Going into Week Fourteen, the Bears have otherwise proven themselves as playoff guarantees for the first time since 2010 while locking down the NFC North title after a 25-20 strangulation of the Minnesota Vikings. Already this season will go down as one of the purely most enjoyable seasons from the Bears in a long while, but after a steady 15-6 shellacking of the 11-1 Rams, the finest team performance of the season confirms the wistfully hopeful voice in the back of fans heads only whispering bonafide Super Bowl contention. All this season, the youthful Bears kept chasing that statement game. A full realization of the on-paper talent and they finally find a way to pull off a major upset against the league’s elite in order to decisively push into the Super Bowl conversation.
A terrible special teams day put usurping the Patriots out of reach and the Vikings’ recent fallout diminishes the win just enough to be dismissed as taking care of business. And after dropping a should-be gimme to the hapless Giants, the Bears seemed to need another year of marinating and developing to be taken seriously. But it’s fair to say the entire of city of Chicago had December Ninth circled on their calendar anyway. Not only did the game have massive playoff implications for the upper rung of contenders, but the rising Bears got to have their final chance at cementing themselves as one of the leagues heaviest hitters.
And deliver on that they did.
The level at which the defense played could propel the Bears to multiple Super Bowls if at that same peak come playoff time. Holding the usually-unstoppable Rams offense who averaged over thirty-three points per game to only six points speaks volumes to how spectacular this defense can be. In order to convey just how special of a performance this was, let’s run through a few feats from this game.
- This game was only the second time a Sean McVay team, including his coordinator days pushing the total to seventy-nine games, didn’t score a touchdown.
- The team also had the lowest yards per play total since McVay took over as head coach, and averaged three yards less than their season average.
- Jared Goff doubled his career high for interceptions with four, never throwing more than two in a single game.
- Todd Gurley, an MVP candidate, set new season lows for carries (eleven) and yards (twenty-eight). This game marks his second-lowest yard total and lowest carry totals in his entire career.
This team, despite the obvious offensive bells and whistles, still feels incredibly reminiscent of a classic Bears team, bent on a bludgeoning run game and a suffocating defense. When the Bears rely heavily on their defense and the clobbering reliability of Jordan Howard, it works far better than requiring an admittedly improved yet mistake-prone Mitchell Trubisky to lead the charge. When the Bears decide to defensively smother opponents, it works. Flaunting a playmaking defense can erase a bunch of offensive mistakes, and that has been much of the status quo for the Bears. Whether or not the defense can mat out the offensive blunders faster than they happen usually decides games for the Bears.
When he is off, keeping Trubisky out of the equation seems to be the most reliable method of pulling off wins for the Bears. In losses, he averages an 89.8 rating while in wins, he averages a solid 91.4 rating, showing Trubisky’s play fails to have a significant impact on whether or not the Bears win. Bad games from him don’t constitute losses, which might be the Bears greatest strength and a statement to just how unbelievable the defense has been. However, this also shows good games from him don’t automatically result in wins.
Rather, the Bears win when the defense performs. Up to this point, the Bears have yet to lose when holding teams to under 338 total yards, a remarkably interesting nugget that, with the relatively large sample size, justifiably sets concrete requirements for a Bears victory. Now with that said, the focus for the Bears, especially with the dropping temperatures going into January, must continually rely on the defense over Trubisky for plays. With up and by far the most dynamic defense in the league, this has and will hold up against the fieriest of offenses.
Against the Rams, Trubisky turned in an ugly contest. Whether he’s simply rusty, still throwing on a hurt shoulder, or both, this game ranks as probably his worst performance of the season, especially under the high-pressure circumstances of Sunday Night Football. Either way, a three-interception outing from a starting quarterback usually dooms a team. But even with this hindrance, the game never really felt close. This contest not only highlights the sheer dominance of the defense but it also raises a scary hypothetical-how much more dominant could the Bears have been if Detroit or Tampa Bay Trubisky showed up? Had the Bears gotten even an objectively average game from an NFL quarterback, what would the final score have looked like?
And this question justifies the somewhat overly dreamy Super Bowl predictions. With a defense that can straight-up choke out the highest-powered of offenses, simply displaying their full potential against the Rams, who could stop the Bears in the NFC? Assuming the stars align and the Bears put together a complete and top-performance game from both Trubisky and the always-fantastic defense, the Bears might be a team prepped for a deeper run than previously imagined.
Remember, the road to the Super Bowl runs through the Rams or Saints. Though home-field advantage could and probably will be the difference maker when the Bears inevitably clash with one of these two teams, but the Saints have shown to be understandably vulnerable against defensive-focused teams. Dropping a close slugfest to the Cowboys and their elite linebacker core, the Bears, boasting a more explosive defense, could clearly employ a similar and honestly superior strategy. Though asking for an efficient game from any young quarterback in a playoff atmosphere on the road will be dangerously questionable, a mistakeless game from Trubisky is the only separation between the Bears and Super Bowl.
But also with not a single defensive starter over the age of thirty, the challenge will be how close can they perform to this Rams prime-time level on the road, in the playoffs, without the helping hand of freezing temperatures and all against playoff hardened teams. Though the Rams couldn’t make it past the first round last season and the Saints fell only after a total miracle in the second round, they both have still experienced the “whole different animal” climate of playoff football. The Bears, on the other hand, haven’t seen the playoffs in almost a decade.
But as of right now, this current budding Bears core still look well-equipped to handle it. Defensive focused teams usually have the edge against purely based on consistency reasons and an extra degree of dualism, opening up offensive opportunities that offensive-minded teams often waste. Defense opens up offense, but offense cannot open up defense. Under the brightest of playoff lights in Los Angeles or New Orleans, the stifling defense and muddying the game will have to be the key.
Offensively, Trubisky must keep turnovers to a low but so long as the defense can effectively constrict Drew Brees or Goff, seventeen to twenty points will be enough. The Bears have yet to lose games where the defense allowed only twenty-two points or less and while a tall, tall order to do muzzle the Rams or Saints, it can be done and has been done. Unbridled confidence in a playoff-unproven team is often ill-informed, especially seeing as this nearly exact roster couldn’t escape the bottom of the barrel a season ago, but this victory over the Rams deservingly propels the Bears to the top as the cream of the NFC.
But in all honesty, even if this season ends in some very possible disappointment, no other team in the league looks as well-armed in the long term as the Bears do. With every major player on the squad under contract until 2021 but most vitally, their franchise quarterback until 2022, the Bears have pried opened a predictable and legitimate championship window. Over that time, the Bears have all the tools to bring a Super Bowl back to Chicago. Beating the Rams was the first step. A deep playoff run and then some should be the expectation this season. Everything else beyond must be a championship.