Haugh: Bears Serve Notice On National Stage

November 19, 2018 - 12:38 am
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(670 The Score) As if the moment meant more than just three points Sunday night at Soldier Field – and it certainly looked that way – Bears teammates mobbed Cody Parkey after his 48-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left in their convincing 25-20 victory against the Vikings.

Parkey savored every hug and soaked up all the praise after one of the longest weeks of his career, one that started with the kicker clanking the uprights four times against the Lions the Sunday prior and ended with him making a bid for NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

"Every single one of my teammates was like, 'You got this,'" Parkey said postgame. "My teammates are amazing. My coaches are amazing."

The amazement wasn’t lost on Bears coach Matt Nagy, who decided to try the field goal instead of go for it on fourth-and-4 at the Vikings' 30-yard line clinging to a 22-14 lead. During a timeout called by the Bears, Nagy consulted with his coaching staff before following his gut. Then he confidently winked at Parkey before the game-sealing kick.

"That wasn’t an easy one," Nagy said. "You almost feel like this was meant to be."

Bernstein: Bears raise stakes with signature win

After such scrutiny, Parkey welcomed talk of destiny. The guy who commanded so much attention that helicopters for TV stations followed him to practice Wednesday evening actually did something newsworthy four days later by making all three field-goal attempts, including the one that put the game out of reach.

BREAKING NEWS: The Bears are for real – and now they're back too, thanks partly to Parkey.

If this was a pilot for NBC about a sleepy NFL franchise’s return to relevance, the Bears introduced an overarching theme revolving around the impact of an innovative head coach, the emergence of a young quarterback and the redemption of a beleaguered kicker. But the real star remains the defense that held the Vikings to 268 total yards, the entire aggressive, attacking defense, all 11 or 12 amped-up players in the huddle who stole the show in front of a national television audience and seized the biggest moment in years for the Bears. The starring cast included defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, who vexed the Vikings with a sack and five tackles for loss. And pass rusher Khalil Mack, who couldn’t be blocked, adding a sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. And safety Eddie Jackson, whose 27-yard interception return for a touchdown with 8:30 left gave the Bears a commanding lead.

From the stars to their understudies, the Bears arrived more than ready for their first primetime appearance at home in six years and looked like a team worthy of more closeups.

"That was a special night, and it started with them," Nagy said of his defense.

A crowd of 59,033 – which included ex-Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville doing pregame shots with Bears fans in the parking lot – sounded larger. A five-point margin seemed bigger. The significance of this one will be hard to exaggerate but, rest assured, Chicago will try. Now 7-3, the Bears sit alone atop the NFC North as local conversation figures to shift from postseason worthiness to potential playoff matchups. Now, nobody rolls their eyes when Nagy says at the podium what has become obvious to see on the field.

"We feel like we can play with anybody in this league," Nagy said.

They have no reason to think otherwise, not even after their offense sputtered at times against an opportunistic Vikings defense.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky endured a below-average passing effort statistically – 20-of-31 for 165 yards, one touchdown and two bad interceptions for a passer rating of 61.9 – but impressed Nagy most with the way he competed on another night in which the running game went nowhere. Intangibles aren’t insignificant for an NFL quarterback. Trubisky hurt the Vikings with the way he rambled after protection broke down, gaining 43 yards on 10 carries.

"He just battled," Nagy said. "He threw a couple picks, never changed (his demeanor). He used his legs when he had to. He’s playing with confidence right now, and I like that. He’s in a special place right now. He’s growing."

The first touchdown came when rookie Anthony Miller cradled an 18-yard, off-the-back-foot, on-the-move, wonderfully wobbly pass that preceded an even better celebration. Miller led teammates as they mocked a rowing motion in unison. When a rollout pass to Josh Bellamy converted in the corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion, a week’s worth of anticipation throughout the city and suburbs exploded in exhilaration. Cheers erupted from Long Grove to Lockport, none louder than the ones on the lakefront. Orange towels waved in the stands. In the WBBM-AM 780 radio booth, Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak said what everyone in America was thinking after the 13-play, 82-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes 13 seconds: "This is an adult NFL offense."

This is a maturing quarterback. Trubisky developed an early rhythm, feeding off the way he used his mobility to keep plays alive and make first downs. On one six-yard scramble, Trubisky dodged at least three Vikings pass rushers and covered 20 yards. Trubisky's accuracy improves the more into the action he is. So does his confidence, an asset until he thinks he can do too much, as he did in his second-quarter interception.

Three Vikings surrounded receiver Taylor Gabriel in the middle of the field, yet Trubisky tried threading the needle anyway and Vikings safety Anthony Harris plucked the floating pass out of the air. But those kind of misreads didn’t cause any hesitation when the Bears needed Trubisky most: The clutch throw he made on third-and-8 on the final drive when delivering a dart 17 yards to Robinson kept the ball in the Bears' hands when the Vikings needed it most.

On days Trubisky struggles, he can count on one of the NFL’s best defenses to carry him like it did again Sunday. The Vikings only entered the red zone once in the first half but challenged the wrong guy. Mack took on a blocker, stuffed Vikings running back Dalvin Cook a yard behind the line of scrimmage, forced Cook to cough up the ball and then recovered the fumble at the Bears' 15-yard line. Future opponents asking themselves if they should run right at Mack to neutralize him found their answer: Good luck.

Later in the fourth quarter, Tarik Cohen forced the defense to take center stage again after coughing up a fumble the Vikings recovered at the Bears' 29 with 14:19 left. Again the Bears held, with Hicks taking a bow after his third-down sack. Encore, encore.

"Our defense is spectacular," Trubisky said.

They set the tone.

Parkey followed the script.

"It’s just amazing how things go in life," Nagy said.

For this Bears team, an entertaining plot thickens.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at [email protected].​​​​​​​