Cairo Santos’ game-winning field goal Monday night was a gimme, a 30-yard tap-in that finished the Chicago Bears’ 12-10 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. From the right hash, with a running clock, Santos set himself up. Snap, hold, kick. W.
Nothing to it.
“We all showed character in finishing tonight,” the kicker said afterward from a jubilant visitors locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium.
That kick was the Bears’ finishing touch, the punctuation of a 66-yard final drive that had its biggest moment when Justin Fields drilled a clutch 36-yard completion to DJ Moore on third-and-10 to propel the offense into field-goal range.
That was the biggest play of the night, both in significance and yards gained. Against zone coverage and facing a four-man rush, Fields kept his poise in the pocket. A huge hole opened in the middle of the field.
Moore broke in. Fields threw his fastball.
That play has been talked about most this week — and with good reason. Finally, in a game-on-the-line moment, Fields and the offense finished successfully, providing the big play in the final minute with the winning points coming from Santos with 10 seconds remaining.
“We know who we are as a team,” Fields said. “We know what we’re capable of. It’s really just going out there and executing and finishing the way we know how.”
Monday’s victory, as flawed and error-filled as it was, came loaded with winning contributions that matter for these Bears, who are making a difficult and now suddenly spirited climb back toward the middle of the league.
Sure, the Bears had more than their fair share of blunders, missteps that would have caused a two-week outcry had they lost such a winnable game against a middle-tier opponent that was playing poorly. The Bears were flagged 12 times in the game, scored only three points off their four takeaways, lost a Matt Eberflus replay challenge late on the Vikings’ go-ahead touchdown drive late and persevered through two crucial Fields fumbles in the fourth quarter.
But they also displayed admirable resilience and competitive fight, continuing to show progress in key areas that they hope can push them closer to a more meaningful breakthrough.
With a Week 13 open date allowing players and coaches more time to savor their fulfilling finish, the Bears also can reflect on their fourth win of the season with pride in the flurry of big plays they made, contributions from the first quarter through the final seconds that made a difference.
When meetings resume Monday at Halas Hall, Eberflus and his coaching staff will have plenty of examples of game-changing moments to highlight. Here are six to get them started.
On the final play of the first quarter, facing fourth-and-10 from the Vikings 38-yard line, Eberflus quickly sorted through the analytics, considered the early game flow and made a bold decision to go for it.
The Bears were just a hair outside Santos’ range but far enough across midfield that they didn’t see a big enough reward in punting. Thus the greenlight was given on fourth-and-long.
“You’re just ultra-aggressive there,” Eberflus said, “because you feel good with how your defense is playing.”
The offense’s response? The Bears used extra protection to successfully handle a six-man Vikings pressure and tight end Cole Kmet, after originally engaging as a blocker against D.J. Wonnum, leaked into the open field.
Fields felt the heat properly, drifted to his right away from pressure and calmly hit Kmet 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The tight end did the rest, barreling ahead for the first down and prolonging a possession that ended with the first points of the night, a 25-yard Santos field goal.
“The two times we’ve played the Vikings, my responsibilities are I’m either going to be in protection a lot or I’m going to have to get out on my route,” Kmet explained. “Did both there. It was good. You take your pass set and then they add on and I was able to leak out without anybody on me. That was a big play.”
It wasn’t just the fourth-down conversion that resonated. Two snaps earlier, after a 12-yard sack and a 12-men-in-the-huddle infraction, the Bears were buried in a second-and-27 hole. But they didn’t let that derail them.
Fields first hit Kmet for a 6-yard gain, then found running back Roschon Johnson on a checkdown for 11 more. Then came the clutch completion to Kmet with the big tight end adding important yards after the catch.
Kmet, for what it’s worth, continues to be one of the steadiest contributors the Bears have and turned in a terrific performance Monday across the board. As a pass catcher, he’s on pace for 79 receptions, 683 yards and seven touchdowns. Among tight ends, he ranks fifth, eighth and second, respectively, across those categories through Week 12.
‘The Tez factor’
With an urge to improve the pass rush, Bears general manager Ryan Poles made an all-in move for Montez Sweat last month, trading a second-round pick to the Washington Commanders, then securing Sweat’s services for the long haul with a four-year, $98 million extension. An investment like that brings expectations with the Bears believing Sweat can be a consistent presence for the defense, a playmaker capable of making an impact in every half of every game.
On Monday, Sweat needed only three snaps to make a splash, sacking Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs for an 8-yard loss on third-and-9. Sweat lined up inside of Yannick Ngakoue on that play, and the duo ran a stunt to strain right tackle Brian O’Neill and guard Ed Ingram. Sweat beat O’Neill around the edge and finished strong.
It was a perfect example of why the Bears are so high on Sweat, believing he can be a valuable chess piece that allows the defense to seek out favorable matchups — for Sweat and others on the defense.
Sweat shared a second-half sack with safety Jaquan Brisker and has been an integral part of the Bears defense during a three-game surge in which they have allowed an average of 18 points and 264.3 yards per game while totaling seven sacks and seven takeaways.
The first of four Bears interceptions Monday came from Jaylon Johnson, who showed great recognition and instincts in zone coverage, initially driving on an in route by receiver Brandon Powell before quickly dropping to react to a corner route from Jordan Addison.
Vikings quarterback Josh Dobbs thought he had Johnson accounted for and tried fitting a pass between Johnson and deep safety Eddie Jackson but was picked off.
“I drove initially on the first route,” Johnson said. “But (Dobbs) pumped. So I put my foot in the ground, got back underneath it and he gave me a chance.”
With that, the takeaway faucet was open for the night. Brisker, T.J. Edwards and Kyler Gordon added interceptions. And the Bears probably should have been credited with a fifth takeaway on the game’s final play when Josh Blackwell dived on a bouncing football during a frantic series of desperate Vikings laterals. But officially, that recovery was negated by an illegal forward pass on the play by Dobbs.
The Bears defense, which had eight games with multiple takeaways last season and three through the first 10 weeks this year, has forced seven turnovers in the last two games.
Johnson almost had himself a second interception Monday, a probable pick-six he dropped in the second quarter.
“Man, I don’t know what’s going on with my hands,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to lie. I usually have pretty good hands. But I have to figure some things out. … We were in a zone pressure so I had my eyes on the quarterback. And he was really staring his guy down the whole time. I made a good break. But I think I saw a little too much purple in the end zone instead of seeing that ball into my hands. It just got away from me. I have to figure that out.”
On an eventful night for cornerback Gordon — two penalties, one interception, four tackles, one broken face mask — a fourth-down stop of Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson proved pivotal. Facing fourth-and-7 from the their 49 early in the second half, the Vikings chose to go for it. And Dobbs had Hockenson open on an out route to the right. But Gordon’s reaction in coverage and closing speed allowed him to hit Hockenson a beat after he caught the ball. And despite a 48-pound disadvantage against the Pro Bowl tight end, Gordon used his strength to wrestle Hockenson out of bounds less than a yard short of the line to gain.
It was a huge stop in a big moment. That turnover on downs gave the Bears optimal field position, and they took advantage with a field-goal drive that allowed them to regain the lead at 6-3.
Gordon broke his hand in the season opener and missed the next four games. But it has become clear since his Week 6 return that his presence matters. He has been assignment sound and aggressive as a tackler and has added to the infectious energy of a juiced-up Bears secondary.
Need another example of Gordon’s tenacity? Look no further than the fourth-quarter run stuff he had on Ty Chandler, firing into the “B” gap and absolutely popping the Vikings running back for no gain.
The unsung hero
Don’t look now but Edwards is the NFL’s leading tackler with 127, one ahead of former Bear Roquan Smith. Edwards added six tackles against the Vikings, none bigger than a third-and-6 stop on a completion to Chandler.
Edwards was in man coverage on the play and followed Chandler as the running back motioned right to left in the formation before the snap. Dobbs hit Chandler with a swing pass in the flat, challenging Edwards to make a difficult open-field tackle. But Edwards was all over the play, showing textbook tackling form and stopping Chandler for a 3-yard gain.
On the next snap, the Bears thwarted the Vikings on fourth-and-3 when Johnson broke up a pass intended for K.J. Osborn, and Edwards collected the deflection for an interception.
For good measure, Edwards also took Osborn down for a loss of 1 on a third down reception with 2:36 to play, allowing the Bears to get the ball back for their game-winning drive.
“Just an outstanding play by him,” Eberflus said. “He has played well all year. But man, he played well (Monday). He’s making a lot of impactful plays.”
On the first day of free agency last spring, the Bears gave Edwards a three-year, $19.5 million contract with visions of him becoming a difference-making weak-side linebacker. Through 12 games, that return on investment has been realized.
The last of 11 Fields-to-Moore completions Monday night drew most of the spotlight, that aforementioned 36-yarder that put the Bears on the doorstep of their first division win since 2021. But the duo’s first connection on that final drive was equally notable, with Fields working through his progressions, turning down a check-down pass to Roschon Johnson, then extending the play with his legs.
Outside the pocket and rolling left, Fields puppeteered the Vikings defense, spotted Moore, then worked to create an optimal throwing lane. With Wonnum closing in, Fields made a sharp throw for a 16-yard gain. That was the Bears’ fifth longest completion of the night. But in a big moment, it was another example of Fields’ increasing comfort making plays as a passer while on the move.
That has been a major emphasis for the quarterback in his third season as he works to threaten defenses with his athleticism as a runner and a passer. Since his return from a dislocated right thumb, Fields has generated a handful of impressive completions on extended plays.
“When you’ve got a quarterback who can run like him, then you can obviously dent the defense pretty good there with those,” Eberflus said.
On the opening drive, Fields had a similar strike to Johnson, escaping pressure from a Vikings blitz, scrambling out to his left and retaining wide vision of the field. Throwing back toward the middle of the field, Fields ripped a completion for 6 yards to convert a third-and-2.