Bears crash NFC party with defensive masterpiece against Rams

NFL

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears have closed the gap on the NFC elite.

Chicago served notice Sunday night that it’s a serious threat in a conference long viewed as a two-team race between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

By virtue of knocking off the Rams 15-6 in a game that felt like a playoff preview, the Bears not only inched closer to wrapping up their first postseason berth since 2010, they also resembled a team capable of winning in January.

Just qualifying for the playoffs is no longer good enough for the Bears — not with a defense playing at a championship level.

The Bears defense was so dominant that Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who prior to Week 14 was enjoying a splendid third season, had a measly 80 yards and two picks (21.0 passer rating) in the first half. Keep in mind, the Rams entered Sunday night averaging 300.5 passing yards per game.

And Rams running back Todd Gurley II — the league’s leading rusher and arguably its best tailback — had 11 yards on the ground in the opening 30 minutes, his fewest first-half rushing yards in the last two seasons.

Goff finished the game 20-of-44 for 180 yards and four interceptions (19.1 rating).

Gurley rushed for a total of 28 yards on 11 carries.

Oh, the Rams also averaged 34.9 points per game through their first 12 games. The Bears held them almost 29 points below that.

Even when the Bears tried to let the Rams back in the game, courtesy of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who struggled the whole game, Chicago’s defense slammed the door shut.

The Bears beating the high-powered Rams in spite of Trubisky throwing three interceptions and having a quarterback rating of 33.3 is remarkable.

But it’s reality.

The Bears used to be a cute story. A team dormant for years, especially in the maddening John Fox era, started showing signs of life under first-year head coach Matt Nagy as early as Week 1. Still, most predicted seven, eight or nine victories (max).

It turns out that the Bears are capable of much, much more.

Nagy handily won the playcalling battle against counterpart Sean McVay, who couldn’t dial up anything against the Bears’ defense.

Chicago star pass-rusher Khalil Mack was unstoppable up front. The Rams’ star defensive tackle Aaron Donald was … well … stoppable, at least on Sunday night.

Besides quarterback, where both teams experienced major issues, the Bears outclassed the Rams in virtually every category.

The rest of the NFC better hope the Bears (9-4) don’t somehow end up with a first-round bye. Who wants to come to Soldier Field next month and face that defense in the divisional round?

The Bears have the look of a team that believes it can beat anyone. It was important to bounce back from a tough overtime loss last week in New York, but more importantly, Sunday night’s victory is an extra confidence boost if the Bears, in fact, have to play on the road in Los Angeles or New Orleans in the playoffs.

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