Bears prove they're back, assume control of NFC North

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears moved one giant step closer to ending their seven-year playoff drought with Sunday night's 25-20 win against the Vikings, a victory so meaningful that even skeptics of the Bears' early success must admit the road to the NFC North title runs through Chicago.

The Bears (7-3) were easy for many to dismiss because they lacked a signature win against a quality opponent.

Well, that narrative is no longer valid.

The Bears are back. Football relevance has returned to Chicago.

"This is a team [Minnesota] that made it to the NFC Championship Game last year, being able to play some good football, they're good," Bears head coach Matt Nagy said. "We know that and our guys want to be a part of that, so that's what we were able to do."

"I think being able to play four quarters of good football against that team to get the win shows that we're headed in the right direction."

The Bears now have an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs and 73 percent chance to win the division, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI).

And the best part: The Bears appear on the verge of building something with staying power. Chicago's roster is loaded with a nucleus of young players at key positions, and, of course, the Bears also have star pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who tormented the Vikings' suspect offensive line.

The Bears dominated on defense on Sunday. Dominated.

The Vikings' offense looked helpless at times as the Bears forced three turnovers. Chicago now has a league-best 18 interceptions this season. The Bears had only 16 combined interceptions over the 2016-17 seasons.

Another encouraging development was the way Nagy outclassed Minnesota's formidable defense early on with innovative and creative playcalls. Nagy catered to every one of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's strengths. The Bears' offense often went hurry-up, moved the pocket on designed rollouts to give Trubisky better passing lanes, and attacked Minnesota with misdirection run plays.

The Bears' offense lost momentum after halftime, but did enough to stake the team to a two-touchdown lead. The defense took care of the rest.

Trubisky made mostly good decisions with the football, although his numbers were average, at best. The 24-year-old quarterback finished the game 20-of-31 for 165 passing yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and 45 rushing yards.

Did Trubisky play his best against the Vikings? Not even close.

But the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft looked better than his Minnesota counterpart, Kirk Cousins, whom the Vikings guaranteed $84 million over three years in the offseason.

The stakes were incredibly high this week in Chicago. The Bears hadn't played a truly important contest since the end of the 2013 regular season. News stations even sent helicopters midweek to film embattled kicker Cody Parkey's late-night practice at Soldier Field -- Parkey, by the way, made all of his kicks against the Vikings after hitting the uprights four times the week before.

The city wanted to believe the Bears were for real.

Chicago got its answer on Sunday night.

"We just have to keep it rolling," Trubisky said. "There are going to be more outsiders and media saying that you guys predicted this all along even though you guys didn't. No one believed in us except our locker room. We're going to continue to stick together and become closer and closer and look at it one game at a time. Stay hungry. Stay humble."

The Bears next have a quick turnaround against banged-up Detroit (4-6) on Thanksgiving followed by another winnable road game against the Giants (3-7).

The Bears are on their way to hosting their first playoff game since 2010.

Believe it.