The 2018 Chicago Bears continue to shock the world. This past Sunday, the Bears (10-4) defeated the Green Bay Packers at home to win their first NFC North title since 2010 and reserve their first playoff spot since that season in the process.
After suffering through eight mediocre seasons, Bears fans can finally rejoice as their team is headed back to the postseason. Matt Nagy and his team have surpassed the expectations of many and now it's just a matter of how far they can go when the playoffs get started.
Although he's known for his work on offense, Nagy's Bears have really made their mark on defense. Led by veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Chicago is third in the NFL in both total and scoring defense. The offense is no slouch, sitting sixth in the league at 27.4 points per game, which is a far cry from the 16.5 (30th) the Bears managed last season.
But statistics are just a small part of how the Bears got to this point. Here are the moments, both on the field and off, that have gotten Chicago to this point as Bears fan can't wait to see what happens in January.
The Kahlil Mack trade
This is the moment that got this train started. Bears playoff teams of the past prided themselves on dominant defenses, but this year’s team initially had concerns on this side of the ball. Those concerns were especially prevalent when it came to the pass rush. General manager Ryan Pace decided to not only address this area, but to send a message across the league in the process.
Pace sent a pile of draft picks (including first-round picks in 2019 and '20) to Oakland for Mack after he and the Raiders couldn't come to an agreement on a contract extension. After the trade became official, Pace then made Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and an argument can be made that's he been worth every penny thus far.
Even though he's missed two games because of an ankle injury, Mack is tied for sixth with 12.5 sacks and tied for first with six forced fumbles. Mack has embraced his new team and the fans have likewise embraced him as the leader of the iteration of the Monsters of the Midway. As good as Chicago's defense was prior to Mack's arrival (and has fared in the games he has missed), there's no argument that this unit is something special with the All-Pro creating havoc from his outside linebacker spot. Mack is just another example of how one player can change the fortunes of an entire franchise.
Season sweep of the Detroit Lions
While sweeping the Packers would have been much sweeter, the Lions have also caused problems for the Bears in these last few seasons. Prior to this season, Chicago hadn't swept Detroit since 2012, going 1-9 against the Lions the previous five years.
There were tough losses during this stretch, including getting swept in 2013 and losing both in '15 by a combined seven points. But this season saw the Bears take care of business at home in Week 10 and then turn around less than two weeks later and beat Detroit on the road on Thanksgiving Day, with backup Chase Daniel at the helm because of an injury to Mitchell Trubisky. The Lions are certainly having their struggles this season, but it was important for Chicago to play well against its longtime division rival.
Midseason five-game winning streak
Back-to-back losses to Miami and New England coming out of the Week 5 bye left Chicago at 3-3 and with more questions than answers. Adding to the misery was Khalil Mack injuring his ankle in the overtime loss to the Dolphins. But with Mack sitting out against the Jets in Week 8, his defensive teammates stepped up and the offense also got things clicking.
Starting with a 24-10 home win over the Jets, the Bears rattled off five straight wins, including the aforementioned sweep of the Lions and a satisfying win over the Vikings to take over first place in the NFC North. Chicago outscored the opposition 147-77 during this streak, recorded 15 sacks and forced 12 turnovers. By the time the calendar turned to December, the Bears were 8-3 overall and in the driver's seat.
Signature Sunday night victories
The Bears have been featured on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast three times this season. The first appearance was the season opener in Green Bay in which the Bears blew a 20-point halftime lead and lost 24-23. Initially that was to be their only SNF matchup, but the NFL had other ideas.
Chicago's Week 11 matchup with Minnesota and Week 14 date with the Los Angeles Rams were flexed from their original 1 p.m. ET start time to the primetime slot. That gave the Bears two more games in the national spotlight at Soldier Field, and they didn't let either opportunity slip by.
In both games, Chicago flexed its defensive muscles, especially shutting down the Rams' potent offense, and made enough plays on offense to come away with two huge, statement victories. The 25-20 win over Minnesota allowed the Bears to take control in the NFC North while the 15-6 victory over Los Angeles showed the league that Chicago is a team that can play with and beat anyone.
Finally defeating the Packers
Exorcising the demons from up north had to be done if the Bears were going to make the playoffs this year. And how fitting it was that last week’s game would decide the postseason fates for both teams. The Bears won 24-17, but the score was not an indication of what fully happened on the field. The Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers five times (hadn't gotten him more than twice since Week 7 of the 2016 season), and put an end to his NFL record for pass attempts without an interception.
After blowing a golden opportunity in Week 1 up at Lambeau Field, Chicago did what was necessary to end its five-game losing streak to its archrival. It also was the first victory at home over the Packers since 2010. While still not a sweep, something that hasn't happened since 2007, a win over Green Bay to secure the NFC North title while simultaneously ending the Packers' postseason hopes is still extremely satisfying.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of @ChicagoBears)