At the start of the fourth quarter last Sunday, the Vikings were driving downfield, looking to extend a 21-19 lead after the Bears had scored 16 unanswered points. Minnesota had just converted on a fourth-and-4 play, reaching the Chicago 47 with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
But on first-and-10, cornerback Kindle Vildor recognized the Vikings' bootleg play, one that had already beat the Bears defense multiple times. As Vildor dropped back in zone coverage, he watched quarterback Kirk Cousins look toward the right side of the field, then saw receiver Adam Thielen in his peripheral vision. As Cousins released the ball, Vildor cut in front of Thielen and picked off the pass at the 30.
Vildor took off for an 18-yard return to the 48 before being swarmed by teammates to celebrate his first career interception.
"It was something I'd never forget," Vildor said. "Making that play just seemed like a dream. It just seemed unreal. I caught it and I was running, you don't hear nothing, just out there celebrating and everybody was happy for me. So yeah, it was like a dream come true; it was really fun."
The takeaway resulted in the Bears' first lead of the day as kicker Cairo Santos drilled a 53-yard field goal, putting them up 22-21.
As soon as Vildor returned to the sideline, he was greeted by fellow cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who experienced "a rush of emotions" while watching the interception.
The pair of cornerbacks have built a close relationship since both were drafted by the Bears in 2020, and Vildor's first pick provided Johnson with just as much excitement as his teammate.
"I kind of felt like I got the pick, but especially it being his first one, I feel like it was a long time coming for him," Johnson said. "I feel like there's been some some ups and some downs for him especially and I feel like he just really stays true to who he is, never getting too up or too down, just being in a moment. Then him having a play like that at the time that he did, I feel like it just all kind of served him so well."
"I felt like it was my responsibility to go out there and try to just hold it down while he's out," Vildor said, "just kind of set the tone for our position group as a whole, being that older person in the room and just giving myself that confidence in the guys that were stepping in for him, giving them that confidence too that they can go out there and make plays as well. So, I kind of took that as my responsibility, my job, that I should be doing that."
While Vildor "is a man of few words," Johnson said his composure, preparation and confidence "spoke volumes to the younger guys," instilling confidence in them.
Defensive backs coach James Rowe also praised Vildor's preparedness heading into Minnesota. Rowe said that bootleg play is one the group talks about a lot and has worked on in practice. To apply the film study and practice reps in a game situation is a sign of confidence to Rowe.
"What I really liked about it was, he had to use some anticipation, instincts to go make that play," Rowe said. "He kind of had already taken care of his responsibility and went ahead and made a play a little bit off, I don't want to say out of the defense, but within the defense, but it just took some instincts that I liked."
Vildor said his interception "goes from what [coaches] talk about each and every single day with the 'HITS' principle." The coaching staff's continued focus on hustle and intensity has increased Vildor's attention to small details and knowledge of being in the right spots.
When the HITS principle was first introduced in the offseason, Vildor talked to teammates that previously played for coach Matt Eberflus and was intrigued by the concept.
While there were new individual and team demands that Vildor had to adjust to, he couldn't deny the past success and toughness of Eberflus' defensive units. So the third-year player approached the principle with an open mind, wanting "to be a part of something special."
"I'm the type of person, I just want to do what I have to do to get the job done," Vildor said. "Whatever they want to do that's gonna get us wins, shoot, let's do it. I'm all for it. So when they came in with it, I'm like, 'let's do it.'"
The cornerback's gravitation toward HITS wasn't surprising to Rowe, who previously coached at Appalachian State – a rival of Vildor's alma mater, Georgia Southern.
Rowe said considering the "hard-nosed program" Vildor came from, he expected him to already have a chip on his shoulder. Then when the pair first met this spring in Georgia prior to OTAs, Rowe picked up on Vildor's mature, even-keeled persona.
"My friend's a defense coordinator at Kennesaw State, and I was down there visiting him, and Kindle met me up there on the north side of Atlanta," Rowe said. "Obviously watching him on tape, I saw a lot of things that I liked, that I felt like we could build off of. Then meeting him in person and just seeing his demeanor and whatnot, I felt like he was a guy that I'd be excited to work with, and he's proven it so far."
With the first interception under Vildor's belt, Rowe said the defense is "gonna need him continue making big plays," and the cornerback is eager to keep contributing.
Having started all five games this season, Vildor sees growth in his overall feel for the game. Now, his goal is to continue expanding on the mental and physical reps he's earned while being a consistent playmaker for the defense.
"Anytime you make any type of play, it gives you a big confidence boost that you can go out there and continue to do it," Vildor said. "It's just on me to just continue to do what I do, keep studying, being a student of the game and trusting in myself, playing my technique and just continue to build on it."