LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Defensive end Akiem Hicks refers to the Chicago Bears’ defense as dominant.
Resilient might be a more appropriate description.
The NFC North champion Bears (11-4) keep bouncing back from difficult situations to bring the heat on defense, and are within sight of achieving one major goal they set before the season as they head to Minnesota for Sunday’s regular-season finale with the Vikings (8-6-1).
“Dominant, that’s it,” Hicks said. “We are aggressive. We like to hit.
“All the stuff that I was telling (media) before the season started, we’re everything that we said we were. And hopefully we can get to another level for these playoffs.”
It hasn’t been a solid, steady rise for coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense, yet they rank fourth in the league and are No. 1 at taking away the ball with 36 turnovers forced.
Prior to this season, Hicks and many Bears spoke openly about trying to get into the top five in overall league rankings. Whether it’s pass-rush pressure from Khalil Mack or a secondary that plays tight coverage, the defense is making it difficult for offenses at the right time.
“It’s just that we’ve continued to play better, we’ve avoided the self-inflicted bad plays that we had in the Giant game, which contributed to our failings in that game,” Fangio said.
The Bears’ defense struggled and gave up 23 of the Giants’ 30 points Dec. 2 in a 30-27 overtime defeat. Since then, they have allowed a touchdown only once: a 9-yard run around end against Green Bay. They beat the Rams 15-6, the Packers 24-17 and, last week, the 49ers 14-9.
They bounced back in a similar way earlier this year after allowing more than 30 points in back-to-back losses to Miami and New England.
“When we have a team like that, we’re scary to other teams,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We haven’t even played our best ball, but it’s getting there.”
Trevathan has taken to calling this a classic bend-but-don’t break defense because the Bears can get into trouble, then come up with a big turnover like his interception in the red zone to help beat the 49ers.
“It looks a little gloomy out there, but we never stumble over ourselves, we never think twice,” Trevathan said.
If there was a time this season for the Bears to take a step back on defense, this could have been it. They lost safety Eddie Jackson to an ankle injury and it’s possible he’ll miss a second straight game Sunday. Nickel defensive back Bryce Callahan had his strong season cut short three weeks ago by a broken foot.
However, the defense flourished with Deon Bush at safety and Sherrick McManis at nickel corner.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been losing a lot of players every year,” safety Adrian Amos said. “It’s just next man up, stay to our assignments, everybody going to practice and everybody doing well.”
The Bears finished with eight key defensive players on injured reserve last year and six the previous season. But this year they’ve been relatively healthy.
“We lost two key pieces a little bit the last couple weeks, but it’s just about how we respond. Don’t flinch,” Amos said. “We just are a close-knit team, a good team, and good teams overcome adversity. In an NFL season, there is going to be adversity.”
The Bears lead the league in interceptions (27), fewest points allowed to opposing offenses (16.8 per game) and lowest opposing quarterback passer rating (72.5).
Individually, Kyle Fuller is tied for the NFL interceptions lead with Miami’s Xavien Howard at seven, and Mack is tied for the league lead with six forced fumbles.
Defense is setting off a Chicago fan fervor, as it always has — from Lovie Smith’s units to the 1985 champions to the Dick Butkus era.
Fangio is from the New York-Philadelphia area and said he didn’t quite realize how much defense meant to Bears fans when he came to Chicago in 2015, although he’d been told once by the late Jim Finks, a former Bears general manager.
“Jim Finks, my good buddy, told me way back when that if I ever had a chance to come to Chicago, I needed to because it’s a good sports town,” Fangio said. “They love the Bears, they love defense and we’re starting to feel that.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue it this Sunday and into the playoffs.”
Fangio said it surprised him when even the defensive coordinator got recognized in public like Mack, even if it was a bit of a rarity.
“I got recognized one time in the four years here when I was out in public. I think that’s it,” Fangio said. “Just in a gas station paying for my gas.”
NOTES: Jackson (ankle), wide receiver Allen Robinson II (ribs) and linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) missed practice for the second straight day Thursday. … Defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson missed Thursday’s practice due to illness.
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