The Chicago Bears might have lost for winning.
By keeping their starters in and their foot on the gas in the second half, the Bears embarrassed the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 and knocked their NFC North rivals out of the playoffs. The joke’s on the Bears, though, because they also made their playoff prospects harder.
Had the Vikings won this game, Chicago would have hosted them in next weekend’s wild-card game. Given what a mess Minnesota has been all season, and how horrific the Vikings were at Soldier Field last month, that was the optimal scenario.
Instead, the Bears now have to play the Philadelphia Eagles, who, in addition to being the reigning Super Bowl champions, are the hottest team in the NFL. If there’s a team to avoid in the playoffs, pretty much everyone agrees the Eagles are it, their 24-0 blowout of hapless Washington their sixth victory in the last seven games.
NFL playoff picture: Eagles and Ravens clinch, Vikings out, Patriots and Chiefs snag byes
Yes, Nick Foles left the game after taking a shot to the ribs, and the Eagles will only go as far as he can take them. But it seems a minor injury, certainly not one that will keep him off the field next weekend.
Which is the worst-possible scenario for the Bears.
Chicago had an outside chance at the No. 2 seed in the NFC – and the all-important first-round bye – so it made sense for Nagy to play his starters early. But once it was clear the Rams were going to roll over San Francisco, as it was in the first quarter, Bears coach Matt Nagy should have packed it in. Encased his vaunted defense in bubble wrap, played his backups and, yes, given the Bears an easier opponent next week.
More commentary: Read more columns by Nancy Armour
This is Chicago’s first playoff appearance since 2010, and the pressure on Mitchell Trubisky is immense. Not exactly ideal for a second-year quarterback for whom consistency has been the biggest knock. You’d think Nagy and the Bears would have preferred he face a familiar opponent, one he’s already beaten twice.
But the Bears are where they are — 12-win NFC North champions after four consecutive years in the division basement — because Nagy has been willing to go against the grain. To his credit, he stayed true to that Sunday. He’d said all week that Chicago was going to play to win, and that’s what it did.
“I never one time mentioned one thing about that other game, and I never one time mentioned anything to them about not playing. Not one time. As we got later in the game, I had to grab a couple of guys and tell them the situation. I just didn’t want to go there. Once you start going there, their minds are somewhere they’re not supposed to be.”
So Foles and the Eagles it will be.
The career castoff was the epitome of calm and composure after Carson Wentz blew out his knee late last season, taking the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl. Once there, all Foles did was outplay Tom Brady and the Patriots to give Philadelphia its first-ever title.
He’s been no less clutch this season. With Wentz out with a stress fracture in his back and Philadelphia’s playoff hopes remote, Foles led the Eagles to victories in the last three games. That included wins over the Rams and Texans.
So no, coming into Soldier Field and facing Chicago’s steel trap of a defense isn’t going to fluster Foles.
The Bears also gave away whatever element of surprise they would have had with Nagy.
Nagy lives for the unpredictable, and even his division foes are still trying to figure him out. But Eagles coach Doug Pederson knows pretty much all of Nagy’s tricks, the two having worked together in Philadelphia and Kansas City under Andy Reid.
“Doug and I, we worked together for six years,” Nagy said. “We spent many hours together, so we know each other really well. … It’ll be a great challenge.”
Be careful what you wish for. Or, in the Bears case, win for.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
Source: Read Full Article