After a 3-6 start to the season, the Chicago Bears defense held a players only film session last week preceding Sunday’s victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The meeting resulted in a firmer group mentality, one that allowed them to play at a much higher level against their NFC North foes.
“Guys just understood: what do we have to lose at that point? So go out and make plays and have fun and that’s what we did,” Jared Allen said. “It transferred over into guys making big plays and us performing well.”
That nothing-to-lose mentality resulted in an efficiently dominant defensive performance, albeit against a rookie quarterback who struggled. The Bears held Minnesota’s offense to 243 net yards, while Teddy Bridgewater threw for just 158 yards, was intercepted once and sacked twice.
“We went out there and held them to a field goal on the first drive after a penalty. We would’ve had a three-and-out without that penalty. Then you could just kind of feel the momentum building,” Allen said. “You just kind of pick up that confidence. You get in the rhythm of the defense and the rhythm of the game.”
Confidence, momentum, rhythm … these are the things Chicago’s defense has lacked for most of the season, particularly when the Patriots and Packers were rolling up 50-plus in consecutive weeks.
The Vikings aren’t a powerhouse offense, yet that was exactly what the doctor ordered for a Bears defense put through the ringer the previous two weeks. The goal now is to build on Sunday’s performance and carry that momentum into this week’s contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Obviously we were facing a rookie quarterback but this is a professional team. It was an important [win] for us,” said Lance Briggs. “Once you start your first three-and-out, that’s where the steps toward getting everything corrected or the process to getting back on the right path begins. So for us getting that win and playing good defense against the Vikings is good because we have to start there and this week against the Bucs continue that on.”
Last week’s success coincides with a unit that is as healthy as it’s going to be all season. Lamarr Houston and Charles Tillman are on IR but other than that, the Bears are healthy on defense. That includes a linebacker corps that has finally found its groove within the four-man rotation.
Defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea are both in good shape and have been stout against the run all year, while Allen’s strong performance against Minnesota – five tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits – could kick-start him into weekly productivity. Even safety Ryan Mundy made a play, clinching the game with an interception in the final moments.
“We had very few mistakes in that game,” coordinator Mel Tucker said. “We tackled well in the game. We were on the same page throughout the entire game. We executed the calls that we made, and we played fast, and we played all the way through for 60 minutes.
“I just thought that we got better and we did what we needed to do to win that game. So now we’re on to a new opponent.”
The Buccaneers have one of the worst offenses in the league – 25th in scoring, 28th overall, 28th in rushing, 19th in passing – so Chicago’s defense has a good chance to stack consecutive strong outings.
Obviously, neither Tampa Bay nor Minnesota boast elite offenses but you can’t discount the value of momentum and how players feed off strong performances. If the Bears defense dominates on Sunday, they’ll head into the Thanksgiving contest against the Detroit Lions coming off back-to-back quality outings. Having that under their belts could give the defense the boost it needs to shut down a potentially explosive Lions offense.
Consider this: if the Bears win against the Buccaneers and can pull off the upset in Detroit, they’ll raise their record to 6-6 with a tiebreaker over the Lions. Currently, Chicago is just two games out of an NFC wildcard spot. The playoffs are not yet out of reach.
First up, the 2-8 Bucs who should be very beatable at Soldier Field. Who knows where a shutdown outing against Tampa Bay could take this team. Detroit is three games ahead in the division yet they head to New England this week and have two games left against the Bears. Crazier things have happened.
If the Bears take care of business this Sunday, and the Lions lose against the Patriots, the Thanksgiving contest takes on renewed significance.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.