Here are four things we learned in Sunday's 21-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings:
1) The Bears defense rose to the occasion. After getting torched in back-to-back blowout losses, the Bears defense rebounded to dominate the Vikings. The unit allowed the fewest yards (243) and first downs (10) and tied for the fewest points (13) in 26 games under coordinator Mel Tucker.
The Bears permitted 11 touchdowns in losses to the Patriots and Packers, becoming the first NFL team since the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons to surrender at least 50 points in consecutive games. But the defense gave up only one TD Sunday—and that came after a 48-yard run on a fake punt resulted in a Vikings first down at the Chicago 7.
The Bears generated a consistent pass rush, sacking Teddy Bridgewater twice and preventing him from escaping the pocket and extending plays with his feet.
"We were able to do a little bit of what we wanted to do; force Bridgewater to throw from the pocket, which we did," said coach Marc Trestman. "We were able to get a good rush, a consistent rush. We had a level rush and eliminated his ability to scramble."
2)**The Bears made the most of a size mismatch created by their receivers. Trestman vowed during the bye week that the Bears would do a better job of taking advantage of match-ups, and they did just that Sunday. Big receivers Brandon Marshall (6-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3) combined to catch three touchdown passes from Jay Cutler—all on contested throws in man-to-man coverage against 5-10 cornerback Josh Robinson.
"We wanted to go at '21' (Robinson)," Cutler said. "We knew he was a little bit smaller. [Xavier Rhodes] has some length and speed. We wanted to put some balls up to our right side, We got a few opportunities to do it."
Asked what he would do differently against Marshall and Jeffery if he had a second chance, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said: "I would have changed up some coverages. We did some and then they went to other places. I can't make these [defensive backs] taller. You've got to change up the coverage. That's what you have to do. You have to change up the defense that you're playing."
3) The Bears don't have to win the turnover battle to win the game. Entering Sunday, the Bears were 3-0 when winning the turnover margin and 0-6 when losing it this season. They finished minus-two against the Vikings but won the game chiefly because their defense didn't allow the Vikings to capitalize on the mistakes.
A turning point came midway through the third quarter when Cutler's pass intended for Martellus Bennett was intercepted by Harrison Smith and returned 52 yards to the Chicago 29. Protecting a 14-10 lead, the Bears defense prevented the Vikings from picking up a first down and forced them to settle for Blair Walsh's 38-yard field goal attempt, which he pushed wide to the right.
"I thought the defense really played well overall," Trestman said. "They were able to play some complementary football, overcoming the turnovers by holding the Vikings without scores on both turnovers, which was big."
4) The Bears continue to struggle on special teams. Andrew Sendejo's 48-yard run around left end on a fake punt set up a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 10-0 lead. Robbie Gould pushed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide right and booted a kickoff out of bounds after the Bears had taken a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter. They also continue to struggle in the return game as Chris Williams averaged just 14 yards on three kickoff returns and 5.7 yards on three punt returns. The Bears started three of four possessions following kickoffs inside the 20 at their own 19, 17 and 17.
"We've got to get better," Trestman said. "We've got to get off blocks and we've got to handle the special situation, the fake. We've got to do a better job of handling that."