The Chicago Bears let the rest of the league know they are true contenders with a 15-6 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Chicago moved to 9-4 and further ahead of the 6-5-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North, while Los Angeles fell to 11-2 and into a tie with the New Orleans Saints in the race for the top seed in the conference.
The defense led the way for the victors, holding Jared Goff to 20-of-44 passing for 180 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions. Todd Gurley struggled to gain much traction as well and finished with 28 yards on 11 carries.
Mitchell Trubisky can thank his defense for the showing because he struggled as well on his way to 16-of-30 passing for 110 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Mitchell Trubisky's Inconsistency Bears' Biggest Obstacle in NFC North
Chicago fans would be forgiven if they had flashbacks to the Rex Grossman era during Sunday's game.
The defense was dominant and held the high-flying Rams to six points, with three coming after Trubisky threw an interception deep in Chicago territory and the other three coming on a drive that included a fake punt. The front seven consistently bottled up running lanes for Gurley and pressured Goff almost every time he dropped back, picking him off four times and sacking him three times.
The defense maintained its dominant play throughout the second half, tallying a safety on the first possession after halftime and icing the game with a Prince Amukamara interception in the final minutes.
A performance like that at home would typically set the Bears up with a blowout win, but Trubisky airmailed throws, forced passes into double coverage and turned the ball over.
He threw two interceptions in the first half, with one setting up a Rams field goal and the other ending a potential scoring drive before intermission.
Some rust was to be expected after he missed two games with a shoulder injury, but it was a worrisome sign for the Bears given his inconsistency throughout much of the year. One week he is throwing for 354 yards and six touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while another he is throwing multiple picks for the fourth time in 11 games.
Trubisky often bails himself out with his running ability or benefits from Matt Nagy coaching around his shortcomings with various offensive looks, screen passes and even a play-action to defensive lineman Akiem Hicks to open up a short touchdown throw to offensive lineman Bradley Sowell in the third quarter.
That has been enough thus far in an NFC North that hasn't put up much of a fight.
The 5-7-1 Green Bay Packers already fired head coach Mike McCarthy and have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league, while the Vikings have been inconsistent all year and have failed to build on last season's NFC Championship Game appearance.
Between the stifling defense, a backfield with the physical Jordan Howard (101 rushing yards) and the electric Tarik Cohen, and pass-catchers such as Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton, the only thing standing in the way of an easy Bears division crown and deep playoff run is whether the effective or troubling version of Trubisky shows up.
Jared Goff Costs Rams No. 1 Seed
The Rams have been a machine at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum all season, averaging 37.7 points a game and beating playoff contenders in the Los Angeles Chargers, Vikings, Packers, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs on the way to a 6-0 start.
They are essentially unstoppable with the weather typically ideal for offensive play in Los Angeles and defenses forced to choose between stacking the box and dealing with Gurley or committing additional defensive backs to handle Goff throwing to Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.
All they had to do was win their final four games to clinch the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and the final three contests are against teams with losing records (Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers).
Goff missed the memo.
The quarterback never established a rhythm against the formidable Bears defense, throwing costly interceptions to end promising drives and taking critical sacks both in the end zone for a safety and on a fourth-down play late in the final quarter. He appeared uncomfortable in the cold in what was by far his worst performance of the year.
It came at a terrible time for the NFC West leaders because they are now in position to travel to New Orleans for a potential conference title game.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is the only place Los Angeles lost this season prior to Sunday's contest, meaning the Saints hold the tiebreaker and the inside path to the coveted top seed. New Orleans has looked just as overpowering at home as the Rams have for much of the season, and Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Co. will be playing in front of a raucous crowd if the standings hold.
New Orleans finishes with two games against a 6-7 Carolina Panthers team that has lost five in a row and one against a 7-5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers squad that has lost three in a row. It is difficult to envision the Saints dropping a game, especially since the path to the top seed fell into their laps again with Chicago's showing.
There very well may come a time in January when Goff thinks back on his atrocious showing against the Bears and blames himself for the predicament his team is facing in an NFC Championship Game in the daunting Superdome.
Both teams are home in Week 15, with the Rams facing the Eagles and the Bears hosting the rival Packers.