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Pregame Warmup

4 things to watch in Bears-Vikings game

Bears LB Robert Quinn

The Bears (6-10) will look to close the season with a three-game winning streak Sunday when they visit the Vikings (7-9) in Minnesota. Here are four storylines to watch in the contest:

(1) Will the Bears defense continue to excel?

The defense has performed much better late in the season than it did earlier in the year, a stretch that began Dec. 20 in the first meeting against the Vikings at Soldier Field. In a 17-9 loss, the Bears held Minnesota to 193 total yards and 13 first downs and limited quarterback Kirk Cousins to 87 yards—his fewest in 119 career NFL starts. The performance was even more impressive considering that the Bears played without their entire starting secondary.

After making a late stop a week later in Seattle to preserve an improbable 25-24 comeback win over the Seahawks, the defense delivered its most dominant outing of the year last Sunday at Soldier Field. In a 29-3 victory over the Giants, the Bears allowed their fewest points, total yards (151), passing yards (minus-10), first downs (13) and third-down conversations (1) this season.

"It was just a total group effort," said defensive coordinator Sean Desai, "a lot of energy and juice from the sideline, from the players on the field, and really just great execution of the plan and the techniques and the details of what we were trying to get done. When we do that, we can be pretty special, and that was a special performance those guys put out there."

The Bears defense will enter Sunday's season finale having permitted no touchdowns and one field goal in its last five quarters of action.

(2) Will the Bears offense make the most of its opportunities?

In their loss to the Vikings Dec. 20, the Bears mustered just one field goal on their first five possessions inside the Minnesota 21, turning the ball over on downs three times at the 21, 9 and 14 and losing a fumble at the 10. They'll need a much more efficient outing to win Sunday's finale in Minnesota.

The Bears have struggled to get into the end zone all year; they rank 26th in the NFL in scoring (18.4 per game) and 30th in red-zone touchdown percentage (50 percent). But the offense has generated three touchdowns each of the last two weeks in wins over the Seahawks and Giants, the first time that's happened in back-to-back games this season.

With rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the reserve/COVID-19 list, veteran Andy Dalton will make his second straight start and sixth of the season. It's been difficult for the 11th-year pro to develop any rhythm this year; his six starts will have come in three two-game increments several weeks apart.

"That's the biggest thing," Dalton said. "You start a couple games, you're not playing, then you get back in. But we were able to have a good win last week. It's two in a row. Nick [Foles] got one, I got one, so hopefully we can go back and find a way to finish this year off the right way and get another one this week."

(3) Will Darnell Mooney record his first 1,000-yard receiving season?

The second-year pro needs 71 yards in Sunday's season finale to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the season. Mooney leads the Bears with 69 receptions for 929 yards and four touchdowns. Last year as a rookie, he caught 61 passes for 631 yards and four TDs. His 130 receptions are already the most ever by a Bears player in his first two NFL seasons.

A 2020 fifth-round pick from Tulane, Mooney can become the lowest drafted Bears receiver to compile 1,000 yards in a season since 1970 when 1965 seventh-rounder Dick Gordon had a career-high 1,026 yards. Generating 1,000 yards is no longer the feat it once was with the NFL expanding from 16 to 17 games this season, but it nonetheless remains a noteworthy accomplishment.

(4) Who will win the battle of the JJ's: Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson or Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson?

Two of the best young players on their respective teams will line up against each other Sunday for the first time this season. Johnson had prepared to face Jefferson in the Dec. 20 meeting at Soldier Field, but was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list the day before the game.

"I missed it a lot considering the preparation I put in that week," Johnson said, "going through watching film, practicing, seeing certain things. Just having that taken away from me at the last minute was pretty hurtful considering that I wanted that matchup and that was something I'd been looking forward to. But this week, it's no different; just going out, preparing the right way, watching film. My preparation will take care of itself."

Johnson will face one of the NFL's brightest young stars in Jefferson, who ranks fourth in the league with 103 receptions and second with 1,509 yards. The two-time Pro Bowl selection has amassed the most yards (2,909) by any receiver in his first two seasons in league history.

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