The Bears defense tackles Packers running back Jamaal Williams.

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Bernstein: Defense Seals NFC North Crown For Bears

What was possible for the Bears is now real.

Dan Bernstein
December 16, 2018 - 4:05 pm
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(670 The Score) Matt Nagy is a division champion in his first year as an NFL head coach, and the play-calling whiz has quite the defense to thank for closing it out.

The final at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon was Bears 24, Packers 17. One team now prepares for the postseason, and the other packs it in. It's just that now those roles are switched from what we have recently come to expect.

Khalil Mack sacked Aaron Rodgers twice by himself and once more with a friend and somehow without even looking, Leonard Floyd got him down twice, and Eddie Jackson picked off a bobbled pass in the end zone to end both a fourth-quarter scoring threat and Rodgers' NFL-record streak of 402 passes without an interception. Mack remains all but unblockable when healthy, commanding the attention of multiple players from any alignment as he ran his sack total on the season to 12.5, the most for a Bear since Richard Dent had that many in 1993 and more than the entire team total of the Raiders, who traded him away.

Rodgers was chased from the pocket all day Sunday, hurried into throws and showing uncharacteristic inaccuracy on deep balls. Tight coverage downfield was as significant a component as the pass rush itself, with Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio designing a complementary scheme that eventually squeezed the life out of its opponent, leaving it to pick up the pieces of a lost season and set out to find a coach.

Haugh: Bears thinking big after clinching NFC North

And it's nice to have a defense to lean on when the trick stuff goes sideways on you.

Production went off-line at Willy Wonka's factory for the first time, as a Bears fake punt fizzled at midfield early in the third quarter and a third-down handoff from Tarik Cohen to Jordan Howard resulted in a lost fumble in the fourth that ended a scoring chance. Call that one "Everlasting Drivestopper" or "Santa's Slain," and next time just run a dive or toss it to Cohen on the edge.

That was a problem, too, come to think of it, with Cohen doing his best Marion Barber impersonation by running out of bounds in the red zone late instead of going past the marker, keeping the clock moving and the chance for a touchdown alive. It didn't matter, both because of Mack and the overall play of Cohen himself, as his 44-yard punt return flipped the field and his impossibly athletic touchdown reception and run in the second quarter had staked them to a 14-3 advantage.

Mitchell Trubisky proved a steadying influence on offense, back to a level of efficiency and accuracy after a three-interception performance the week prior. He was 20-of-28 for 235 yards, two scores, no interceptions and a rating of 120.4, and Trubisky made some more critical first-down scrambles and showcased his ability to keep plays viable by a notable instinct to avoid pursuit.

It all added up to the better Bears team winning a game it was expected to win, improving its record to 10-4 and solidifying itself as the NFL's turnaround story of 2018. We asked for this during training camp, knowing that such as ascension was possible with the right mix of talent and the right coach at the right time, coupled with health and a few fortunate breaks. Mack came available, Trubisky's development is on schedule if not ahead of it, general manager Ryan Pace has stocked the roster with two good drafts worth of material talent and spent to counteract his mistakes and Nagy has already been chosen by the AP as having done the best coaching job of 2018.

What was possible is now real. The NFC North belongs to the Bears, and taking it at the immediate expense of the vanquished Packers should be only a taste of what​'s yet to come.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​