CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears ended Brett Favre’s career last year and might have done the same Sunday to Donovan McNabb.

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears ended Brett Favre’s career last year and might have done the same Sunday to Donovan McNabb.

Last year it was a sack and an injury on an icy college field in Minnesota. This time it was a 39-10 beatdown that may have convinced a beaten-down Vikings team that the present is over. No. 1 draft pick Christian Ponder replaced McNabb in the fourth quarter.

And a real defense replaced that poor imitation Chicago had seen lately.

“The defense needed to come back, and they came back strong,” coach Lovie Smith said.

The Bears weekly news release noted that Chicago leads the NFL in takeaways, three-and-outs and third- down defense since 2004, and ranks in the top four in points allowed, red zone defense and opposing passer rating.

NBC told a different story at the beginning of its prime-time telecast, noting that Chicago’s defense was allowing a franchise worst 420 total yards, had allowed more than 375 yards five games in a row for the first time in history and had given up three touchdowns of at least 70 yards, matching its total from the previous decade.

But those first five weeks looked nothing like Sunday.

The new look started with rookie second-round defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who had been inactive the first five weeks. Allowed to play for the first time, Paea collapsed the pocked and ran over McNabb in the end zone for a safety and an early 9-0 lead.

“He really showed up,” Smith said. “Whenever you are calling his name, that’s a good thing, especially for an interior lineman.”

Julius Peppers also heard his name called often for the first time this year. He wasn’t even supposed to play, after not practicing all week with a sprained knee ligament, but he had two sacks and three tackles for loss.

“When a player doesn’t practice Friday, history tells us it’s not looking good,” Smith said. “You can’t really explain a player like Julius Peppers. He’s special. There’s nobody really like him in the league.”

By the time the Bears (3-3) had taken a 16-0 lead, they had gained 151 yards to Minnesota’s three. And even when the Vikings (1-5) gained 110 yards in the second quarter, they were empty yards, netting just three points.

Part of that is because Chicago limited Adrian Peterson to 39 yards. Who figured the first time the Bears’ held opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing it would be against the team with the $100-million running back?

“Any time you can hold a great player like Adrian Peterson down, you have a chance to win,” Smith said.

The Bears offense also looked the best it has this season. Jay Cutler threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester on Chicago’s third play of the game. He was sacked just once, rarely pressured and threw for 267 yards with a 115.9 passer rating, while the Bears also ran for 119 yards.

“We’re just being a little more picky on what we can and what we can’t do on the football field,” Cutler said.

The Bears, he said, will be successful as long as they “are smart” like they were Sunday.

And play effective defense like they did Sunday.

“Hopefully, that’s who we are,” Lovie Smith said, “the team you saw tonight.”

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com.