Next men up in Bears’ secondary get job done

With rookie Thomas Graham playing a starring role and backups Kindle Vildor, Deon Bush, Teez Tabor and Marqui Christian making plays, the Bears’ makeshift defensive backfield held Justin Jefferson to four catches for 47 yards and Kirk Cousins to 87 passing yards.

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Bears cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (27) breaks up a pass intended for Vikings wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (15) in the first half of the Bears’ 17-9 loss Monday night at Soldier Field.

Bears cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (27) breaks up a pass intended for Vikings wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (15) in the first half of the Bears’ 17-9 loss Monday night at Soldier Field.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

As it turned out, Flipper Anderson’s NFL single-game record of 336 receiving yards was safe.

There was no telling what might happen with every member of the Bears’ starting secondary on the reserve/COVID-19 list for the team’s game Monday against the Vikings at Soldier Field. With nothing but backups, rookies and unproven players to fill in — and practice-squad players backing them up — it could have gotten ugly.

Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who entered the game with 85 receptions for 1,288 yards and eight touchdowns — and had 135 and 104 yards in two games against the Bears last season — was a threat to run wild against the Bears’ inexperienced defensive backs. And quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is perfectly capable of picking on a weak secondary, had the opportunity of a lifetime.

But that threat was never realized. In fact, the Bears’ reworked secondary acquitted itself well and looked like it belonged in a 17-9 loss to the Vikings.

And a player emerged. Rookie cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., a sixth-round draft pick who was the least experienced of them all, played a starring role with three impressive pass breakups. Cornerbacks Kindle Vildor and Marqui Christian and safety Teez Tabor all played well. Deon Bush was burned for a touchdown but came back to get an interception.

‘‘It was relentless,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said. ‘‘Twelve possessions, six three-and-outs. The interceptions. You feel the energy, the passion, the fight. And as a head coach, I don’t know how you can’t absolutely love that. It was impressive. I appreciate the way they came in and fought under the circumstances.’’

The secondary survived with a helping hand from the front seven, which produced four sacks. Jefferson burned Bush for a touchdown in the first quarter but ended up with only four receptions for 47 yards. Cousins finished 12-for-24 for 87 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a 69.3 passer rating.

The Bears were missing cornerback Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns and safeties Tashaun Gipson and Eddie Jackson, all of whom were on the COVID-19 list.

Vildor, Bush and Tabor all had starting experience in the NFL. Vildor, in fact, started the first 10 games of the season before being replaced by Burns. But Graham, a rookie from Oregon, couldn’t be much more green. He opted out of the 2020 college season because of COVID concerns and had been on the practice squad all season.

As it turned out, it was Graham who made the best impression. He made a diving breakup in the end zone of a pass intended for tight end Tyler Conklin, anticipating Conklin’s break to the inside.

Graham showed up again in the second quarter, when he broke up a deep ball intended for receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette down the right sideline on third-and-seven from the Vikings’ 15 to force a punt.

He had another impressive pass breakup in the third quarter, leaping to tip a deep ball intended for Jefferson that fell incomplete.

Bush caught a tough break when he was called for unnecessary roughness on what looked like an aggressive pass breakup against Conklin over the middle. Nagy was so incensed by the call that he drew a unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for another 12 yards to the Bears’ 12-yard line.

Bush’s luck turned late in the first half, however, when he had an easy interception on a deep ball by Cousins. Jefferson had been tripped by Christian near the line of scrimmage, so Bush was the only player in the area when Cousins threw deep.

Inevitably, there was a costly miscommunication, with Bush and Vildor getting crossed up and leaving Smith-Marsette open for a seven-yard touchdown catch that gave the Vikings a 17-3 lead with 5:51 left in the third quarter.

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