MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — While taking the NFC North champion Chicago Bears to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, coach Matt Nagy has displayed an energetic personality and aggressive mindset throughout his debut.
Even with their postseason position all but set, the Bears refused to let up. They kept the rival Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs in the process.
Fueled by that relentless defense and 109 rushing yards and two touchdowns by Jordan Howard, the Bears beat the Vikings 24-10 on Sunday for their first sweep of Minnesota since 2011.
“I love winning. I think it's fun to win,” Nagy said. “So when you win, whoever it is, who cares? Let's just play ball.”
With the 24-0 win by Philadelphia at Washington, the Vikings (8-7-1) watched the Eagles claim the last wild-card spot and went home wondering what happened to their offense after signing Kirk Cousins for $84 million guaranteed to be the franchise quarterback.
Tarik Cohen scored the last touchdown on a short run with 7:46 left to cap a 16-play drive for the Bears (12-4), who posted their best regular-season record since the 2006 team finished 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl. They've won nine of their last 10 games and, instead of the Vikings will host the Eagles in the first round.
“We're growing. We're getting stronger by the week,” Nagy said. “This will be a new challenge for us, but we're excited. We'll be ready.”
The Bears began the afternoon with an opportunity, albeit unlikely, to get a first-round bye with a victory and a loss by the Los Angeles Rams, who wound up beating San Francisco 48-32. Nagy was unmoved by the big early lead taken by the Rams, though, keeping quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the entire game and only holding out the starters who were already previously injured.
“Every time we step on the field we want to win,” Trubisky said. “I think it just shows the maturity of this team that we weren't looking ahead. We weren't thinking about sitting out. We just do exactly what's asked.”
After spending the majority of the last two decades trying to keep up with Green Bay, the Vikings have overtaken the Packers only to have their other primary rival, the Bears, surge to the top of the division. Most problematic since coach Mike Zimmer took over has been the struggle to move and protect the ball against Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Kyle Fuller and the rest of that Chicago defense, which established a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season.
Done in by three-and-outs on their first four possessions, the Vikings finished with only 164 total yards.
“They're pretty good,” Zimmer said, “so give them credit.”
Trubisky moved the chains four times on third down during the game-sealing scoring drive, completing three passes and running once for a first down. He took a sack by Anthony Barr that would've forced a punt from the Minnesota 45, but a holding penalty on Vikings safety Jayron Kearse gave Chicago a fresh set of downs.
“The way we played, we don't deserve to be in the playoffs,” Barr said.
Cousins and Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen were in a heated argument on the sideline after the Vikings had to settle for a field goal at the end of the second quarter. Zimmer almost cost the Vikings a touchdown when he challenged the spot of a reception by Dalvin Cook, who stepped out of bounds right at the marker.
Cousins sneaked for the first down on fourth-and-1, only to have the play blown dead by the red flag. Cook was able to get the first down on the next play.
Stefon Diggs, who went over 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his four-year career, caught a short touchdown pass right after that. Otherwise, the crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium was mostly silent when the Vikings had the ball.
“They knew what the implications were from this game,” Hicks said, “and we took it from them.”
Bears: With WR Allen Robinson (ribs) already held out of the game, WR Anthony Miller (shoulder) was hurt on the first drive and didn't return. WR Taylor Gabriel (ribs) was injured a little later, leaving the Bears with only three WRs.
Vikings: With CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) sidelined for the game, rookie Holton Hill was in the starting lineup for the third time this season. Hill was targeted often, including a 40-yard reception by Gabriel at the goal line that set up the second TD by Howard despite tight coverage on the difficult catch.
Bears: Host the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs next Sunday, 30 years after the “Fog Bowl” game at Soldier Field. The Bears beat the Eagles 20-12 to advance to the NFC championship game that day with little to no visibility.
“If we keep doing what we're doing,” Trubisky said, “hopefully we can do something special.”
Vikings: Stay home for the playoffs for the third time in five years under Zimmer. They've won two postseason games, both in the division round, in 14 years.