To put it in the political parlance we’ve grown accustomed to this month: Monday night’s game against the Vikings’ is the Bears’ firewall. Win, and the Bears have a better than 6-in-10 chance of making the playoffs. Lose, and they’ll have a bye week to wallow in their four-game losing streak before being marched to slaughter against the rival Packers.
A victory would give the Bears a 62% chance at the playoffs, Pro Football Focus calculated entering Sunday’s games. A loss knocks them back to 27% and reduces the NFC race for seven postseason slots to only seven serious contenders.
Call Monday’s game the big [navy] blue wall.
“It’s for real,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “And not that any of the other ones aren’t. But we’re at a point right now at 5-4 where we have a division game against a good football team …. Right now, with the way things have gone, losing three games, we’re willing to do whatever we need to do collectively together to get that win.
“So when you say right now — this game versus Week 1 — yeah, there’s a sense of urgency for this. And the guys understand that.”
The Bears should be encouraged by history. Nagy has never lost to Minnesota. The Bears have smothered Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s leading rusher, holding him to only 28.7 rushing yards per game. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is 0-9 on “Monday Night Football.”
The recent past, though, paints a gloomier picture. Just three weeks ago, they played the Rams on “Monday Night Football” with a chance to claim the best record in the entire NFC. Now, they’re hanging on for dear life.
Bears coaches stressed to their players all week that they can control their own destiny this season — but that it has to start with beating the 3-5 Vikings, who have defeated the division rival Packers and Lions by a combined 20 points the past two weeks.
Nagy backed up that urgency with action, handing the play-calling duties off to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after steering the Bears to 4.8 yards per play this season, the second-worst mark in the league.
“I’m about winning — so that’s all I know,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “And we need to get back to it, simple as that. You know, obviously, [facing a] divisional opponent, getting to the playoffs is huge.
“And I think everybody knows how big this game is for both sides.”
Just as a win would set the tone for the Bears’ final six games, a loss could demoralize a team heading into its week off.
“I think it’s huge, man, just for the morale around the building,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “I think that this losing streak has been humbling. … The worst thing is to go into a bye [with a loss] because you don’t get that taste out of your mouth the following week. You know you have to wait 14 days. Which definitely could affect you in different ways.”
Quarterback Nick Foles, though, prefers not to think about what’s on the line — that the season reach a breaking point with a loss.
“I think if you focus on that, like all the sudden you’re creating more anxiety for yourself,” Foles said. “Because then it’s like, ‘All right, if all I’m thinking about is like, this could go this way, then your thoughts aren’t clear on today …
“So we’re aware of all those things. But you can’t dwell on them because all of the sudden you start paralyzing yourself.”
Ignoring it won’t make it go away. The Bears, Nagy said, have embraced it head-on.
They know the stakes.
“Trust me,” Nagy said. “We’ve made it a big point this week that, ‘This is where we’re at. This is what we’re set up for.’
“And we control it. We really do. So what are we gonna do about it?”