Peppers leaves no doubt with 2 sacks

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers celebrates with linebacker Lance Briggs after sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb in the third quarter Sunday night at Soldier Field.

    Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers celebrates with linebacker Lance Briggs after sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb in the third quarter Sunday night at Soldier Field. George Leclaire | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/17/2011 12:08 AM

Julius Peppers started at right defensive end, even though he did not practice all week and was listed as "doubtful" on Friday, meaning there was a 25 percent chance that he would play Sunday night.

He started and played probably his best game of the season, getting 2 sacks to double his season total. Peppers was fitted with a special knee brace, similar to what offensive linemen often wear to play.

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Told that his teammates all said they "knew" he'd play, Peppers said a bit indignantly: "Nobody told me."

When it was explained that his teammates said that because they assumed he'd never sit out, he calmed down.

"That was never a question, my 'want-to,' " he said. "My want-to was never in question. It was just if I was going to get to (play). That was the question, that the training staff and coach (Lovie) Smith decided they wanted me to play."

The defense allowed 96 fewer yards on Sunday night than it had in any of the previous five games.

"We played better," Peppers said. "It was an improvement and progress. That's about it, really. We didn't do anything that we don't expect to do. We just got better than we've been playing."

Making a name:

Several factors figured into free safety Chris Conte getting his first NFL start Sunday night, and his performance in practice and on special teams were two keys.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"A lot of athletic ability," coach Lovie Smith said of the third-round draft pick from Cal. "He's green; hasn't played a lot. But all the things you need before you get a chance to get on the field and prove whether you can really play, he has."

Conte played more cornerback than safety in college, but at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds he has good size for safety in the NFL.

Conte had a huge play in the second quarter when he brought down Vikings wildcat quarterback Joe Webb for a 1-yard gain on a third-and-4 at the Bears' 15-yard line, forcing a FG attempt that was wide left.

The other factors included the benching of Week Five starters Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather, who failed to stop Detroit's runs of 88 and 43 yards and a 73-yard pass to Calvin Johnson. Conte got the word and some advice during the week.

"They told me, 'You're going to get an opportunity; you're going to get the start. Just go out there and do what you do and make a name for yourself."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The rookie finished second on the Bears with 6 tackles against the Vikings.

The Conte-Major Wright pairing was the fifth different safety tandem the Bears have used in six weeks.

Ready for action:

Second-round pick Stephen Paea was active for the first time this season because Matt Toeaina was inactive against the Vikings due to a sprained knee ligament.

Paea was the Bears' first second-round pick to be a healthy scratch in a season opener since 1995, but he has tried not to become impatient.

"All I can do is do what I can control, just prepare every week," he said. "This week was the opportunity to step it up a little.

"We have a lot of d-linemen, so I respect that. I came in as a rookie, I've got to have the vets do their thing. Matt got hurt, so it's my role now to step up."

On his second snap in the NFL, Paea sacked Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb in the end zone for a safety, giving the Bears a 9-0 lead.

"Overall this could be a defining moment for our team," Paea said. "This is the best game we've played this year. Hopefully we can get a good run."

Shuffling crew:

As expected, opening day right guard Lance Louis started at right tackle, replacing Frank Omiyale, who started the previous two games but was benched in each of them.

Chris Spencer returned to right guard, where he started in Games 2-4 but did not start in Week Five because of a broken bone in his right hand, an injury he has played with in previous years.

"He's not going to (kid) me and tell me he feels OK and then go out and make a fool of himself," offensive line coach Mike Tice said.

It was the fifth different O-line combination that the Bears have started in six weeks and the first game Louis has started at right tackle, although he played there in relief in each of the previous two games.

"You just have to focus hard on your technique," Louis said. "No matter how bad it gets just stay with your technique."

The results against the Vikings pass rush were encouraging on Sunday , since the line allowed just 1 sack after permitting at least 3 in four of the first five games.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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