Bears, Vikings meet in what could be head coaches’ final game
The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings each will look to end a disappointing season on a positive note when they meet Sunday in Minneapolis.
Both teams are out of the playoff hunt and face a long offseason with plenty of questions, starting with whether they will replace their head coaches and front-office personnel.
For at least a little while longer, players are staying focused on the game in front of them.
“Whatever the future holds for everybody, I can’t picture it,” Vikings running back Dalvin Cook said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know I love these people in the building. I love these coaches. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
The Vikings (7-9) have lost four of their past six games and will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. That could spell trouble for longtime head coach Mike Zimmer, who is in his eighth year with the franchise.
Zimmer is 71-56-1 with Minnesota but has won only two playoff games — one in 2017 and the other in 2019. In the past four years, the Vikings have gone 32-31-1.
Meanwhile, the Bears (6-10) are coming off back-to-back wins, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the organization from missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 years. Head coach Matt Nagy went 12-4 in his first season in 2018 but has not surpassed .500 since then.
Both coaches are focused on getting another win with their team, even if it is the final one.
Zimmer announced this week that Kirk Cousins would return to his starting role at quarterback after sitting out Week 17 while in COVID-19 protocol. Cousins has passed for 3,971 yards, 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season, putting him on the cusp of reaching the 4,000-yard milestone for the sixth time in his 10-year career.
As for Chicago, rookie Justin Fields is expected to start at quarterback for the first time since Dec. 20 — when he also faced the Vikings. Fields completed 26 of 39 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown that day, but Minnesota prevailed 17-9 in Chicago.
Fields could look toward wideout Darnell Mooney, who needs 71 receiving yards to notch his first 1,000-yard season. Bears pass rusher Robert Quinn also has a chance to build on his franchise record of 18 sacks this season, but he was held out of practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury.
Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson will try to add to his team-high 103 catches for 1,509 yards as he wraps up a terrific sophomore season. Linebacker Eric Kendricks already has posted a career high in tackles (143) and sacks (five).
Nagy said the game marked another learning opportunity for young players such as Fields.
“When I look at what we’ve done here with these young players that we have, whether it’s a rookie this year or whether it’s a guy that’s in his third or fourth year here with us, I think our coaches have done a good job of being able to (develop) these guys,” Nagy said. “Is the record what we want it to be this year? No, absolutely not. We understand that.
“But there’s a lot of developing that goes on, and it does take some time. I think that’s probably the biggest thing is the development of these young players and creating a culture to be able to take off and do great things.”
–Field Level Media