Bears coach Lovie Smith avoided the fourth sub-.500 season of his eight-year tenure, and the team used Sunday’s meaningless finale to take a closer look at backups such as quarterback Josh McCown, running back Kahlil Bell and nickel corner Corey Graham.
The victory takes on somewhat of a bittersweet feeling after defensive leader Brian Urlacher suffered a left knee injury in the fourth quarter on a collision with safety Major Wright, as the two attempted to intercept a Joe Webb pass in the end zone.
The significance of Urlacher's knee inury wasn't immediately known.
What it means: Nothing as it relates to this season, but Smith believes the win sets the tone for a positive offseason. The Bears consider themselves one of the league’s more talented teams, and claim to have learned from a significant rash of injuries that resulted in the club losing five starters -- quarterback Jay Cutler, left tackle Gabe Carimi, running back Matt Forte, left guard Chris Williams and receiver Johnny Knox -- to season-ending injuries.
The key now is for the front office to make the necessary moves in the offseason through free agency and the draft to bolster this team’s depth at several key positions, while seriously upgrading the talent at other spots such as receiver.
Tillman enters record books: Bears cornerback Charles Tillman tacked on another honor to his 2011 Pro Bowl season on Sunday by returning his fifth interception for a touchdown to break a team record.
Tillman snagged a Christian Ponder pass that ricocheted off the fingertips of Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, and returned it 22 yards untouched for a TD with 13:47 remaining in the second quarter to give the Bears a 14-10 lead after Robbie Gould’s extra-point kick.
Tillman’s return broke a tie for the franchise record in interception returns for TDs with Mike Brown and Benny McCrae.
Tillman has returned two INTs for TDS this season and has 535 yards in return yards over his career, which ranks as the second most in franchise history, trailing Richie Pettibon (643). He’s got 30 career interceptions.
Block party: Julius Peppers blocked his 11th career kick (second most in NFL history) Sunday when he batted away a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter by Ryan Longwell. Interestingly, the Bears have now blocked 23 kicks since 2004, which ranks as the most in the NFL over the last eight years, followed by Detroit (17), and four other teams (Arizona, Oakland, Seattle and Tennessee) with 16 apiece.
Peppers finished the season with two blocked field goals, with Israel Idonije tacking on another blocked kick in a Week 14 loss at Denver.
Peppers sighting: While we’re on the subject of Peppers, he finally made an impact on defense, too, after not registering a single statistic in the team’s Dec. 25 loss at Green Bay.
In addition to the blocked field goal, Peppers posted half a sack. He finished with 10.5 sacks on the season.
What’s next: The offseason. The Bears will hold a season-ending press conference on Monday along with exit physicals.