The Chicago Bears lost their quarterback on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, but they gained so much more, riding an epic defensive performance headlined (again) by Khalil Mack, not to mention some calm guidance from backup signal-caller Chase Daniel, to a 16-6 rout of their NFC North rivals.
Mitchell Trubisky was forced out of action after suffering a shoulder injury on the Bears' first offensive series of the game, but Daniel's entrance didn't exactly help the Vikings, prompting coach Matt Nagy to dial up methodical drives, chew up clock and sit back as Mack and a banged-up but brutally dominant Bears "D" halted Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen for all but a few minutes of Sunday's divisional showdown.
Let's take a deeper dive into how the Bears ran away with things at Soldier Field:
Why the Bears won
Daniel was admirably calm, collected and confident upon relieving Trubisky, and while he slipped into the shadows with an only mildly effective conservative approach as the game wore on, you can't really ask for a better backup line than 22-of-30 for 195 yards, one touchdown and zero turnovers. Even more than his performance running the Bears offense, which also got momentum from a crisp Allen Robinson outing, the Bears' defense fueled this win. Fueled, in fact, is an understatement. Cook came in as one of the NFL's most explosive playmakers of 2019, and Chicago absolutely stood him up, holding him to 35 yards on 14 carries. The Bears also got after Cousins early and often, logging six sacks, limiting Thielen to six yards and just generally owning Sunday with their swagger -- all without key starters Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith. They never led by more than two scores, and yet the entire game felt as if it were out of reach for the Vikings.
Why the Vikings lost
They came in with a defense just as touted as the Bears', and yet they couldn't do much in pass coverage early on, allowing Daniel to establish a rhythm and eat up clock as Chicago took a multiple-score lead. To pin this loss mostly on Minnesota's secondary, however, would be missing the larger, uglier point: Cousins is increasingly not looking like the type of quarterback that's worth $28 million per year, let alone one capable of lifting the Vikes into serious playoff contention. Make no mistake: It would help if he had even a semblance of an offensive line in front of him (blame the front office for that one, not to mention the big-money prioritization of receiving weapons in an offensive system built to run and play from ahead), but still, Cousins is prone to fumbling like Tom Brady is prone to winning rings. He finished with 233 passing yards Sunday, but most of those yards came long after Chicago had already put its footprint on the Vikings' soul.
The Bears were up 10-0 entering the second half, and the Vikings got the ball to open the third quarter -- with a chance to show off any halftime adjustments they made and put a swift dent into their rivals' lead. Chicago had other plans. On the very first play of Minnesota's drive, Mack came right off the edge -- as we all knew he would -- and pulled out his signature move, a strip-sack of Cousins that gifted the Bears a red-zone opportunity and set up a field goal to put Chicago up 13-0 with all the momentum.
Play of the game
The turning point isn't always the play of the game, but in the case of Sunday's affair, it most definitely was. Watching Mack rush the passer is, well, as close to actual art as you'll get on a football field. And his dip move to duck under Riley Reiff and pop the ball from Cousins' hand is worth a few repeat views -- especially if you're trying to learn how to sack quarterbacks.
"He didn't look too comfortable."
Simple but serious remarks from Mike Zimmer after the game regarding Cousins. Elaborating on his quarterback's performance, the coach told reporters he had a meeting earlier in the week about the Vikings doing a better job of protecting the ball in the pocket -- and that Cousins struggled to do that job against Chicago. Asked why Cousins seems to struggle more in big games against either rivals or potential playoff teams, Zimmer was again somewhat stern.
"I don't know," he said. "You'd have to ask him."
The Bears (3-1) will hit the road in Week 5 for an afternoon matchup with the Oakland Raiders (2-2) on Sunday, Oct. 6. The Vikings (2-2) will play their own road matchup at the same time against the New York Giants (2-2), who are fresh off two straight wins under rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.
Relive the entire Bears-Vikings battle below.
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