The Bears defense was probably going to be good anyway.
Their preseason trade for Khalil Mack turned the pressure up a notch, and their performance has followed.
Mack was dominant Sunday night in their 25-20 win over the Vikings, collecting a sack, batting down a pass and forcing and recovering a fumble.
That moved him to 8.0 sacks on the season, well above his pace the past two years with the Raiders (11.0 in 2016 and 10.5 in 2017). Mack had nine forced fumbles in 64 games with the Raiders. In 10 games with the Bears, he already has five.
His game was the most visible part of a defense that throttled a Vikings offense which has shown signs of competence this year.
The Vikings gained just 268 yards, however, and turned the ball over three times (and those yardage numbers were padded heavily late in the game). It was the kind of defense Chicago fans have seen in the past, and are beginning to grow accustomed to again. The fact the Bears finished this one (unlike the opener against the Packers) is only going to raise the expectations again.
And at nearly every turn, this defense is meeting them.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is now the NFL’s leading rusher among quarterbacks, of course.
Trubisky surpassed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton‘s yardage total in the second quarter. He finished the game with 43 rushing yards and now has 51 carries for 363 yards and three touchdowns (including his late kneel-downs, which they’ll take). Newton has 72 carries for 354 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Of course, Newton has a history of success with his feet so you expect it, but Trubisky’s talent in the open field is apparent, as he has a sense of when to scramble and enough moves to make tacklers miss.
The only thing Trubisky seems to struggle with is sliding, as he doesn’t appear to have baseball background whatsoever. It’s more of a graceful collapse, as if he’s on fire and trying to put himself out.
Which, if you think about it, he kind of is.
2. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had played reasonably well in prime time games before Sunday night.
But man, do his teams keep losing a lot of them.
Prior to this one, Cousins had played in 15 night games, and had 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and a 99.5 passer rating.
His teams were 4-11 in those games.
Sunday, he was 30-of-46 for 262 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 76.5 rating. And, they lost.
Win-loss records might not be a fair way to measure any individual player’s success in a complicated, interconnected game. That would be a reasonable explanation, except for the $84 million reasons the Vikings have for Cousins to lead them to games played under the brightest of lights.
3. Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller is clearly a student of history.
At least the history of taunting Vikings cornerbacks.
When he scored his touchdown in the second quarter, he dropped to the ground, and started paddling an imaginary boat. It was a throwback to Panthers wideout Steve Smith’s celebration against the Vikings in 2005.
That one was a clear reference to Fred Smoot’s involvement in the Vikings “Love Boat” scandal, in which multiple players were alleged to have been involved with things Miller shouldn’t have known about at the time — since he was three days short of his ninth birthday the night of the original incident.
4. While the outside pressure the Bears are creating is easy to see, it’s also clear they’re getting plenty from inside as well.
The job Akiem Hicks is doing in the middle of the line is impressive, a constant source of pressure via the shortest distance between two points.
The unblocked sack in the second half (when he nearly swallowed Cousins, and might have been called for landing on him with all his weight if it was earlier in the season when they were still calling those) was impressive for its impact. But Hicks offers the kind of consistent play that provides a solid foundation for the rest of an excellent defense.
5. If there’s anyone who deserved a good night for the Bears, it was kicker Cody Parkey.
He hit a 33-yard field goal to open the scoring, and to allow himself and the Solider Field crowd a sigh of relief.
He hit the uprights four times last week, and had helicopters hovering overhead as he practiced in the stadium this week. It was the kind of attention that makes a kicker’s life a weekly crucible.
He also hit an extra point early, and was able to regain some of the confidence that had to be shaken a week ago. That came in handy, when his 48-yard field goal iced the game late.
The fact coach Matt Nagy put him in position to win it was a statement of belief, which will serve the Bears well as a team, knowing their special teams can be trusted.