The Bears lost in Minnesota 29-22 Sunday, but they were surprisingly competitive in the second half.
Sports can be beautiful in their simplicity. At the end of nearly every contest, you have a team that wins and another that loses. People can and do debate endlessly about how those wins and losses came about, but the results themselves can’t be challenged. And, by and large, wins are always considered good and losses are always considered bad.
Occasionally, however, a loss can be a good thing. Merriam-Webster defines a moral victory as “the achievement of something important and good”. The Bears lost another road divisional game Sunday, but they may have finally unlocked their offense.
Justin Fields Was Sharp
Much has been made of Justin Fields’ statistics to start the season. At times it has even appeared as if the second-year quarterback has regressed. But all that changed in the second half in Minnesota.
Fields came out of the locker room at halftime with a calm and composed demeanor and that translated into his play. Despite the Bears being down 21-10, Fields went 12-for-13 for 135 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters Sunday, numbers that would be his best for any game yet this season.
When I first got here, you see guys flying around, D-lineman going fast. You just think you have to speed everything up. But I’m just starting to figure out you’ve got to play within your own rhythm and the way you know how to play and staying calm in the pocket. Justin Fields on his second half against the Vikings
After failing to string together drives last week, the Bears scored on five consecutive possessions against the Vikings. And this all occurred with the running game not producing like it had all season. Fields was the Bears leading rusher, gaining 47 yards on eight carries. He would have had more, but a 52-yard touchdown run was wiped out on an illegal block in the back.
Eight different receivers caught passes for the Bears on Sunday, the most in any game yet this season. Cole Kmet and David Montgomery both had four catches, single-game highs for both players, while Darnell Mooney made probably the catch of the season late in the first half.
It obviously didn’t end well, as Ihmir Smith-Marsette, unfortunately, had the ball taken away as he foolishly tried to gain an extra yard or two rather than go out of bounds, but there was confidence in the Bears huddle as they got ready for that final drive.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but the second half Sunday was an unexpected glimmer of hope for a woeful Bears offense.
The Bears Defense Stiffened
There’s absolutely no other way to say it, the Bears’ defense was atrocious in the first half. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed his first 17 passes of the game, a new Vikings record, guiding the team to touchdown drives of 86, 75, and 71 yards on their first three drives. Cousins’ favorite target, Justin Jefferson, had six catches in the first quarter, more than any Bears receiver had for the season to that point. All this led to a quick 21-3 deficit for Chicago.
But then, as it has all season long, the Bears’ defense toughened up in the second half. Passing lanes that had been open suddenly closed up. Ball carriers were brought down earlier. Rookie Kyler Gordon made several terrific stops, showing a natural ability to tackle in the open field.
The defense even got to play one drive with a lead in the fourth quarter, though it ultimately proved to be a forgettable one as Minnesota drove 75 yards on 17 plays for a touchdown, the first surrendered by the Bears in the second half this year. Still, that was a position that was thought to be unthinkable just a couple of quarters earlier.
Head coach Matt Eberflus, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and defensive coordinator Alan Williams have all shown they can adapt and adjust at halftime. The next step for each of them is to show that their initial game plans and strategies can do the job well enough at the start. They have a quick turnaround with a game Thursday at home against the 1-4 Washington Commanders. Hopefully the momentum from Sunday can continue and the Bears can get a victory in the standings and not just a moral one.