LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP)Now that their 14-game slide is over, it sure seems like a good time for the Chicago Bears to start a different kind of streak.
After all, they won’t have to worry about containing one of the NFL’s most electrifying players when they host Minnesota on Sunday. That’s because Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson is out with a hamstring injury.
“It would suck to get that one win and come out here and not let it continue over and roll over,” Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “Just for us, we want to build it. If we don’t start a win streak, that would be more of a letdown than anything.”
The Bears (1-4) won 40-20 at Washington behind another solid performance by the offense to stop a skid that dated to a Week 7 victory at New England last year.
They haven’t won two in a row since Weeks 16 and 17 of the 2021 season, when they beat Seattle and the New York Giants. They went 3-14 last year, the worst record in the NFL.
The Bears’ chance of putting together back-to-back wins seems significantly better with Jefferson on injured reserve. The 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year slipped on the U.S. Bank Stadium turf last week while trying to make a cut on his route during a third-down pass deep in Kansas City territory. He grabbed the back of his right leg and limped slowly to the sideline in the fourth quarter of a 27-20 loss.
Jefferson hasn’t missed a game since the Vikings (1-4) drafted him with the No. 22 overall pick in 2020. He has 36 catches for 571 yards and three touchdowns this season, and his absence for at least the next four games figures to have a profound impact.
The Vikings always knew which receiver they were featuring, no matter the opponent.
“That’s meant some opportunities sometimes for other guys,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “That’s meant some growth from him, beating double-teams consistently over the past 20, however many games or so, but I think it’s a great opportunity.”
All four of Minnesota’s losses have come by one score, with a league-high 12 turnovers all but sealing its fate for the season. The injury to Jefferson has intensified speculation around the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is on track to become a free agent next spring.
Cousins has a no-trade clause in his contract that he’d have to waive in order for the Vikings to deal him before the Oct. 31 deadline. The veteran QB insisted he’s been oblivious to the weekly churn of NFL hot takes and said he keeps all the news-related and social media apps off his phone.
“I’ve been insulated at times to the point of being naïve and a little stupid, but I’d rather err on that side than consuming everything,” Cousins said. “It takes your focus away from what is important and what will help you play well.”
ON THE MOVE
Chicago’s Justin Fields is coming off two of his best games as a passer, and the offense as a whole appears to be on the rise.
The Bears had 451 yards against the Commanders after setting a season high with 471 the previous week against Denver. The offense has jumped from 29th overall to 14th in that span.
Fields has thrown for 617 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception in that stretch, compared to three TDs and and four INTs in the first three weeks.
Vikings first-round draft pick Jordan Addison, who has three touchdown catches in five games, could see his role elevated in Jefferson’s absence.
“Gets open, catches the ball, yards after catch, and I think he’s been a real positive knowing our hopes,” O’Connell said. “Shoot, he was one of the favorite players I evaluated in the draft.”
MOORE OF THAT, PLEASE
While Fields has been putting up bigger numbers the past two games, so has receiver DJ Moore. No coincidence there.
The two seem to be developing the connection the Bears envisioned when they traded the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft to Carolina for Moore and other draft picks. Moore has 16 catches for 361 yards and four TDs the past two games.
Moore’s 230 yards receiving against Washington was the second-most by a Bears player in a game. Alshon Jeffery had 249 yards in an overtime loss at Minnesota on Dec. 1, 2013.
The Bears are bracing for blitzes. No team does it as often as Minnesota.
The Vikings have blitzed 113 times and on 56.2% of opponents’ drop-backs. New England is second in both attempts (81) and percentage (45.3).
The good news for the Bears is that their offensive line is coming off arguably its best game.
“I think it was because of the way we kept stepping each other up and challenging each other,” guard Teven Jenkins said.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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