BEARS_VIKINGS_FOOTBALL_80858140_e1546386244416.jpg

The Bears were all over Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in their 24-10 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Roy Robertson-Harris (left) and Akiem Hicks (96) apply pressure in the second half. | Bruce Kluckhohn/AP photo

First-and-10: Sky’s the limit for Bears’ defense after Minnesota masterpiece

SHARE First-and-10: Sky’s the limit for Bears’ defense after Minnesota masterpiece
SHARE First-and-10: Sky’s the limit for Bears’ defense after Minnesota masterpiece

For a Bears defense that raised the bar throughout the second half of the season and cleared it almost every time, the performance against the Vikings on Sunday was the ultimate achievement.

Knowing they had a playoff berth locked up and facing a desperate team playing at home that ostensibly needed to win to make the postseason, the defense still imposed its will. It was an impressive display of mental toughness — the Bears played like the team that absolutely had to win and made the Vikings look like the team that was coasting into the playoffs.

Against an offense that had blitzed its previous two opponents in the first half at U.S. Bank Stadium — the Vikings gained 252 yards against the Dolphins and 280 against the Packers — the Bears held the Vikings to four consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and 49 yards on 25 carries in the first half.

The stellar performance cemented the Bears’ status as the best defense in the playoffs — not a bad calling card to have considering the last five Super Bowl champions have ranked fourth, first, fourth, eighth and first in total defense.

The Bears’ defense, in fact, ended the regular season ranked in the top-10 in every major statistical category — including first in yards per play (4.8), rushing yards (80.0), passing yards per attempt (5.7), interception percentage (27 in 615 attempts), first downs (17.4 per game), third-down efficiency (34.2 percent) and points allowed (16.4 per game).

The last NFL defense that was ranked in the top 10 in every major category was the 2013 Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl that season. The Bears’ average ranking of 2.7 in all 11 categories is the lowest since the 2008 Steelers (two), who also won the Super Bowl. Even defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has to be happy with that accomplishment.

“I still feel like we’re scratching the surface,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “All that doesn’t matter if we’re not good this week [against the Eagles on Sunday in the wild-card round]. However, we are proud of what we’ve accomplished. Vic has been building something great here for a while. To be the No. 1 defense and to accomplish everything that we did — those were definitely goals of ours.”

2.The dominance of the Bears’ defense has raised Fangio’s profile to a degree that finally could get him a head-coaching position. The Broncos have requested permission to interview Fangio for their vacancy, the Sun-Times confirmed. The Dolphins have, too, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Getting the right job could be a paradox for Fangio. He’s likely to prefer a spot with a developing/franchise quarterback in place. But with the success of the Rams’ Sean McVay and the Bears’ Matt Nagy, teams that have those quarterbacks in place might prefer a quarterback guru to maximize the position.

Fangio, 60, has said he would like to be a head coach, but he won’t sell his soul to reach that pinnacle. And with coaches such as Steve Wilks (one season) and Vance Joseph (two) getting launched after short tenures, he isn’t likely to take just any opportunity. With a well-paid job as coordinator of the best defense in the NFL to fall back on, Fangio can afford to be picky.

3.The Bears’ first-half defensive dominance of the Vikings is the latest testament to their preparedness under Fangio.

The Bears led the NFL in first-half defense — 100.3 yards per game, 3.6 yards per play and six first downs per game — and that includes 166 yards allowed after taking big leads against the Buccaneers (35-3), Bills (28-0) and Lions (26-0).

Nobody was even close to the Bears in first-half defense. The Cowboys were next in yards (150.0) and first downs (8.8). The Ravens were a distant second in yards per play (five). In fact, the Bears’ 3.6 yards allowed per play in the first half is the lowest in at least the last 20 years, according to research via pro-football-reference.com. Since 2000, only the 2008 Steelers (4.01) and 2015 Broncos (4.11) are close. Both won the Super Bowl.

4.The Bears’ not only went 12-4 this season, but they were a play away from winning every game. They lost to the Packers by 1, the Dolphins by three in overtime, the Patriots by seven and the Giants by three in overtime.

This is the first Bears team to not lose a game by more than seven points since 1963, when George Halas won his last NFL -championship.

RELATED

• Mr. Positive: Bears kicker Cody Parkey focuses on having the right mindset

• One year after firing John Fox, it’s clear Bears found right voice in Matt Nagy

5.Former Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub shouldn’t be that far behind Fangio among veteran coordinators deserving of a head-coaching opportunity.

Toub, in his sixth season with the Chiefs, has the Andy Reid tree going for him. In fact, with all the success Kansas City products have had recently — Nagy, the Eagles’ Doug Pederson, Colts general manager Chris Ballard and Browns GM John Dorsey — you’d think more people would be knocking on Toub’s door.

6.At this time last year, the Bears had 15 players on injured reserve, including 10 starters. This week, they have three — nickel back Bryce Callahan, linebacker Sam Acho and tight end Dion Sims.

The addition of guard Kyle Long from injured reserve gives the Bears a rare late-season boost — the biggest since quarterback Rex Grossman returned in Week 15 in 2005 after missing the first 13 games with a broken ankle.

7.Long will play in his first playoff game after 73 games with the Bears. Only cornerback Sherrick McManis (99 games) and punter Pat O’Donnell (79) have played more games with the Bears without playing in the postseason.

Linebacker Doug Buffone played in 155 games with the Bears before he played in his first postseason game in 1977. But at least he got to play in one. Dick Butkus (119 games), running back Gale Sayers (68), cornerback Joe Taylor (108), tackle Randy Jackson (105), guard/defensive tackle George Seals (98) and wide receiver Dick Gordon (97) are among those Bears who never played in the playoffs.

8.The key to most Cinderella seasons is not just your team improving, but everybody else getting worse. The Bears’ strength-of-schedule ended up being last in the NFL — their 16 opponents had a combined record of 108-144-4 (.430). Last season, those same 16 opponents had a combined record of 133-123 (.520).

Eleven of the Bears’ 16 games were against teams that had worse records in 2018 than in 2017. Six were against teams whose coach was fired.

8a.The Bears’ defense still did well relative to the competition. The Bears’ 16 opponents averaged 344.6 yards and 21.1 points per game. The Bears’ defense held them to 299.7 yards and 16.4 points per game. The Bears held 13 of their 16 opponents below their season average in yards and 11 of their 16 opponents below their scoring average.

9.Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Colts wide receiver -Dontrelle Inman had five receptions for 77 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown catch from Andrew Luck in a 33-17 victory over the Titans that clinched a wild-card berth.

10.Bear-ometer: Playoffs: vs. Eagles (W); at Rams (W); at Saints (W); vs. Chiefs (L).

The Latest
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
The team will celebrate its 2021 WNBA championship with a ceremony at Wintrust Arena.
Patrick Wisdom has homered in four straight games, a feat no Cub has accomplished since Anthony Rizzo in 2015.
Our children have a right to expect more from our leaders, especially in the home of the world’s first juvenile court.