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Bears’ defense is making progress, but it needs to learn how to finish

SAN DIEGO — Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who gets more joy out of playing football than most, loves playing against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

“He talks a lot of trash,” McPhee said. “It’s all competitive stuff. He’ll get in your face. He’s a great guy. He’s a fun guy to play against. I played him three years [with the Ravens]. You hit him, and he’ll get up and tell you to keep bringing it. That’s the fun part about playing Philip Rivers.”

As much fun as it is, McPhee knows the challenge against Rivers and the Chargers on Monday night at Qualcomm Stadium will be not only outtalking Rivers, but also outplaying him.

“I don’t want to make it seem like he’s just trash talking,” McPhee said. “I’m looking forward to playing against him.”

The challenge presents an opportunity for the defense to prove something after faltering in the clutch last week against the Vikings. The unit feels like it let one get away by allowing two scoring drives in the final 4:55 after holding the Vikings to two field goals in the first 55:05.

The defense is in a formative stage, but it’s making progress under coordinator Vic Fangio. The collapse against the Vikings was a sign of how close it is and how far it has to go. The Bears are ninth in the NFL in yards allowed (342 per game) but 23rd in defensive points allowed (23.9 per game).

“The only problem we have is finishing,” defensive end Jarvis Jenkins said. “We have to put four quarters together instead of three.”

The Bears’ minus-14 differential between their ranking in yards (ninth) and points (23rd) is a sure sign of an inefficient defense. The good teams generally are the opposite. The Patriots are 12th in yards allowed but sixth in points; the Packers are 23rd in yards but eighth in points.

Fangio’s best defenses with the 49ers were always strong in yards/points differential — fourth in yards/second in points in 2011; third in yards/second in points in 2012; and fifth in yards/third in points in 2013. Last year, the 49ers faltered — they were fifth in yards and 10th in points — and finished 8-8. That’s one reason why Fangio is here today.

The Bears’ don’t know yet how to put the hammer down. Against the Vikings, they led 20-13 with less than five minutes to play and the Vikings facing second-and-17 at their 9-yard line after McPhee sacked Teddy Bridgewater. But Bridgewater scrambled for 18 yards on the next play. The previous week against the Lions, the Bears led 31-24 with the Lions facing third-and-13 at their 17 with seven minutes to go. Matthew Stafford threw a 13-yard completion to Golden Tate for the first down.

“We have to find a better way to close out games and finish games with an attitude,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “That’s where we’re losing our edge.”

Attitude, though, is a tough thing to develop when you’re losing. That’s another challenge the defense faces. But there’s always hope with Fangio running the show.

“We had one of our best weeks of practice,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “We’ve been doing a lot of good things right. We just have to carry that over on Monday night.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com