Former Bears Got Their Revenge in Week 18

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The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears closed their 2022 regular seasons with a matchup at Soldier Field in Week 18. In this game, the Vikings had a pair of players playing their first game against the Bears after spending time with them: CB Duke Shelley and DL Khyiris Tonga. The former Bears got their revenge as the Vikings beat Chicago, 29-13.

Shelley, in particular, had a great game against his former team. After the Bears cut him on August 31st prior to Week 1, the Vikings signed him to their practice squad on September 6th. They then signed him to their active roster on less than two weeks later on September 19th.

Shelley spent his first three seasons in the NFL with the Bears, playing 30 games and starting six of them. In those games, the CB recorded 53 tackles and 4 pass defenses. He spent those years playing slot corner, and this week, he described those years as him playing “out of position” to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.

With the Vikings, Shelley has played primarily on the outside, and it has worked beautifully, especially in the wake of injuries to players such as Andrew Booth, Cam Dantzler, and Akayleb Evans. Heading into Sunday’s game, the first-year Viking had appeared in 10 games, including four starts. He had recorded 28 tackles and a career-high 7 pass defenses.

On Sunday against his former team, Shelley recorded a career-high fifth start, and he had a great impact on the game. He recorded a number of pass breakups, and he intercepted his first career pass against Bears QB Tim Boyle.

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The progression of Shelley from practice squad fill-in player to game-saving playmaker (one thinks of his overtime pass breakup in the end zone on Bills TE Dawson Knox) has been crucial to the Vikings continued success. Especially if Cam Dantzler remains banged up from his ankle injury, Shelley looks like he will remain a key part of Minnesota’s defensive plan heading into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Tonga didn’t spend quite as much time in Chicago as Shelley, but he did play 15 games for the Bears in 2021 after being selected in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He started two games as well, recording 24 tackles, a TFL, and a fumble recovery with the Bears.

Like Shelley, Tonga was also waived by the Bears on August 31st, but his path to the Vikings was less direct. He also made a stop in Atlanta, signing onto the Falcons practice squad on September 5th. A month later was when he made his way to Minnesota, and the Vikings signed him to their active roster.

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Since then, Tonga has now appeared in all 11 games for the Vikings since joining the team. He’s recorded 26 tackles, a TFL, 0.5 sacks, and 4 pass defenses during these games. On Sunday against his former team, Tonga played well, recording a pair of tackles on the day.

James Lynch has been a notable absence from the Vikings defensive line over the past two games, and Jonathan Bullard also spent a great deal of the season on IR. This allowed Tonga to become a consistent rotational piece on the Vikings defensive line, and he should be able to continue doing so moving into the playoffs.

The Vikings close the regular season with a 13-4 record after defeating the Bears. By this evening, we will know who they will take on in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.