THE MORNING AFTER: Validation, redemption, and confirmation
CHICAGO – At last, Bears fans can see the light.
Six years it had been since a Sunday of football came to Soldier Field and was played with the start in prime time. Not since 2012 had the NFL chosen to move a Bears game to arguably the No. 1 spot of the week to the Windy City.
It wasn’t just the gusts that blew in Chicago, the team did too, and the league stayed away
Five playoff-less seasons followed that appearance against the Texans on November 11, 2012, with the team only being in contention in one of those seasons.
That changed on Sunday. At last the light shined on a team that appears to once and for all cleansed their losing ways. Reinvigorated by a new coach, inspired by additions, and motivated by improved returnees, the Bears fed off a raucous crowd that took advantage of an overdue opportunity.
Soldier Field rocked as the Bears knocked off the Vikings 25-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as they score, seizing control of the NFC North into which they are now the front-runners. Call it the validation of Matt Nagy’s team, showing an entire nation on the biggest stage that six previous wins were indeed no flash in the pan.
“I think for us, what it would be, is that we feel like in any game that we can play with anybody in this league,” said Nagy when asked about what this victory proves about his team. “But we always respect whoever it is. So this is a team that, you know, making it to the NFC Championship game last year, and being able to play some good football, they’re good, you know? So, we know that.
“Our guys want to be a part of that; so that’s what we were able to do.”
Validation came in the form of the victory for the entire team, yet it was a moment of redemption for another. This time with 60,000 fans watching him instead of coaches and a few choppers as it was during his Soldier Field practice on Wednesday, Parkey made up for a four-miss game against the Vikings with three solid kicks in the victory. His first attempt from 33 yards was down the middle, with his second finding its way through the uprights from 41, then came a moment in the fourth quarter.
Facing 4th-and-4, Nagy appeared to contemplate going for it at the Minnesota 30-yard line. But eventually he sent Parkey out there, with a wink and all, and the kicker buried the 48-yarder to provide some much-needed insurance.
“I know I’m going to have good games, I know I’m going to have bad games, you just try to stay even keel, and just go out there and try my best” said Parkey of the whirlwind week. “Today it was clicking. Everything was working, and I didn’t have any pulls, so that’s good.”
Akiem Hicks was even better.
Yet, Khalil Mack had another Sunday to remember as he forced a fumble, got a sack, and was literally tossing lineman around as he made his way towards the quarterback. But Hicks’ feats were even more well-rounded during arguably the best game of his career.
Of his six tackles, five were for loss. That included a sack and two quarterback hits, causing the disruption up the middle that kept Minnesota out of the endzone till the fourth quarter. While this certainly was an exceptional performance, the plays he made are similar to those which he’s pulled off over the last three seasons.
Remember that Hicks had 15 1/2 sacks in his first two seasons with the franchise and has four more this season. It’s confirmation that the defense end is one of the most important Bears on this roster – and has been for a while. If you like what Mack is doing, you’ve got to appreciate the guy down the line, took.
“In this defense, sometimes you’ve got to eat up the blocks, and sometimes you get free to go make your plays,” said Hicks of his success on Sunday. “Really at the end of the day, I think we all have a really good mindset on how we fit into our defense, right? I know I do. I know guys like Danny (Trevathan), Eddie Jackson, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller. We know how we fit in our defense and we know what we’ve got to play. We play to our strengths because Vic puts us in a position to.”
Now the Bears are in a place where they can control their destiny in the NFC North, chasing a playoff bid that’s eluded them since the 2010 season. Validation of their talent came on Sunday, thanks in part to the redemption of one and the confirmation of the importance of another.