By Bryan Dietzler
The final game of the 2016 NFL season just happened to land on the first day of 2017. You would have thought that the Bears would have wanted to start the new year off right. Chicago came into their final game with a record of 3-12 and nothing to lose. The Vikings came in trying to get to .500 on the season after a promising start and a “fall from grace”. It looked like this would be a close game and that the Bears could give the Vikings a challenge. Besides, these two division rivals typically play one another close.
But in the end, it was nearly a blowout as the Vikings beat the Bears, in Minneapolis, 38-10. Chicago could not do anything right in all three phases and showed why they are one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Vikings are by no means a strong team but they had their way with the Bears in a game that should have been much closer.
It was truly a game that summed up the Bears’ three-win season.
The Vikings were the first to score as they put seven on the board in the first quarter following a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Bradford to Jerrick McKinnon. That was the only score of the first quarter.
Minnesota would add to its lead following a 21-yard field goal by Kai Forbath early in the second quarter. That would it 10-0. The Vikings would go up 17-0 after tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had a huge day, snagged a 22 yard Bradford pass. It appeared, at that point, a rout was on.
The Bears would make it interesting and the play they used to get their only touchdown of the game was their most creative play of the season. With wide receiver Cameron Meredith at quarterback and quarterback Matt Barkley at wide receiver, Meredith took the snap and fired a two-yard touchdown pass to Barkley. Maybe it was the Bears’ best play of the season? The made the score 17-7 and it looked like the Bears might be able to at least make it interesting.
It just so happened that the second quarter would see the most scoring plays in the game. Following the Bears’ score, the Vikings would tack on more points. A one yard pass from Bradford to Jarius Wright would make it 24-7 and once again make it look like the Vikings would blast the Bears. But Chicago would add some additional points at the end of the half to make it a little bit closer. A 29-yard field goal by Connor Barth would make it 24-10 and end the scoring for the half.
The third quarter didn’t see any scoring. It would pick back up again in the fourth quarter and come solely from the Vikings. Minnesota would make it 31-10 after Jerrick McKinnon ran into the end zone from ten yards out. The final score of the game came on a 20-yard fumble return by Everson Griffen. That put the score at 38-10 and that is how it would end.
There isn’t much good to come out of this game except for the play of running back Jordan Howard. Not only did he break the 100-yard mark but he also set the record for the most rushing yards in a season by a Bears’ rookie (1313 yards). If there was a positive this season on offense, Howard was it.
This game was an excellent showing of what Howard has been able to do during the season. He is a tackle breaker, is always falling forward and is generally reliable. It does seem that the coaching staff will pull him at times during games. Yesterday, he was pulled because he was sick (did anyone see him throwing up on the sidelines?). But at other points in games this season, he gets taken out of the lineup for no apparent reason. That has hurt the Bears’ offense.
We will take a closer at Howard later. For now, we should consider him to be the star of the Bears final, dismal game of the season.
Barkley continued his downward spiral throwing two interceptions and losing one fumble. His decisions were poor and he seems to have regressed over the last three games. He is not the answer at the quarterback position and quite frankly, he never was. Barkley was just the starter to close out a dismal season and he has played just like a third string quarterback.
He had decent protection from his offensive line while the rushing attack took pressure off him. His wide receivers and tight ends were spot on. But Barkley could not get it done. But what could you expect out of someone with just four NFL starts?
The wide receiving group was good and had some nice catches but Barkley couldn’t get the ball out to them that often. Cameron Meredith had a strong game but folks, he is not a number one wide receiver. The Bears “true” number one, Alshon Jeffery, was basically absent and has had a poor season (not his fault wholly). There are doubts as to whether he will even be back with the Bears next year.
While there is some talent at the wide receiver position most of it lies at the second and third wide receiver tiers. This will be an interesting position to watch in the offseason because it needs more work than anyone thinks.
The tight end position is another one that needs work. In this game, Barkley found his tight ends a couple times but other than that they were invisible. As usual, Logan Paulsen had his “every game” bonehead move and makes some wonder how he even plays football. Apparently, he is good enough to play for the Bears though and is representative of some of the talent they have.
Chicago’s offensive line had a good game despite allowing two sacks. This group did help Howard gain his 135 yards and should be commended for what they have been able to do in blocking for the run this season. One thing this group did do poorly in this game, and has struggled with all season, is that they had a few penalties. The holding calls and false starts hurt the Bears and continue a trend that has affected them all season.
The Bears’ offensive line could be stronger if it’s starters stayed healthy. This, like so many other units on the team, will be an interesting one to watch in the off-season as the Bears could use some work here.
Chicago’s defense came into this game depleted by injuries. Some of its top stars, guys like Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd, among others, were not in the lineup. When you looked out on the field and looked at the backs of the Bears’ jerseys, you probably saw guys you may have never heard of. This was yet another representation of how the Bears season had gone.
Having so many starters out made it very difficult for the Bears to be anything close to effective on defense. In fact, their defense was basically a disaster.
We did see some good things out of Akiem Hicks but he did have a critical penalty to help make things difficult. The rest of the defensive line did get some pressure at times but didn’t make any big plays. Yes, most of the guys playing were second and third stringer so we shouldn’t have expected too much out of them but the Vikings offensive line is not filled with All-Pros so something the Bears should have gotten more done.
Remember that McPhee and Floyd were out and that left the Bears with only one experienced pass rusher in Willie Young. The outside linebackers didn’t have much success against the Vikings because of this. Young did have some pressures but this group (and the team) didn’t have a single sack Sunday. You could say that was to be expected with all the injuries.
The inside linebacker positions were manned by Jerrell Freeman and Nick Kwiatkoski and both had a decent game. Freeman showed, once again, that he is the Bears’ top defender as he makes a lot of plays. He is so much fun to watch. Kwiatkoski has come a long way this season as a rookie and looks to have a promising career with the Bears. Thankfully both guys were healthy because it could have been an even more dismal day for the defense had they been sidelined.
The secondary had some breakdowns like they do in every game but for the first time in weeks, we saw some good tackling and smart play out of the safety position. Starter Adrian Amos had a very nice game and helped keep the Vikings from gaining a lot of yards on the ground. He is a sure tackler and very quick to reach the ball carrier.
Harold Jones-Quartey started opposite Amos and he played well. He had some hard hits and kept up well with receivers. He has good games and bad games and needs to be more consistent. This may have been his best game of the season.
The cornerback position had its problems and suffered yet another injury Sunday. Jonathan Banks, playing in his second game with the Bears, exited the lineup hurt. This put Tracy Porter in as his replacement and he was sitting because he was hurt. Cre’Von LeBlanc had a nice play (an interception) and has had an up and down season. Statically he is solid but if you have watched the Bears closely this season he is very inconsistent.
Chicago’s secondary allowed Bradford to throw for 250 yards and three touchdowns. They have consistently broken down throughout season at critical times and this game showcased their struggles.
The coaching staff and management need to do a lot of work here during the offseason to fix this critical part of the defense.
In the preview of this game, I mentioned that the Bears had to keep Cordarrelle Patterson contained. On Sunday, he had a 35-yard return just about breaking it for a touchdown. That could have been a backbreaker.
However, the Bears just about had a touchdown of their own thanks to a 64-yard return by Deonte Thompson. Thompson had been unimpressive up to that point but his light shined on Sunday. Still, he is not the long-term answer as the Bears’ return specialist and this be addressed during the offseason.
The kicking and punting was on the spot. Pat O’Donnell has had a good season and Barth has come on well after a rough start. The Bears do need to look at other kicking options in the offseason though.
Chicago’s coaching staff had another poor game although it appears as if Dowell Loggains finally realized that he should use Howard more. Loggains did get creative on the Bears’ only touchdown but it came a little too late. This game showcased the Bears’ struggles on offense this season and despite the injuries the offense is not effective.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense struggled with execution on Sunday. The reason for that is because of the massive amount of injuries they suffered prior to Sunday. Fangio’s premise is sound but without the players to do what he needs them to do, his defense really suffers. Hopefully he will stick with the Bears and get a chance to showcase a better defense in 2017.
Head coach John Fox failed once again to instill a winning attitude in his team Sunday. Fox has not been that good of a coach, overall, this season and it shows in how the team plays. He will get a pass though because of all the injuries his team suffered and that will earn him another year in Chicago. But if he does not have marked improvement in 2017 and his team continues to be uninspired he deserves to get fired.
The game this Sunday was perfect example of what the Bears have looked like this entire season. It’s perfectly clear that injuries had a big effect on this game and if you couple that with having to play second and third string players, it makes it nearly impossible to win. This has been the Bears’ “mantra” all year. No top talent no way to win. That sums up 2016.
It will be interesting to see what the Bears do in the offseason. They have questions at almost every position especially at quarterback. It does appear that the coaching staff will be back again next season and that is good and bad. Will we see more of the same in 2017? Hopefully not. We will cross our fingers and hope that the Bears improve greatly this offseason.
Please keep coming back to this site for news and opinions about the Bears’ offseason including free agency and the draft.
Happy New Year!
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