The Chicago Bears had one job and one job only Sunday in Jacksonville: to get a win.
With that win, the Bears would seize control of the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot with one game left to play, not a single style point was required, and with their 41-17 thrashing of the Jaguars, that is exactly what the Bears did.
Now, there are various formulas by which the Bears can be a playoff team even if they lose next weekend, but most importantly, with a win over the hated Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field, the Bears aren’t just a playoff team, but a legit one.
Asked about the mood in the locker room after the game, safety Tashaun Gipson summed it up best.
“You’re in control of your own destiny. The mood is what you’d expect it to be,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of guys who have persevered through a lot of adversity this year. From starting 5-1, to a six-game losing streak, to be able to position ourselves to be where we’re at now, I think you can understand that the mood right now is that we’re at an all-time high.
“It’s good energy, man. And that’s all you can ask for. There’s no better feeling right now than controlling what you can control and doing your job. We understand the big test that lies ahead of us next week.”
Sunday’s game was frustrating and confusing for the first 30 minutes.
The Bears reverted early to the offense that struggled so terribly through the six-game losing streak, operating in the shotgun and with an empty backfield much of the time. Mitch Trubisky made several of the bad decisions he had avoided over the past four weeks, and six minutes into the third quarter they had called 28 passes and only 14 runs against the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense.
When asked after the game if the offense had continued the progress it has been making, Trubisky said the offense was improved in the second half.
“It was just some self-inflicted stuff in the second quarter, but we made those adjustments at halftime, came out and were playing fast in the third and fourth quarters,” Trubisky said.
Actually, the self-inflicted part was a really bad game plan, and the big question is: Why?
What it led to, however, was something we’ve longed for and had yet to see from this Bears club: some impressive halftime adjustments and a huge third quarter from the NFL’s worst third-quarter team.
“Stating the obvious,” coach Matt Nagy said, “that third quarter for us, being able to come out and get 21-0 in the third and have 11 first downs and our defense to hold them to no first downs and 8 total yards, that was obviously the turning point in the game.”
There actually were plenty of style points in the second half, as the Bears took the opening kickoff and over the next 18 minutes rattled off 28 consecutive points, scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions and putting up 204 yards of offense while holding the Jaguars without a first down until 10 minutes remained in the fourth quarter.
Although the game plan handcuffed the offense early, it’s not clear why the defense was mediocre again in the first half. The Bears were played pretty much dead even by the 1-13 Jaguars and Mike Glennon until Roquan Smith picked off Glennon at the Jaguars’ 32 with eight seconds left in the half.
It set up a 40-yard field goal by Cairo Santos, giving the Bears a 13-10 halftime lead they never relinquished, and the defense tortured the Jaguars the rest of the way.
Were the Bears good enough Sunday to beat the Packers?
No, and there still is much work to do.
But at least for 30 minutes they continued to improve and earned the right to play the biggest game since their 2018 wild-card meeting with the Eagles, one the whole city will salivate over for the next week.
Now we will find out who these Bears are and how far they’ve come and who should be staying and who should be going once the season is over.