Rookie DT Stephen Paea makes a big impact
By Mark Potash and Neil hayes firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com October 16, 2011 10:36PM
Donovan McNabb of the Vikings is sacked in the end zone for a saftey by the Bears at Soldier Field. | Jamie Squire~Getty Images
Updated: November 18, 2011 9:02AM
Chris Conte and Major Wright weren’t going to let the Minnesota Vikings receivers get behind them. That’s why at times they lined up 25 yards deep, which they admitted was more than necessary, although the strategy worked during the Bears 39-10 win at Soldier Field.
The Bears latest safety combination helped limit Donovan McNabb to a long throw of 30 yards. Adrian Peterson’s longest run was eight yards.
“We didn’t allow any big plays,” said Conte, who made his first NFL start. “We made some tackles and kept the ball in front of us. We made them beat us and they couldn’t.”
Veteran Chris Harris was inactive for the game and his future could be in doubt after Wright and Conte combined for 10 tackles. The Bears have had a turnstile at safety since Lovie Smith became head coach. That could change after general manager Jerry Angelo acquired Wright and Conte with third-round selections in each of the past two drafts.
The Bears defense held McNabb to just 177 passing yards while Peterson gained only 39 yards.
When Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about invisible rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea this week, he insisted ‘‘we’re still as high on him as we’ve been’’ and indicated Paea’s time would come soon. ‘‘Keep watching,’’ he said.
It didn’t take long to notice him Sunday night.
On his second play in the NFL, Paea sacked Donovan McNabb in the end zone for a safety that gave the Bears a 9-0 lead. On a second-and-eight from the Vikings’ 7-yard line, Paea beat center John Sullivan on the right side and met blitzing linebacker Brian Urlacher to drop McNabb just behind the goal line. On the first play of the next defensive series, he tripped up Adrian Peterson for no gain. That earned Paea more time. He played most of the rest of the first half.
Three rookies who had played sparingly or not at all on defense were given opportunities over veterans. Paea was picked over Amobi Okoye at defensive tackle, Chris Conte started in place of Brandon Meriweather at free safety and defensive end Mario Addison was activated over Nick Reed.
It seemed like a clear indication of just how unhappy Smith is with his defense, which entered Week 6 ranked 28th in total defense and already had allowed three touchdowns (73, 79 and 88 yards) longer than any plays the Bears allowed last season.
Smith also seemed to be sending the Vikings a message when defensive end Julius Peppers started after being listed as ‘‘doubtful’’ on Friday.
That seemed like a not-so-subtle response to the Vikings starting Brett Favre on a Monday night game last Dec. 20 at Minneapolis after Favre had been listed as ‘‘out’’ on Friday and ‘‘questionable’’ on Saturday before that game.
Of the 72 players listed as doubtful in the NFL this season, Peppers is only the second to be active. Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd is the other.
Bits and pieces
The Bears had no false-start penalties in building a 26-3 lead in the first half. They had nine against the Lions last Monday.
◆ Jay Cutler earned a big cheer from the crowd when he cut-blocked Jared Allen when Matt Forte reversed field on a two-yard loss in the first quarter.
◆ D.J. Moore, who returned an interception of McNabb 56 yards for a touchdown last year against the Redskins, nearly had another touchdown but couldn’t hang on to the ball.