CHICAGO – The best defense in the NFC North belongs to …
The Chicago Bears.
No, that’s not a final 2018 verdict. Yes, the Vikings still have a good defense. No, there was no proverbial torch passed at Soldier Field because the Vikings could flip the script again next month when these teams meet at U.S. Bank Stadium in the regular-season finale.
But for this night, Sunday night, a national TV audience saw the Bears play the best defense in a division won by Mike Zimmer’s superior Vikings defense two of the past three years.
The result: Bears 25, Vikings 20.
Yeah, both defenses had three takeaways. Yes, the Vikings defense actually gave up fewer points (17) than the Bears defense (20) did.
But the Bears defense grabbed hold of this game in the first half while the Vikings defense was off-balance and unable to stop the run. The Bears offense — which looks a lot like the offense of rookie coach Matt Nagy’s former team, the Chiefs — had 115 of their 148 yards rushing in the first half.
At that point, six ballcarriers had combined for 23 carries and a 5.0 average. The Bears got away from the run in the second half, but it was still the kind of game in which Tarik Cohen was able to run 21 yards for a first down on second-and-21.
“The Vikings have one of the best defenses in the NFL,” Nagy said. “So I’m very proud we were able to do what we did against them.
“They’re breaking world records on third-down defense. So for us to convert 50 percent [6-for-12], we’ll take that.”
Besides Eddie Jackson’s 27-yard pick-six — which gave Chicago a 22-6 third-quarter lead — the Bears also got a red-zone takeaway when NFL Defensive Player of the Year runaway leader Khalil Mack stripped Dalvin Cook of the ball and fell on it at the Chicago 15.
That came on the Vikings’ second possession. They had five of them in the first half. Three were three-and-outs, while the other two were turnovers inside the 20.
“Another example of letting our defense down,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said. “We have to play better than that. Start faster. Do the things you have to do to win games in this league. We did the opposite [Sunday].”
On the flip side, the Bears refused to budge whenever their offense turned the ball over.
Mitchell Trubisky threw the first of two interceptions in the second quarter. No problem.
The Vikings went three-and-out with two incompletions and a 1-yard run.
Trubisky’s second interception gave the Vikings the ball at the Chicago 31 in the third quarter. No problem.
It took the Vikings 3 minutes, 15 seconds to move 13 yards in eight plays for a 36-yard field goal to make it a 14-3 game.
On the Bears’ next possession, Cohen fumbled at the Chicago 29-yard line. No problem. Again.
It took the Vikings 2:33 to move 11 yards in five plays for another 36-yard field goal and a 14-6 deficit. One play after a nice 10-yard red-zone completion to Ameer Abdullah, Akiem Hicks blew up the interior of the Vikings line and crushed Cousins for a 10-yard loss on third-and-2.
“Our defense continued to amaze the offense, the fans,” Trubisky said, “and everybody else.”
The Bears improved to 7-3, while the Vikings dropped to 5-4-1. The Bears have a quick turnaround at Detroit on Thanksgiving, while the Vikings play another Sunday night game against the Packers at home.
If the Vikings can keep pace, they will have a chance to reclaim the title of best defense in the division next month. And maybe next time, the offense can start faster and help out.
“Chicago has a good defense,” Thielen said. “They had our number tonight, obviously. But, obviously, we didn’t help ourselves either. We were moving the ball pretty well. But when you get in the red zone and turn the ball over, that’s how you lose games.”
Of course, Khalil and Da Bears also could argue that’s how defenses win games.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org