Bears still see room to grow with playoffs approaching
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The NFC North champion Chicago Bears are rolling along with eight wins in nine games and their first playoff appearance in eight years approaching.
Coach Matt Nagy hopes they haven’t hit their peak.
“I want us to get to a point where we literally don’t peak until wherever our final game is of the year,” he said Wednesday.
“As long as our arrow is going up and we’re practicing every week the right way, and we get to each game ... We’ve had some games where I feel like we’ve been close in all three phases, but what I do like about where we’re at right now as a team is we find different ways to win.”
The Bears (11-4) head to Minnesota for Sunday’s regular-season finale with a shot at the No. 2 seed in the NFC and the first-round bye.
They need to beat the Vikings for the second time and get some help from San Francisco when the struggling 49ers visit the NFC West champion Rams. Chicago trails Los Angeles (12-3) by a game, but holds the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a 15-6 victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 9.
Whether the Bears get the bye or not, this is all quite a change after four straight last-place finishes. They’re eyeing a playoff run for the first time since the 2010 team won the division and advanced to the conference championship game.
They’re in this spot largely because of a defense with four Pro Bowl picks led by Khalil Mack that ranks fourth overall in the NFL and leads the league in both interceptions (27) and takeaways (36).
The Bears have shown some promise on offense, but haven’t developed the consistency they hope to achieve. And quarterback Mitchell Trubisky understands that starts with him.
In his second season in the league and first in Nagy’s system, he has made huge strides — and experienced some bumps.
“There are no excuses,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that it’s our first year. It doesn’t matter that we have a new head coach and a new offense, we also want immediate results so we are out there working hard and wanting to continue winning games.”
Trubisky has made a big jump statistically in 13 games this season after playing in 12 as a rookie last year under former coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. His completion rate is up from 59.4 percent to 66.4, as are his yards (2,193 to 3,060) and passer rating (77.5 to 96.0). And his touchdown-to-interception ratio is much better, with 24 TDs and 12 interceptions after throwing seven of each as a rookie.
He has had QB ratings of more than 100 in six games, but in the other seven, it’s been 83 or lower.
Teams have also been attacking the Bears differently, with Green Bay and San Francisco using zones the past two weeks. That has forced him to find holes and take the shorter passes the defenses have been giving him. It has also led to a combined 79 percent completion rate and 119.4 rating.
“It helps him grow as a quarterback because you make more decisions,” Nagy said. “Not that you don’t do that vs. man, but there’s holes in the zone areas. Now are the holes, are they short, intermediate or long, with how they’re doing it with their scheme? He’s continuing to get a lot of looks. And I truly believe that only in the long run, him getting these zone looks that’s he getting right now, he’s getting better and better at them.”
The Bears are in a good spot overall at the moment, with the playoffs approaching. Nagy reiterated Wednesday he plans to keep his foot on the gas and go with his top players Sunday, as long as the Rams aren’t blowing out the 49ers.
It doesn’t hurt that the offensive line could also get a key player back, with guard Kyle Long hoping to come back after missing the past eight games.
The three-time Pro Bowler suffered a tendon injury to his right foot against the New York Jets on Oct. 28 and returned to practice last week.
If he’s not ready to play against the Vikings, then the playoffs are a possibility.
“It’s just a matter of getting my body right and having an understanding with the coaches of where I’m at physically,” he said. “That’s a big thing, that open line of communication.”
Notes: Safety Eddie Jackson (ankle), linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) and WR Allen Robinson (ribs) did not practice on Wednesday. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (knee) was limited.