This was looking like the Bears' defense of the old, reminiscent of the one that paved the way to the Super Bowl last season.
Guys swarmed to the ballcarrier. They dusted off their old punishing hits. And "opportunistic" became part of their vocabulary once again.
When a loose ball jarred free by cornerback Nathan Vasher landed in the hands of linebacker Brian Urlacher on the Vikings' first series, the Bears' defensive tone was set against a team that ran all over them at Soldier Field.
"It really wasn't about being embarrassed," cornerback Charles Tillman said. "It was more just about coming out and playing physical … the old-school Bears."
Then the defense fell back into its bad habits in spurts during the second half, probably the result of a banged-up unit wearing down. Those few letdowns, coupled with an offense that couldn't punch it into the end zone, helped the Vikings to escape with a 20-13 win Monday night despite four turnovers.
At 8-6 and winners of five in a row, the Vikings control their own playoff destiny for a wild-card berth. The Bears (5-9) were eliminated from playoff contention and can officially start planning for next season.
"Obviously, we can't play for the playoffs," Tillman said, "but I think it's more of a pride there. What I mean by pride is how are people going to remember you. The true character of a person or player is when they have nothing to play for."
The Vikings had everything to play for, and it showed in the second half. In the third quarter, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson hit receiver Robert Ferguson for what should have been a minimal gain. In turned into a 71-yard completion when at least four Bears failed to get Ferguson down until Tillman stopped him at the Bears' 1-yard line.
It didn't matter because Vikings rookie sensation Adrian Peterson leaped in for the score on the next play. Ryan Longwell's missed extra point kept it 13-12.
The Bears had the lead but not the momentum. The juice the Vikings generated from that long pass play carried over into the fourth quarter. Peterson, held in check the entire first half, started to run with a purpose, and his 8-yard touchdown run with just under 11 minutes remaining, coupled with a successful two-point conversation, gave the Vikings their first lead at 20-13 and 17 unanswered points.
The Bears had one last chance to tie, but Kyle Orton's long pass to Bernard Berrian was picked off by Darren Sharper with 1 minute 56 seconds left to seal it.
"[Berrian] ran a good route and got on top of the safety," Orton said. "I was going to give him the chance, and I wish I would have put the ball out there a little bit farther. I thought it was a chance to tie the game up and make a big play."
Orton finished 22 of 38 for 184 yards. He was sacked once.
The reason the Bears jumped to a 13-6 halftime lead wasn't a result of the offense. It had nothing to do with Devin Hester making an impact on special teams, either, because he was virtually invisible.
The Bears got off to a good start because Urlacher was a beast with that interception, a fumble recovery, two sacks and a pass deflection.
And then there was Vasher.
Making his return from a groin injury after a 10-game absence, Vasher dipped his helmet and hit the ball after Ferguson grabbed it. The ball never touched the ground and squirted right to a waiting Urlacher. The middle linebacker rumbled 12 yards after the pick, giving the Bears ideal scoring position at the Vikings' 14.
The bad news was the offense couldn't convert the turnover into a touchdown. False starts by tackle Fred Miller and guard John St. Clair stalled the drive, and the Bears settled for Robbie Gould's 29-yard field goal.
An interception by Vasher set up the Bears' only touchdown. He stepped in front of a ball intended for former Bear Bobby Wade and nearly returned it for a score. Vasher's 34-yard return gave the Bears the ball at the Vikings' 12.
On the next play, Orton hit Muhsin Muhammad, who was down at the 1. Fullback Jason McKie followed with the first rushing touchdown of his career on a 1-yard plunge.
The Bears had their opportunities on offense in the first half. Four possessions started in Vikings territory. Three ended in scores, but only one in a TD.
Penalties hurt the Bears the entire night. Tillman was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Jackson with 18 seconds left in the first half. One play later, Longwell booted a 48-yard field goal. Lance Briggs got flagged for roughing the passer in the second quarter on a drive that ended with Longwell's 42-yard field goal.
"Didn't take advantage of the opportunities," Tillman said, "myself included. I dropped a pick I should have had. Just little things like that, not making the plays when you need to."
That has been the story for the Bears all season long.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times