Less than a minute remained in the first half Monday night, and the Bears defense found itself backed up against its own end zone. After dominating the Vikings for the majority of the game's opening 30 minutes, Chicago now found itself in trouble. Minnesota's offense had driven the ball down the field, starting the drive at their own 29-yard line and, 13 plays later, taking it to the Chicago 2. But after a run for no gain on second down, the Vikings faced third-and-goal, needing those two vital yards to turn the momentum of the game. With the NFL's worst rushing attack not proving to be the answer, Minnesota opted to throw.
That choice to pass proved to be a mistake. The Bears defense diagnosed the play perfectly, cutting off quarterback Sam Bradford's primary target. By the time Bradford looked to find another player in a white jersey, he had Chicago defenders in his face. Defensive end Akiem Hicks wrapped up Bradford for a big sack, keeping Minnesota out of the end zone. The Vikings kicked a field goal on fourth down, but the stand showed the Bears defense was not going to be tricked on this Halloween night.
Instead the unit handed out treats in the form of sacks, big tackles and strong coverage. The Bears defense played its best game of the year in the 20-10 win in Week 8. Minnesota recorded just 15 first downs, the fewest allowed by the Bears this season, and averaged just 4.3 yards per play. After allowing 406 net yards last week versus Green Bay, the Bears defense tightened up, giving up just 258 on Monday. Most of those came at the end of the game, as the Vikings had just 98 first-half yards.
"That's what we've been practicing for, and we wanted to go out there and perform," said inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was credited with six tackles and two passes defensed. "Our defense has been working its tail off. Just having everyone there, the attitude has just spread throughout the defense and everybody is learning. So we're flying around and having fun now."
The reason the play has improved is not because of just one guy, but a collective growth in the unit. While it helps to have outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd healthy to chase down quarterbacks, they can only thrive if the other players on the field are doing their jobs.
Versus the Vikings, everybody stepped up. The Bears had five sacks and nine total hits on Bradford, resulting in a lot of lost yardage for Minnesota. When the ball was in the air, the defensive backs made life difficult for the Vikings' receivers and tight ends, deflecting five passes. Chicago forced punts on seven of Minnesota's 10 offensive drives, including a stretch of four consecutive three-and-outs by the Vikings in the first and second quarters.
"We kind of knew they would come out and give us their best effort," said Floyd, the rookie first-round pick who picked up a sack for the second week in a row. "We just came out in the right mindset, knowing that we had to be the best defense (on Monday). And we went out and executed and did a pretty good job."
The Bears defense also showed its ability to finish. Two weeks ago, the team held a 13-0 lead going into the fourth quarter against Jacksonville, only to see it slip away in a 17-16 loss. That wasn't going to happen on Monday. Chicago made sure to fight from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. Just as he did in the second quarter, Hicks had a key sack on a third down early in the fourth quarter to force a Vikings punt. Minnesota only saw the ball once after that.
"Guys come out here with a lot of passion, ready to play," Hicks said after his first multi-sack game as a member of the Bears. "We need to be able to play that whole 60 minutes, and that's what changed on Monday. We played the entire game instead of just a half or 45 minutes."
Following the strong defensive performance in Week 8, the Bears enter their bye week with a lot to build on. The defense continues to get healthy, with more key players returning to the lineup every week. Chicago showed a national audience what it is capable of on Monday, with the hopes of building on that moving forward.
"We can get even better, we are just getting started," Trevathan said. "We are progressing a lot, working together and working on details; we're communicating. And that's what you want from your defense, you need to be able to hold it down. So we're working to be one of the best defenses in the league."