By Bryan Dietzler
Last season’s Super Bowl representative for the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons, marched into Soldier Field Sunday to take on our beloved Chicago Bears in what was thought to be a lopsided match. However, the game would be so much closer than anyone thought it as the Bears made it a dogfight but lost in the final seconds 23-17. This contest had a little bit of everything and showed us that the Bears have talent but have some work to do to put it all together.
How did it unfold? Let’s find out.
Atlanta opened the game with the ball after the Bears’ deferred and went on a methodical march down the field. They were poised to go up by a touchdown but thanks to the newly extended Akiem Hicks, the Bears defense forced the Falcons to try a 48-yard Matt Bryant field goal. The field goal was good putting the Falcons up 3-0.
After a three and out by the Falcons, the Bears took the ball down the field but stalled out on the drive after quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked by Vic Beasley. Thanks to a 54-yard field goal by Connor Barth, the Bears tied Atlanta 3-3.
The Falcons would take the lead after a drive filled with big pass and running plays by quarterback Matt Ryan. The drive was capped off with a five-yard run by running back Devontae Freeman. The score put Atlanta up 10-3. On the play, Freeman got to the edge and outraced Kyle Fuller to the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Chicago would not be down long as they moved the ball down the field quickly thanks to some great play by running back Tarik Cohen. With a 46-yard run by the rookie, the Bears got close enough for running back Jordan Howard to punch the ball in from four yards out. That tied the game at 10-10. That would be the score going into halftime.
Atlanta went up by three on a 28-yard Bryant field goal a few minutes into the third quarter making the score 13-10. Chicago’s blitz helped contribute to an incompletion by Ryan that stopped Atlanta from scoring a touchdown on that drive. It was a great job by the Bears’ defense.
The Falcons would jump to a 20-10 lead after a big play by tight end Austin Hooper. Hooper took a Ryan pass 88 yards for the score in dramatic fashion including pushing safety Quintin Demps into the dirt on his way to the end zone. It appeared that the rout was on and that the Bears would be reliving 2016 all over again.
But the Bears would not go down without a fight. On their next possession following the Atlanta touchdown, they drove all the way down the field capping off the drive with a 19-yard scoring strike from Glennon to Cohen. The touchdown put the Bears within three and gave them hope.
The Bears defense bent but didn’t break on the next drive as Atlanta got close to the end zone again but couldn’t get six. The Falcons settled for a 37-yard field goal to make it 23-17.
Chicago got the ball back and went on one of the best but the most frustrating drives of the John Fox era. It almost started off with disaster as Deonte Thompson fumbled the kickoff. But it was recovered by Chicago, and they marched on. With several big plays that included the Bears finally getting their passing game going, they got all the way down to the five-yard line and had four chances to make it into the end zone.
Thanks to two dropped passes, one by Howard and one by Joshua Bellamy (he might have been a victim of pass interference) and then a drop by tight end, Zach Miller, the Bears had one more down to punch the ball in the end zone. Glennon was sacked on the final play and the Bears bid to win the game ended just five yards short.
The final score was 23-17 Atlanta.
Mike Glennon was both good and bad. His play during almost three and a half quarters was difficult to watch. A great example of his futility was illustrated when you look at how many passing yards he had at halftime. Chicago went into the locker room with just 25 passing yards at the half and was lucky they were tied with Atlanta. Glennon ended the game with 213 yards completing 23 out or 40 attempts and one touchdown. It was not a strong performance by Glennon but he didn’t lose this game on his own.
The wide receivers had a little something to do with this loss. There were some poorly run routes and a few drops. The most memorable, by the wide receivers was the one that Bellamy dropped at the end of the game in the end zone. He has had this problem before (remember the game against the Titans last November?) and continues to struggle. Kendall Wright came on strong at the end of the game while Kevin White looked very unsettled. More on him later.
The most catches by a wide receiver in this game was lowly three. That was a tie between Wright and Bellamy. The wide receiver with the most yards was Wright with 34.
Chicago’s running backs had a great day until the end when Howard dropped what would have been a game winning pass just outside of the end zone. He ended up with 52 yards on 13 carries and a score. Howard also caught three passes for 14 yards. The star of the game, however, rookie running back Tarik Cohen. Cohen helped keep drives alive and kept the Bears in the game playing much bigger and better than anyone else on the team. He ended the day with 66 yards on five carries to go along with eight catches for 47 yards. Cohen was Chicago’s leading rusher and receiver.
The tight end play in this game was good when they got the ball. Miller was solid and Dion Sims was great catching two passes for 31 yards. Miller ended the day with the most catches by a Bears tight end with four for 39 yards.
The offensive line started the day without Kyle Long and that was almost to be expected. They struggled to keep the pass rushers off Glennon and allowed four sacks. Bobby Massie struggled and Cody Whitehair had two costly penalties.
Chicago’s defense was good for almost the entire game but suffered a few critical breakdowns in pass coverage. The 88-yard touchdown catch and run by Hooper was a good example of breakdowns there. Hooper also had a forty-yard catch which saw Fuller get knocked away while Hooper barreled forward. Akiem Hicks had a big day just about twenty-four hours after he signed a big contract but had a costly penalty which hurt Chicago. The linebackers made a lot of good plays in this game and were the best unit on the field Sunday.
The leader in tackles on the defensive line was Hicks with three to go along with his two sacks. Eddie Goldman and Mitch Unrein also got some good pressure at times.
The outside linebackers got some good pass pressure and helped keep Atlanta’s rushing attack in check. Atlanta only had 64 yards rushing. The leading tackler for the outside linebackers was Sam Acho with two.
The inside linebackers had a nice day keeping things tight in the middle. You might have seen Nick Kwiatkoski spelling Danny Trevathan from time to time. Trevethan may not be in game shape just yet, following his recovery from the season ending knee injury he suffered. This explains the appearances by Kwiatkoski. Freeman had a solid game although he whiffed on a couple of plays. Overall the performance of this group was solid. Freeman did lead them with seven solo tackle and three assists.
Going into this game, this writer had been very pleased with having the combination of Demps and rookie safety Eddie Jackson in the backfield. However, despite the fact Demps led the position with three tackles, he missed a key tackle (the 88-yard touchdown run by Hooper). Jackson looked decent although he had a couple of plays where he was out of position. It’s a little bit worrisome seeing how Demps played today but hopefully, he gets better.
Marcus Cooper had some coverage flops but he was the best of the cornerbacks on the field. Bryce Callahan looked good at nickel. The leader in tackles among the cornerbacks was Kyle Fuller. Fuller looked good at times but he struggled too. He is a hitter who isn’t afraid to tackle and has always been that way.
Fuller might have looked a little rusty but with some improvement could be an asset in the secondary.
The secondary did keep Julio Jones in check for the most part but he wasn’t targeted that much. He had just four catches for 66 yards. However, they allowed other receivers, including Hooper (2/128/1) and Sanu (6/47) to keep drives alive. Not a terrible performance but there is room for improvement.
The Bears’ special teams were good this Sunday if you didn’t count the opening kickoff which could have been a disaster had it not been called back because of a penalty. The Bears had several return specialists returning kickoffs and punts in this game including Cohen, Thompson, Benny Cunningham. Kicking was solid but their punting wasn’t too bad.
Connor Barth nailed two field goals, including a 54-yarder which was just about right down the middle. Hopefully, he can keep making those long ones and keep the Bears going in close games.
Punting was ok as Pat O’Donnell had an average of 44.0 yards per punt on five punts.
On return teams, Thompson had two kickoff returns for an average of 23 yards while Cunningham had one 23 yards return. Cohen averaged 15 yards on three punt returns. He may end up being the punt return specialist from now on thanks to his ability to make plays. He’s electric.
The inactive players for Chicago were: cornerback Prince Amukamara, defensive lineman John Jenkins, wide receiver Tre McBride, running back Taquan Mizzell, quarterback Mark Sanchez, wide receiver Markus Wheaton and offensive guard Kyle Long. Amukamara’s absence was a big one for the Bears as was Long’s. Hopefully, they will both be back for the Bears’ game against the Buccaneers next Sunday. They are going to need Wheaton back quickly too.
Injuries were tough on the Bears in this game. The most significant injury they suffered was to Kevin White. He suffered a fractured scapula and is gone for the year. After spending almost all his time on injured reserve since getting drafted by Chicago back in 2015, it looks like he may have seen his last game in a Bears’ uniform.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman suffered a concussion and Cunningham was out early with an ankle injury.
The Bears coaching staff might have been keeping the reigns on Glennon until the game started coming to an end and they realized they could win. You could tell because they didn’t allow him to throw the ball far down the field until the game was really on the line. Or maybe he just couldn’t throw the ball that far. I would have loved to have seen their game plan on offense going into this game.
The defense was called well but the execution was touchy at times. They look like they are poised to have a strong season.
Chicago fell just a few yards short of coming up with a huge upset Sunday. Had they been able to win this game, they would have proven a lot of critics and doubters wrong. But one thing they did prove is that they have a lot of work to do. But what Chicago did was very encouraging.
The running game is strong but the passing game struggled and needs some work. Now, with White out, they have even more problems than they went into the game with. Hopefully, Chicago will be able to do something to fix their issues there because, had they been able to throw the ball effectively, they would have won this game.
Chicago’s passing game is just about the last piece of the puzzle for the Bears to become better contenders.
Next Sunday the Bears will take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa (so far). The Bucs had a bye week this Sunday. A full three-part preview of this game will come later in the week.