Bears Line Dominates; Braunecker Catches Pass In Win Over Vikings

By Larry Mayer / Bears.com Beat Writer

Ferdinand-native Ben Braunecker during pre-season camp with the Chicago Bears. PHOTO: Chicago Bears

Ferdinand-native Ben Braunecker during pre-season camp with the Chicago Bears.
PHOTO: Chicago Bears

Chicago (Bears.com) – The Bears faced a difficult challenge Monday night at Soldier Field, limping into their Halloween contest against the NFC North-leading Vikings with a three-game losing streak.

But coach John Fox’s team responded with its most impressive performance of the 2016 season, riding an productive offense and inspired defense to a stunning 20-10 victory.

“I think it was probably our best team effort so far,” Fox said. “I think it was evident that these guys played very hard for each other. We’ve got a good group that are in that locker room. There were a lot of reasons for it. That’s what playing for each other looks like.”

The defense generated consistent pressure on quarterback Sam Bradford, recording five sacks and allowing the Vikings to convert just 2-of-13 third-down opportunities. The Bears held Minnesota to four straight three-and-outs at one point in the first half in building a 13-0 lead.

Offensively, Jay Cutler (Heritage Hills HS and Vanderbilt) returned after missing the last five games with a sprained right thumb and completed 20 of 31 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and a 100.5 passer rating. His 11-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery early in the second half gave the Bears a 20-3 lead.

Asked to assess Cutler’s performance, Fox said: “He played very well. I think he might have been part of the reason that guys turned it up a notch and I’m glad they did.”

Rookie Jordan Howard brushed for a career-high 153 yards and one TD on 26 carries and caught four passes for 49 yards. He helped the Bears take a 13-0 lead by setting up two Connor Barth field goals with a 69-yard run and 34-yard reception and scoring a TD on a 2-yard run.

The Bears compiled 403 total yards without committing a turnover against a Vikings defense that entered Week 8 ranked No. 1 in the NFL in yards (279.5 per game) and takeaways (16).

Bears rookie Ben Braunecker saw action with the offense for the first time in the 2016 season.  The Forest Park and Harvard grad caught a pass from Cutler for eight yards with 8:35 to go in the second quarter.  Howard scored on a two-yard run on the next play.

An undrafted rookie, Braunecker was elevated from the Bears practice squad week two of the regular season and has seen action primarily on special teams until Monday night.  CLICK HERE TO WATCH “MEET THE ROOKIES” VIDEO FEATURING BRAUNECKER

And they did it without starting guards Kyle Long (triceps) and Josh Sitton  (ankle), both of whom sat out Monday night’s game with injuries. With Ted Larsen at left guard and Eric Kush at right guard, the Bears offensive line opened running lanes and allowed just one sack.

The Bears did not allow a touchdown in the first half for the third straight game. But unlike the previous two weeks when second-half meltdowns led to losses to the Jaguars and Packers, they finished strong on both sides of the ball.

The defense forced punts on Minnesota’s first two possessions of the second half before allowing the Vikings to close the gap to 20-10 on Bradford’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs on fourth-and-six with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The offense then played keep away, producing four first downs and not giving the ball back to the Vikings until there was just :04 left. Howard rushed for 22 yards on the first three plays of the Bears’ final possession and Cutler hit Zach Miller with a 13-yard pass on second-and-11.

“It was a great team win,” Fox said. “We played well on defense. We played well on offense. We had a good drive to start the third quarter. We had a pretty impactful four-minute drive at the end to secure the win. It was just an excellent team win.”

With the victory, the Bears improved to 2-6 heading into their bye week. They’ll return to action Nov. 13 against the Buccaneers (3-4) in Tampa before visiting the Giants (4-3) Nov. 20 and hosting the Titans (4-4) Nov. 27 and 49ers (1-6) Dec. 4 at Soldier Field.

“They’ve stuck together all this time,” Fox said of his players. “It hasn’t been easy at 1-6. Nobody’s satisfied with that. But they’ve remained close. They’ve worked hard, and they’ve had a great attitude. We’re excited to get some time away, heal some guys up and come back for the second half of the season.”

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