By the time the Bears take the field again, Nov. 2 at home against the Lions, they expect to have a healthier defense than the one that's been getting abused recently.
After allowing 41 points and 439 total yards against the Vikings but still escaping with a victory Sunday, the Bears and their banged-up secondary are No. 29 in passing yards allowed, No. 16 in total yards allowed and No. 13 in points allowed. Just two weeks ago they were No. 6 in points and No. 9 in yards allowed.
"Any time you give up 41 points, you're going to be disappointed," defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "We're just fortunate the offense came through."
The Bears hope to have starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman (shoulder) and Nathan Vasher (wrist), along with nickelback Danieal Manning (hamstring) back after the off week, but they will be without CB Zack Bowman, whose biceps injury in his spectacular NFL debut will require surgery.
Bowman scored the Bears' third touchdown Sunday when he recovered a muffed Vikings punt in the end zone and then clinched the victory with his first NFL interception in the final minute – a play that occurred after he suffered the injury.
"At the time he had a biceps injury, so to be able to play through that, it was definitely playing with pain," head coach Lovie Smith said. "That said a lot for him in his first game."
Smith wouldn't admit that the procedure will end Bowman's season, but it almost certainly will.
Corey Graham, who started in place of Vasher for the third straight week and fourth time in the last five games, was unable to finish Sunday because of a blow to the head, but he is expected to be fine in time for the rematch with the Lions.
Vasher was not at Sunday's game, excused for personal reasons, and his extended inactivity has led to speculation that his injury, which has required the surgical insertion of pins in his wrist, is more serious than the Bears are willing to admit. Smith, on Monday, continued to be vague regarding Vasher's status.
"We're trying to win football games, so we'll always be cautious," he said. "When a guy's ready to play, we'll play him. You never know in those type of injuries. Nate hasn't been ready. We thought he would be able to, but it hasn't worked out that way. We think the next time we play he'll be ready to go."
It wasn't all bad for the defense and particularly the secondary Sunday. All of the season-high four interceptions came from defensive backs, and it was the most picks for the Bears since Dec. 3, 2006, when they also had four against the Vikings. But some of the other numbers were ghastly.
"Whenever you give up 41 points, you're not satisfied with that, and we're not," Smith said. "But whenever you can get four takeaways and have a fourth-down stop, that's helping our offense, too. But the total yardage and the points, we have to get that down."
But the defense took solace in preserving – barely – a crucial NFC North victory that gave the Bears a 2-0 record in the division and kept them tied with the Packers for first place at 4-3. The defense bent almost to the breaking point, but it also made several big plays with a decimated backfield.
"They pretty much did whatever they wanted to on offense," free safety Mike Brown said of the Vikings. "They moved the ball up and down the field, scored on – it seemed like – every possession except the ones we got turnovers on. But the bottom line is we had more points at the end, and we found a way to make a play this time on the last drive."
Despite the victory, Brown wasn't very generous in assessing grading the play of the defense.
"It would've been an F, but we got the D-minus because we won," Brown said. "We held our own back there. Toward the end of the game we played a lot of Cover 2, so there were opportunities for them to get yardage in the passing game. But we hung tough and got a pick on the last drive."
In the next game, the defense should at least get a better grade for attendance.
"I don't think we have any egos on our offense to be honest with you," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "It's a group effort. That's how we treat it at practice. That's how we treat it in games. It doesn't matter if we're getting cheered, if we're getting booed – whatever the case is. It's 11 guys in there together trying to get it done, and it's a great feeling out there."
No one has 300 receiving yards yet, but six players have between 200 and 296 yards.
Rashied Davis, who is second on the team with 254 yards and tied for second with 22 catches, had just three receptions for 24 yards Sunday but was credited with a touchdown when he fell on a fumble by tight end Desmond Clark in the end zone.
"It's all about picking up your teammates, and that's what it was," Davis said. "It's a team game. He lost the ball, unfortunately, but I was hustling and I was just trying to pick the team up." …
Devin Hester said the bruised quad that knocked him out of Sunday's game was feeling a lot better on Monday.
Hester was injured on the opening kickoff of the second half when he took a helmet to the thigh, but he anticipates being back for the Lions after this weekend's off date.
The two-time Pro Bowl return specialist did not have an answer for his inability to break a long return yet this season.
"I don't know," he said. "I couldn't even answer that question."
At this point last season, Hester already had three of his NFL-record six kick-return touchdowns. But as he points out, that performance, along with his five kick-return touchdowns in 2006, raised expectations to an unrealistic level.
"For the first two years we set a high expectation, and if we're not returning any punts or anything like that, then it's bad because you set your expectations so high," Hester said. "Right now we're working at it and getting better and better each week, and sooner or later it will come."
Hester's 22.1-yard kickoff-return average is just off his career mark of 23.2, but he's averaging just 5.4 yards on punt returns, almost 9 yards below his career average of 14.1. Opponents continue to use every alternative to make it difficult for Hester to beat them.
"They're just doing what they've been doing since last year toward the end of the season," Hester said. "A lot of bloop kicks, squibbing a lot, hanging the ball up in the air giving the defense time enough to get down – stuff like that." …
Led by Orton's ever-increasing productivity, the offense has performed much better than expected through seven weeks, ranking 13th in total offense and 11th in passing offense. Orton is sixth in the league in passing yards, and his 91.4 passer rating is 14th in the NFL.
"We knew we had a lot of talented players in this room," said tight end Greg Olsen, who caught 6 passes for 74 yards Sunday. "I know a lot of people outside this room didn't give us a lot of credit for [that]. Maybe they weren't high-name guys around the league, and we're fine with that. But we have a lot of guys who contribute and make plays. Obviously it all starts behind center, and up front they're doing a great job. Just all around, I think we have a solid offense."
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