The Chicago Bears, a team trudging toward tee times and offseason vacations, never really stood a chance Sunday, yet a flicker of hope emerged for about two minutes.
Trailing 17-7, the Bears caught the Vikings by surprise with an onside kick to start the second half.
Good call, positive result, perhaps a chance to create some anxiety on the Vikings sideline by cutting into their lead.
Brian Robison took a machete to that paper narrative with a pass rusher’s dream — a sack/strip/fumble recovery trifecta — that encapsulated a dominating performance by the Vikings defensive line in a 38-17 victory.
“I think it was the play of the game,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
Fitting that it came from their defensive line. Teddy Bridgewater’s name appears in bright lights and big headlines for his performance in the team’s ninth victory, but the defensive line deserves a celebratory toast, as well.
That unit played its best game of the season without its injured anchor, Linval Joseph.
The line accounted for four sacks, three tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, two pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a partridge in a pear tree.
“That was our best game as a unit, and it showed on the stat sheet,” tackle Sharrif Floyd said.
Defensive end Everson Griffen put it more bluntly.
“Basically we went out there and we dominated,” he said.
Robison’s stat-stuffer play served as the signature moment. The Bears had the ball at the Vikings 41, at worst thinking field goal and one-score game.
On the snap, Robison treated Bears right tackle Kyle Long like a turnstile on his rush. He noticed Jay Cutler step up in the pocket and leave the football exposed in his right hand.
Robison swatted the ball free and saw it on the turf, within his grasp like a perfectly prepared filet mignon.
“It almost just laid there for me like, ‘Here I am,’ ” Robison said.
He pounced, the Vikings offense scored on the ensuing drive and the game was essentially over at that point.
The defensive linemen dictated the entire tenor of the game. They got consistent pressure on Cutler and didn’t miss a beat without their behemoth nose tackle, Joseph.
“I think we’re the top D-line in the league,” said Justin Trattou, a third-team defensive end who intercepted a Cutler pass in the fourth quarter.
He’s biased, of course, but the line’s depth and ability to generate an inside pass rush make it a cut above others.
Trattou has played in only three games this season but has two interceptions, tying a team record for picks by a defensive lineman in a season.
Trattou usually is inactive on game days, unable to crack the lineup. He was waived before the Vikings’ previous game at Arizona because the team needed help with its depleted secondary. The Vikings brought Trattou back this past week.
On Sunday, he snuffed out a screen and snagged Cutler’s pass, setting up a late touchdown.
“I’m starting to think we need to put him in coverage more,” Robison joked of Trattou’s interception total in such a small sample size. “That’s the thing about our unit. We have so many guys that can play some good ball.”
That’s become the hallmark of the defensive line. Regardless of who plays, the unit generally produces. The Vikings roll out a legitimate two-deep.
Tom Johnson has emerged as a valuable contributor in the tackle rotation.
Danielle Hunter once looked like a raw project at defensive end, but his 1½ sacks Sunday pushed his season sack total to five — fifth-most by a Vikings rookie, trailing Kevin Williams, Don Hultz, Carl Eller and Alan Page.
“That tells you that depth isn’t a problem,” Floyd said. “Man down, man up. That’s what we believe in. Doesn’t matter who’s in, who’s not. You’ve still got to play tough.”
Few teams could match the defensive line firepower the Vikings fielded with Jared Allen and the Williams Wall not too long ago. That front four was special.
This current defensive line is carving out its own identity as a deep, relentless group capable of making offenses look miserable. Just like the Bears on Sunday.
“Guys love each other out here,” Johnson said.