CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears are headed for unfamiliar territory.
The Bears won the NFC North title Sunday, clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2010. That they did it against their hated rivals, the Green Bay Packers, made it extra sweet. The 24-17 victory was only the second in the last 10 games against Green Bay, and Chicago’s first over the Packers at Soldier Field since 2010.
Noticing a theme here?
As if that isn’t enough, Eddie Jackson picked off Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, ending his NFL-record streak of consecutive passes without an interception at 402.
Chicago’s worst-to-first turnaround is one of the biggest surprises in the NFL. Even after picking up Khalil Mack the weekend before the season began, most expected the Bears to finish around .500. They had a new head coach in Matt Nagy, and Mitchell Trubisky is in his second season.
But Mack has elevated what was already one of the best defenses in the NFL — he had 2.5 of Chicago’s four sacks on Rodgers on Sunday — and Trubisky and the offense have done enough to keep pace. Trubisky threw for two touchdowns Sunday, and Jordan Howard ran for another score.
Here’s what else we learned:
AARON RODGERS IS HUMAN: Rodgers hadn’t thrown an interception since mid-September, one of the lone highlights for the Packers in this lost season.
But the NFL-record streak came to an end in the fourth quarter. With the Packers facing third-and-goal from Chicago’s 9, Rodgers looked for Jimmy Graham in the end zone. The ball was deflected, and fell into Eddie Jackson’s hands for the interception.
Rodgers had attempted 402 passes without an interception. The streak ends a week after he’d broken Tom Brady’s previous mark.
MR. VERSATILITY. The best part of the Bears’ offense is not Trubisky or Allen Robinson or even Jordan Howard.
It’s Tarik Cohen.
Cohen is just 5-foot-6, and his numbers might not be as impressive as some of his teammates. But his explosiveness and elusiveness make him a threat every time he touches the ball, as the Packers can attest. Cohen had a 12-yard scoring catch Sunday, and his 44-yard punt return set up Chicago’s decisive touchdown.
Cohen’s importance to the Bears was on display in their second scoring drive, at the end of the first half. He ripped off a 22-yard run. Three plays later, he extended his hand to save what should have been an incompletion by Trubisky. He sprinted for the end zone, dodging several defenders along the way, before diving over the goal line for score.
Once he accelerates, no defender is going to get a hand on Cohen. He’s just too fast, and he has an uncanny awareness of who’s around him that allows him to switch directions and leave the defense flailing.
TOO CUTE: Matt Nagy isn’t fooling anyone anymore.
Chicago’s love of trick plays has not gone unnoticed, and the Packers were ready when the Bears brought out their punt team on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 49. Sure enough, the Bears tried to run a fake, and Benny Cunningham was stuffed for a loss, giving the Packers the ball at midfield.
It was their best field position of the day, and Aaron Rodgers took quick advantage with a five-play scoring drive that tied the game at 14.
On Chicago’s next possession, the Bears went with the wildcat formation, giving the ball to Cohen on a direct snap. But the exchange was bad, and Cohen fumbled the ball. Fortunately for the Bears, James Daniels jumped on it and the gimmick didn’t cost them anything.
Nagy’s willingness to gamble has been a highlight of the season, and players and fans alike love the razzle dazzle. But the last thing a team can afford to be in the playoffs is predictable, and you can be assured that teams will be wise to Nagy’s tricks.
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