Bears take over No. 7 seed by beating Jaguars; huge finale vs. Packers next
They pulled even with the Cardinals at 8-7 but are ahead of them in the standings, thanks to the tiebreaker of record against common opponents.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Bears haven’t been perfect, but they haven’t had to be. They just had to be good enough to give themselves a chance.
And after rolling the Jaguars 41-17 on Sunday, they’ve done that.
The victory put them fully in control of the No. 7 playoff seed in the NFC, and they’ll put their postseason dreams on the line in a huge season finale Sunday against the Packers at Soldier Field.
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It doesn’t get any better than that in Chicago.
And while the Packers are a daunting opponent, the Bears aren’t the hopeless mess they were when they got clobbered a month ago in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
‘‘With where we’re at right now as a team, it’s definitely different,’’ coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘Green Bay is a hell of a football team, and there’s a reason why they’re sitting right now as the No. 1 seed. For us, we’ve gotta worry about us. We’ve gotta understand what happened in that game.
‘‘We’re guaranteed one more game, nothing else. If we do well in that one game, then we’ll have an opportunity for more.’’
The victory against the Jaguars was valuable, however, because it means the Bears could lose and still sneak in.
They and the Cardinals enter the final week at 8-7, but the Bears own the tiebreaker by virtue of having a better record against common opponents. So if the Cardinals lose Sunday at the Rams, the Bears will clinch a playoff berth. The NFL likely will push the Packers-Bears game to the late afternoon, so that it is played concurrently with the Cardinals-Rams game.
There’s even a scenario in which the Bears could claim the No. 6 seed if they, the Cardinals and the Rams all finish 9-7.
‘‘Just proud of our players for understanding where we sat going into the game and what’s sitting ahead of us,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘We’ve talked about it all week long.’’
It wasn’t as neat and tidy as the final score indicates, but the Bears had buried the Jaguars with a 34-10 lead by the end of the third quarter. Mitch Trubisky was shaky, but he leveled out at 24-for-35 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a 97.9 passer rating before exiting in the fourth quarter.
This soft spot in the Bears’ schedule — the last four teams they played have a combined record of 16-44 and are all among the bottom nine in scoring defense — helped them string together four consecutive 30-point games for the first time since 1965.
Regardless of whom they did that against, however, they’ve undeniably improved, and their games no longer serve as a sleep aid.
The debate about whether Nagy deserves credit for finally cracking the code or whether the fact it took this long is evidence of coaching malpractice can wait. There will be plenty of time to argue that. Allow yourself to be shortsighted for a moment.
Considering the roster’s flaws and the fact the Bears sat at 5-7 after a six-game losing streak, it’s an accomplishment to get to this point. It signifies nothing about where they’re headed, but it’s a nice salvage job.
That said, amid the hoopla of the Bears taking over the No. 7 seed, they took a few moments to temper expectations and remind everyone they are, in fact, still the Bears.
Early in the second quarter, with first-and-goal at the half-yard line, the Bears opted for a jet sweep to tight end Cole Kmet that lost three yards. Nagy apparently was so bewildered by that play failing that he needed a timeout to collect himself.
Unless he called it himself, there never has been a more appropriate time for Nagy to veto one of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s ideas.
‘‘That play really looked good all week in practice,’’ said Nagy, who genuinely appeared to regret the call.
Then, one play too late, the Bears sent David Montgomery up the middle for two yards. After Trubisky couldn’t hit an open Allen Robinson in the end zone on third down, the Bears settled for a 20-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
That nauseatingly familiar sequence came between the Bears’ defense getting roughed up on a drive and Trubisky flinging a confounding interception into at least triple coverage in the end zone shortly before halftime.
The second half was far more convincing. The Bears outscored the Jaguars 21-0 and outgained them 166 yards to eight in the third quarter before Nick Foles handled mop-up duty in the fourth.
‘‘We cleaned it up in the second half,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘It was just some self-inflicted stuff in the second quarter, but we made adjustments at halftime, came out and were playing fast in the third and fourth quarters. Good teams make adjustments, and they know when to self-correct and when to get on each other and just communicate.’’
Are the Bears a good team? That’s a question for another day. Don’t get fooled for a second into thinking they are fixed, but enjoy this ride and another dramatic chapter in the NFL’s greatest rivalry.