Here are four things we learned in Sunday's 21-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
1) The impressive performance by the Bears defense a week earlier against the Vikings wasn't a fluke. The suddenly-stingy unit allowed only one touchdown and 13 points for the second straight game after permitting 11 TDs in back-to-back losses to the Patriots and Packers.
Under coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Bears surrendered at least 19 points in their first 21 games and 24 of 25 overall until the past two weeks. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, the defense matched a season-high with four takeaways and recorded five sacks, the most since the Bears also had five on Dec. 1, 2013 in an overtime loss to the Vikings.
Perhaps the most promising development is that the defense is making major strides due in large part to young players such as nickel back Demontre Hurst, linebacker Christian Jones, defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, and defensive ends David Bass and Cornelius Washington.
2) The pass rush delivered.** The Bears harassed former teammate Josh McCown all day, leading to a slew of sacks and turnovers. Defensive tackle Stephen Paea was a disruptive force inside, recording two sacks in a game for the first time in his four-year NFL career. Bass, Washington and Jeremiah Ratliff also had sacks, with Bass forcing a fumble that Jones recovered to set up a touchdown.
"I can't say enough about the way [the defense] played, the way they performed," quarterback Jay Cutler said after the game. "They had pressure on Josh from the first snap to the last snap. They forced some turnovers. They gave us some short fields. The defense won the game today."
In addition to his two sacks, Paea pressured McCown into throwing an errant pass that was intercepted by safety Chris Conte in the first quarter. Hurst later hit McCown to force a third-down incompletion that led to a Buccaneers punt early in the third quarter.
3) Takeaways are a great elixir. The Bears mustered only 204 yards of offense, their fewest under Trestman and their fewest in a win since 2006. But the unit capitalized on short fields, scoring touchdowns after starting drives at the Tampa Bay 13 and 15 following takeaways to turn a 10-0 halftime deficit into a 21-point third quarter and eventual 21-13 victory.
"We're not going to apologize for the short fields," Trestman said. "We haven't had very many. We're not going to apologize for creating the turnovers, which we did. Being able to finish the drives was a very good positive out of this game; that we were able to close in the end zone."
In Trestman's two seasons, the Bears are now 9-0 when winning the turnover ratio, 3-10 when they lose it and 1-4 when it's even.
4) Thursday's Thanksgiving Game against the Lions is now relevant. Obituaries for the 2014 season no doubt would have been written had the Bears lost to the Buccaneers. Instead, the Bears improved to 5-6 and kept their faint playoff hopes alive. They moved two games behind the second-place Lions (7-4) in the NFC North after Detroit lost 34-7 to the Patriots in New England. They can close that gap to one game Thursday at Ford Field.
The Bears enter Week 13 in striking distance of a playoff spot, two games behind the Lions, Seahawks and 49ers for the second and final wildcard in the NFC. They probably will have to win out to reach the postseason, but the victory over the Buccaneers was a good start.