverage, interception.
Then, with a comfortable 14-0 lead midway through the third quarter, Trubisky did this:
Those throws just can't happen. It's one thing to make these mistakes against the Vikings, whose offense struggled to move the ball for much of the game, but this won't fly should the Bears get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Don't get us wrong; there's plenty of reason for optimism too. Here's Mobile Troobs (that's what we call him):
And here's TD-tossing Troobs:
But this isn't all about Trubisky. He's allowed to learn while making mistakes because the Bears' defense is ridiculous.
Khalil Mack, Bears' defense continues to take over games
Chicago's defense was already good before Mack arrived but my word has he been a difference maker this season. He's missed two games and he came into Sunday night with seven sacks, four forced fumbles and a pick-six. He wasted little time asserting himself against the Vikings.
On the second drive with Minnesota inside the red zone, Mack, who is unaffected by double-teams, forced a Dalvin Cook fumble:
Then, after Trubisky's second interception late in the third quarter and with the Vikings again driving, Mack decided he'd seen enough.
A series later -- after yet another Bears turnover on their side of the field (this time courtesy of Cohen), Chicago's defense again handled their business. Facing a third-and-2 and desperate for a touchdown, Cousins dropped back and was rudely introduced to an unblocked Akiem Hicks. (Note: BLOCK AKIEM HICKS!)
The Bears also forced a Cousins red-zone interception late in the first half that had to be the easiest pick of Adrian Amos' career -- at any level:
That served as a prelude to the exclamation point on exactly what this defense can do to a very good offense. Nearly two quarters later and desperate to get anything going, Cousins was again victimized. And this time it cost him and the Vikings eight points.
And this brings us back to our original point: Trubisky can grow into his role because this defense allows him to. They mask his growing pains, at least in the regular season. He'll need to clean up those mistakes as November gives way to December, but for now the learn-by-doing strategy is working.
For an idea of just how this group affected Kirk Cousins, consider this: He came into the game pressured on 40 percent of dropbacks, which is the fifth-most in the league (the NFL average is 33 percent of dropbacks). When pressured, his passer rating has been an impressive 95.0. On Sunday night? His passer rating when under pressure was 17.0 through three quarters. You can blame Cousins all you want, but the reality is that you have to be almost perfect to beat this Bears' defense. The Vikings and Cousins found some success in the final quarter -- mostly using the no-huddle -- but we'll have to see if other teams try it in an attempt to slow this Chicago D.
Matt Nagy is our Coach of the Year front-runner
It really is impressive what Nagy has been able to do with the very same Bears team John Fox ran into the ground in recent years. Almost as impressive, however: Nagy dominating the cold like his defense dominates opponents. And we speak as someone sporting the same haircut as Nagy -- and who slaps on a winter hat anytime the thermometer dips below 60..
The Bears (7-3!) travel to Detroit to face the Lions (4-6) on Thanksgiving. The Vikings (5-4-1) will get to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families but their biggest game of the season takes place next Sunday night. It will also be the biggest game of 2018 for the Packers (4-5-1), currently third in the division and whose playoff campaign will be all but dead if they can't find a way to win U.S. Bank Stadium in seven days.
If you're so inclined, you can relive all the live-blog magic below: