By Chris Emma—

CHICAGO (CBS) – As he sat in the cold tub and soaked in his team’s victory, it occurred to defensive lineman Akiem Hicks that the 3-4 Bears had matched their win total from a year ago.

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Despite how strange a 17-3 victory over the Panthers at Soldier Field on Sunday was and the physical toll it took on his body, Hicks sat back in the aftermath with an overwhelming sense of pride. He didn’t care about a few ailments suffered late in the game – Hicks said he’s fine – and couldn’t recall the details of a key fourth-down stop.

Instead, Hicks was thinking of the speech teammate Benny Cunningham gave to the team about keeping its focus.

“Lay one brick at a time,” Hicks recalled of the speech. “One play at a time, one down at a time. Just stack our bricks and build our wall. I think last week was a really good brick. This week’s an even better brick. If we keep stacking up bricks, we’re going to be in a good place at the end of the day.”

Sunday’s victory featured an ugly style of football that Bears coach John Fox has all but trademarked in his coaching career. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson returned a fumble 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and took an interception 76 yards to the house in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead. The Bears went to halftime leading 17-3 and spent the next 30 minutes focused on draining away at every remaining second.

Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in April’s draft, finished 4-of-7 for 107 yards. He became the first non-injured starting quarterback to win a game with fewer than five completions since Tim Tebow did so with the Fox-led Broncos in 2011, according to NFL research. Trubisky also became the first a start with seven or fewer pass attempts since Chris Weinke did so with the Fox-led Panthers in 2006.

The Bears had just 153 total yards of offense and finished with five first downs. They only had possession of the football for only 21:25. Even Trubisky referred to the game as “strange” during his postgame press conference.

Fox reminded that he has seen a lot in his coaching career. All he wanted to see on Sunday was a victorious locker room.

“At the end of the day, you have smiling faces in the locker room and the fought hard for that victory,” Fox said.

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The defense won this game for the Bears with a stout effort against Cam Newton and the Panthers. Jackson was a playmaker in the right place at the right time with his two touchdowns, but he was quick to state that this was a team victory. Jackson gave the Bears their lead, and the defense ensured Newton wouldn’t will the Panthers back into it.

Newton was sacked five times by the Bears and constantly flustered from the pocket. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was creative with his looks, breaking from the 3-4 base and bringing four rushers to the line of scrimmage. The Panthers weren’t ready to counter with the rushing attack, and Newton was left fending for himself against a relentless pressure.

Fox called the defense “outstanding.”

“We went in and played lights-out defense,” linebacker Pernell McPhee said. “I’m proud of the boys.”

Finally, the Bears are playing to their capability defensively. The front seven was a consistent force for four quarters – in this case, 38:35 of Panthers offense – and the secondary is coming through with takeaways. A year removed from forcing only 11 turnovers, the Bears have nine takeaways, with six coming in the last two games.

The Bears have been asked plenty the last two years about the lack of takeaways and the losses that have piled up as a result. They’ve mentioned it plenty in meetings and constantly made an emphasis about changing the dynamic. That’s why Sunday’s victory was so sweet for them.

You better believe that Trubisky wants to throw the ball more than seven times in a game, but when your team wins, it doesn’t matter, they all pointed out. Fox will take victories any way he can get them, and so will his players in that upbeat locker room.

Winning ugly beats another loss for the Bears.

“Our program’s going the right direction,” Hicks said. “I think our team is feeling good and confident about where we’re at, and we really look forward to the next half of the season.”

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Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.