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Greene’s interception, Peppers’ overall play gave Bears a chance

Updated: January 31, 2014 3:25AM

MINNEAPOLIS — It could have been a game-saving — possibly season-saving — play made by a rookie playing in place of star linebacker Lance Briggs on the Bears’ injury-riddled defense.

“The ball was just in the air,” linebacker Khaseem Greene said of his fourth-quarter interception against the Vikings on the Bears’ 1-yard line. “I saw it, and I just grabbed it.”

And then Greene chugged out a 49-yard return — he arguably was one block on quarterback Matt Cassel away from scoring a touchdown — to give the Bears a chance to stick with the Lions in the NFC North.

In the end, it turned out to be just another defensive highlight in an improved but still lacking performance for a maligned defense in a wild — and thoroughly absurd — 23-20 overtime loss to the Vikings.

“We lost,” Greene said. “It does not feel good at all.”

And as defensive end Julius Peppers said, “it’s tough” and “it’s disappointing” when the Bears get a number of standout individual performances on defense.

Peppers, for starters, had 21/2 sacks, a pass defended and eight tackles, including two for loss. Backup safety Craig Steltz, who played in place of injured starter Major Wright, had a team-high 12 tackles (nine solo) and played a key role in slowing down running back Adrian Peterson early on.

The defense was stout and aggressive with stunts and blitzes early. It ended three first-quarter drives with three sacks of Christian Ponder (who later left with a concussion) on third down.

“Yeah, we played a little better,” Peppers said. “It was a pretty good performance, but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough. That’s what it was.”

The offense deserves ample blame for the Bears being 6-6 — “Offensively, we really stopped ourselves,” coach Marc Trestman said — but there are still plays from Sunday that the defense undoubtedly regrets.

It starts with receiver Cordarrelle Patterson’s 33-yard touchdown run on a sweep. He broke a tackle by Steltz and sidestepped Greene, safety Chris Conte and defensive end Shea McClellin. It includes seeing Peterson finish with 211 yards on 35 carries, including a 19-yard run on fourth-and-short that opened the door for Greg Jennings’ eight-yard touchdown catch three plays later. There also was linebacker Jon Bostic’s taunting penalty after an impressive third-down tackle at the Bears’ 12-yard line.

But nothing is worse and more unbearable than allowing Cassel (20-for-33 and 243 yards) to complete a 20-yard pass to receiver Jerome Simpson on 4th-and-11 from their 8-yard line in the final two minutes of regulation.

“We had a backside in-cut against split-safety coverage,” Cassel said. “[Simpson] did a good job of winning and we were able to hit it and continue to move forward.”

Trestman called it “certainly disappointing.”

“That’s one play — and it boils down to a lot of plays — but it would have been great to get off the field there,” Steltz said.

A stop at that moment and all the madness and missed field goals afterward don’t happen. A stop there and the Bears escape a substandard offensive performance, while their defense gains some much-needed traction for their stretch run.

“They were making more plays than we were — it’s plain and simple,” Bostic said. “We have to go back and look at the film and be real critical of ourselves.”

The defense tied its season high with five sacks and the line got its hands on four passes. Having tackles Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff in their rotation absolutely helped.

“I’m not sure what to take or to leave behind,” Peppers said.

“We’re still alive [in the playoff race]. I think that’s pretty much it. We’re still alive.”


Twitter: @adamjahns

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