MINNEAPOLIS – Just when it appeared the Bears would be overtaken by a Vikings team desperately scrounging for a playoff berth and urged on by the momentum of a raucous home crowd, they put together a season-defining drive.
The Bears had failed to take advantage of multiple opportunities to expand a 13-0 lead, as their offense, which was playing without its top three wide receivers, bogged down. It went nearly 30 minutes without a point, while the lead was cut to three.
But, when Tarik Cohen scored on a three-yard run to end a 9:05 drive that ended with 7:46 remaining in the game, the Bears were back in control 21-10. When they needed to most, they imposed their will on the Vikings, leaving them on the short end of a 24-10 final score and out of the postseason party.
The 12-4 Bears will host the 9-7 Eagles in a wild-card-round game at 3:40 Sunday, and if they win, they face the Rams in L.A. at 7:15, Saturday, Jan. 12. Had the Bears lost to the Vikings, they would have played them instead of the Eagles next weekend, but coach Matt Nagy had no intention of giving the game away.
It was that final drive that epitomized what Nagy has instilled in a franchise that had fallen on hard times and remained there for four years. The clinching, 16-play, 75-yard march utilized players who had made no previous contribution to the offense, combined with the ever-maturing leadership of QB Mitch Trubisky and a bit of good fortune.
The second-year QB got things going with back-to-back scrambles for five and 12 yards. Then, on a crucial third-and-6 from his 46-yard line, Trubisky connected with Javon Wims for 16 yards.
The seventh-round rookie from Georgia came into the game without an NFL reception. But he dressed for just the fourth time this year because WR Allen Robinson was inactive with injured ribs.
“It shows who we are,” Nagy said of Wims’ contributions. “He’s a great kid; he works hard. He’s been having a great season just being able to learn in practice. You can watch him growing every day.”
But how do you keep him engaged when he’s not playing?
“You make sure you’re in constant communication in practice; that he’s not just there going through the motions,” Nagy said. “When he’s doing individual routes before practice, you’re making sure he’s running everything with extreme detail. He’s been doing that.
“He’s a really good person, too, and he takes everything very seriously. He knows that at any given time, his name could be called, and it just happened to be this week. It does not surprise me.”
Three plays after Wims’ biggest catch as a pro, it appeared the drive had stalled when Trubisky was sacked on third-and-10. But a holding call on Minnesota S Jayron Kearse gave the Bears new life and a first down. After Trubisky converted another third-and-6, this time with a nine-yard toss to Trey Burton, the Bears faced a third-and-7. Trubisky went back to Wims for nine yards, and two plays later Cohen scored.
“I definitely had to be patient, that’s a big word right there,” said Wims, who had been inactive -- but not frustrated -- the previous seven games. “Opportunity comes, and you’ve got to seize it. You have to understand that I’m blessed to be in the position I am. I could not be ungrateful. When opportunity came, I made the most of it.”
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Wims finished with four catches on four targets for 32 yards, and depending on the condition of the Bears’ banged up WR crew, he could be called on in the postseason. Robinson is expected back for the Eagles, but WRs Anthony Miller (shoulder) and Taylor Gabriel (ribs) both left the Vikings game with injuries and didn’t return.
“I’ll stay ready,” Wims said. “Any time a play needs to be made, the mindset needs to be to make it.”
The cherry on top of the clinching drive was Trubisky’s two-point conversion pass to LB Nick Kwiatkoski -- his first catch since high school. He lined up in the backfield and made the catch in traffic in the end zone. The play, called Lollypop, was put in earlier in the week.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Kwiatkoski said, “but I was excited.”
Earlier, the Bears’ defense had completely dominated the Vikings, allowing just 49 total yards on 25 first-half plays. But Minnesota put together a 92-yard touchdown drive that ended late in the third quarter, and it brought them within 13-10.
That’s when the Bears immediately responded with their game-clinching drive.