MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears are in the playoff hunt.
Given the pressure of the last month, they feel like that’s nothing new.
“We feel we are in the playoffs right now — just being in that playoff mindset and not losing,” rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney said after the Bears’ 33-27 victory against the Vikings. “Regardless of what’s gone on throughout the season, we are just going to try to finish out and hope another team does their thing to get us in.”
But on Sunday afternoon, the Cardinals held on to beat the Eagles and improve to 8-6, one game better than the Bears in the battle for the last wild-card spot. The Bears, though, have an 82% chance of making the playoffs if they win out, according to the New York Times’ playoff calculator. The Vikings fell to 6-8.
That’s a remarkable rise, given the depths the Bears had sunk to earlier this month. Each win further complicates any debate about the futures of general manager Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Those evaluations, though, will have to wait. For now, the Bears can talk about the playoffs with a straight face.
Entering December in the midst of a five-game skid, the Bears knew they had to be perfect — or close to it — to have a postseason prayer. In those three games, the Bears have trailed for a grand total of 97 seconds — the amount of time between Adrian Peterson’s five-yard touchdown and the final gun Dec. 6 — and are 2-1.
The Jaguars, the closest thing the NFL has to a walkover, await next week, followed by a home finale against the Packers, who could treat it as a de facto pre-playoff bye.
“You play for an opportunity to get into the playoffs,” Trubisky said after going 15-for-21 for 202 yards with one touchdown pass and one baffling interception for a 97.7 passer rating. “And we had a bad streak going there. But we knew if we stuck together and battled as a family and just kept leaning on each other that we could make a run.”
Emphasis on “run.”
The Bears leaned on David Montgomery, who ran for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. It was the fifth time in his career that Montgomery has run for more than 100 yards but the third time in four games.
And that wasn’t nearly the most bizarre thing to happen on what felt like “Opposite Day.” The Bears won with an explosive offense, a crumbling defense and — you might want to sit down — stellar special teams. Cairo Santos made all four field goals, including two in the fourth quarter, for the deciding points.
“I think it says we can win in various ways,” Trubisky said. “We scored points, but our defense also came up big at the end.”
The Bears’ defense forced a stop on fourth-and-one at the two-minute warning when, at their 29, the Vikings inexplicably ran a bootleg instead of handing the ball off to Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s second-leading rusher who finished with 24 carries for 132 yards. Generally, though, the defense looked as helpless as it has been all season, prompting Nagy to give the sort of half-hearted postgame endorsement — “They’re fighters, and they care a lot” — usually reserved for his offensive players.
As for the offense: Take away an end-of-the-first-half running play, and the Bears scored on six consecutive possessions. Mooney caught an 11-yard pass to open the game’s scoring, followed by a 42-yard field goal by Santos to go up 10-7. Montgomery plunged for one yard, and Santos made a 35-yarder, giving the Bears a 20-10 halftime lead.
Cook and Montgomery traded touchdown runs to start the third quarter, then Dan Bailey and Santos traded field goals. A 20-yard touchdown reception by tight end Tyler Conklin closed the Vikings’ deficit to three with 8:05 to play.
An inexcusable Trubisky turnover, reminiscent of his fumble in the final few minutes in the loss to the Lions, threatened to doom the Bears again. On third-and-goal at the 6 with about three minutes to play, Trubisky threw toward tight end J.P. Holtz, who hadn’t had a target all season. Cameron Dantzler picked it off, giving the Vikings the ball at the 20, down three.
The Bears’ defense stuffed Cook for no gain on third-and-one, however, then forced the incompletion on the next play. Three runs by Montgomery set up a 42-yard field goal by Santos. The Vikings got the ball back with 50 seconds to play and marched to the Bears’ 33, where Kirk Cousins threw an interception as the clock expired. When Sherrick McManis caught the tipped pass, the Bears’ playoff hopes lived to see another week.
“We’re excited,” Trubisky said. “I mean, this is what you play for. We’re in a good spot, and we’ve just got to keep that going.”