Atlanta Falcons

The Bears' defense was so close, yet so far, from playing a complete game

The Bears' defense was so close, yet so far, from playing a complete game

The Bears’ defense did a lot of good on Sunday. Akiem Hicks had two sacks, Julio Jones was held to four catches and Devonta Freeman barely averaged three yards per carry. 

But there was one glaring negative that washed out a lot of those positives: Austin Hooper’s 88-yard touchdown, which came on a third-and-3 with the Falcons backed up near their own goal line early in the fourth quarter. 

That touchdown put Atlanta ahead, 20-10, and while it didn’t keep the Bears from having a chance to win, it was one of those plays that defenders collectively said cannot happen. The Bears’ defense wasn’t aligned prior to the snap, which happened a few times on Sunday when Matt Ryan quickly set his offense and got the ball snapped. 

“I think we had miscommunication on the call,” coach John Fox said. “The particular call we played was not the call that we called. But I’m not going to throw people under the bus, obviously. We didn’t execute very well."

“We didn’t really think we were in disarray. We didn’t realize we were in disarray until he [Hooper] caught the ball.”

The Bears weren't pointing fingers after the game as to who was supposed to cover Hooper, with players saying they needed to watch the film to diagnose what exactly went wrong. Demps, a team captain, took responsibility for the play. 

“I played bad football,” Demps, who was stiff-armed to the ground on the play by Hooper, said. “I gotta be in the middle of the field.”

While that blown coverage cost the Bears seven points, there were two other key third down plays that led to Atlanta connecting on a pair of field goals. Hicks was whistled for a roughing the passer penalty late in the third quarter that extended a Falcons drive, leading to a Matt Bryant 28-yard chip shot. And late in the fourth quarter, the Bears again couldn’t cover Hooper, whose 40-yard reception on third-and-10 from the Falcons’ 25-yard line set up another Bryant field goal. 

Had the Bears made a stop on either of those third downs — especially the one of the fourth quarter — they could’ve had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal on that final drive instead of needing to get in the end zone. 

“I mean, one play can lose the game,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “But I feel like we played all right, we played good (for) three quarters. The thing is, we gotta play good for four quarters to win the game in this business.” 

What you need to know from Bears-Falcons: Tarik Cohen plays immediate role

What you need to know from Bears-Falcons: Tarik Cohen plays immediate role

Close but no cigar.

After a mostly unimpressive day, Mike Glennon led the Bears down to the five-yard line in the final moments of Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the visiting Atlanta Falcons, nearly stating his case that he is the man for the job. But Glennon was incomplete with goal to go on three straight snaps before getting sacked on fourth down to effectively end the game.

Glennon, who obviously was without No. 1 wide receiver Cameron Meredith, struggled to establish any consistency in the passing game early. He mostly targeted his running backs, with Tarik Cohen the most-targeted player on the team, and also threw a few tosses to his tight ends. There could be even more questions at the wide receiver position after Kevin White exited Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.

But then came the Bears’ late drives. He obviously found Cohen for the touchdown after the Bears went down by 10 in the fourth quarter. And he strung some completions together in a do-or-die drive in the final minutes, getting the Bears just five yards away from the goal line before coming up empty.

Those moments aside, Glennon finished with a mostly unimpressive stat line: 26-for-40 for 213 yards and a touchdown. While he didn’t turn the ball over, his game likely doesn’t change the discussion around the position, and you can expect the talk-radio conversation to remain pretty much the same: When’s Mitch Trubisky going to play? Certainly all those fans in the Trubisky jerseys at Soldier Field are wondering.

The Tarik Cohen Show

Bears fans knew the team had something in Cohen during training camp and the preseason, but did they expect him to be this heavily featured in the offense right off the bat?

Cohen was undoubtedly the Bears’ best offensive player Sunday, showing off his speed and elusiveness and factoring into the offense in huge ways. 

A consistent target of Glennon all day long and given his fair share of carries, as well, Cohen made a couple huge plays. First came a highlight-reel 46-yard run in the second quarter in which he reversed field, ran away from several defenders and sprinted down the sideline. That play, coming shortly after the Falcons marched down for a go-ahead touchdown, put the Bears in scoring position, and it was Cohen again factoring into things on the scoring play, when he lined up as a Wildcat quarterback and handed the ball off to Jordan Howard, who scampered around the end and in for a game-tying touchdown.

But he was right in the thick of another answer of a drive in a far more crucial moment in the game. After Matt Ryan hit Austin Hooper for a seemingly game-deciding 88-yard touchdown, Glennon and the Bears marched right back down the field and capped a touchdown drive with a laser of a 19-yard pass to Cohen, who ran the remaining yards to get into the end zone to slice a 10-point gap to a three-point one.

Utilizing the explosive Cohen in a number of ways, as both a pass catcher and a ball carrier, John Fox and Dowell Loggains showed they aren’t shy about using the new guy heavily. And Cohen’s making the most of his opportunity, seeming to be an electric, game-breaking type player and an injection of energy into this offense.

Akiem Hicks celebrates new contract in style

It’s a safe bet that Akiem Hicks is a happy man, new contract in hand. Well, he played like it Sunday, coming up with several big plays at the line of scrimmage and behind it.

Hicks made a big third-down stuff of Devonta Freeman in the first quarter, leading to the Falcons settling for a field goal. He also sacked Matt Ryan twice, including once on a third down to force a punt.

Hicks also got flagged for a costly roughing-the-passer penalty, which allowed the Falcons to keep a drive going that resulted in a field goal. But overall, the Bears’ new long-term addition looked worthy of the deal that will keep him in Chicago for the next four years.

Bears-Falcons: Best case, worst case and prediction

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USA TODAY

Bears-Falcons: Best case, worst case and prediction

The best-case scenario

Mike Glennon and the Bears’ offense consistently operates like it did on its first drive of the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, efficiently marching downfield, not turning the ball over and getting in the end zone. A pass-catcher or two — be it Kevin White, Kendall Wright, Zach Miller, Tarik Cohen, etc. — steps up in the absence of Cameron Meredith, and Jordan Howard finds success establishing the run. And most importantly: Glennon doesn’t throw an interception or interceptions, or at least commit a catastrophic mistake as we saw him make against both the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals in preseason play.

“I hope that those preseason games prepare me for this, but going from preseason to regular season, it’s not the exact same,” Glennon said. “But I feel ready for it. I’ve started games against the Falcons. I’ve started a couple games against the Falcons, I’ve played against them. So the speed of the NFL is fast, but I feel like I’ll be ready for it.”

It’s unlikely to expect the Bears to win a shootout against the Atlanta Falcons’ top-scoring offense from a year ago (33.8 points per game). But if the Bears’ front seven can key on Devonta Freeman and mute his production, perhaps it’ll lead to more blitzing opportunities for a front seven that looked solid in August.

Containing Julio Jones will be a difficult task, as will forcing a mistake from Matt Ryan, who had a career-low interception rate of 1.3 percent last year (seven in 534 attempts). Perhaps the Falcons’ numbers could look like what the Eagles held them to last year: Ryan threw for 267 yards with one touchdown and one interception and Jones caught 10 passes for 135 yards, but Freeman was limited to 49 yards on 12 carries as Philadelphia won, 24-15. That could be a good recipe for what probably would be a close win and an upset.

“It’s not like they’re a pass-happy team that you gotta go in there and stop the pass and if you do you might have a good chance,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “These guys run the ball extremely well. So some of the things you like to do against the passing game may not help you against the running game and vice versa. So when you’re playing a team that’s this balanced and scores as many points as they do, it’s a tough assignment. We’re going to have to be our best.”

The worst-case scenario

This begins with Glennon throwing at least one bad interception — either in the red zone or in Bears’ territory that gives the Falcons a short field. The Bears perhaps can recover from one interception so long as they play mistake-free football the rest of the game, but if Glennon were to throw multiple picks, that could be too deep a hole out of which to dig against the defending NFC champions.

If Atlanta is able to cheat its safeties into the box and limit Howard’s effectiveness, and Glennon can’t connect with a receiver/tight end/running back with consistency, this could be a rough afternoon for the Bears’ offense.

Defensively, the Bears still have some question marks in the secondary, which is a concern facing an elite passing attack.

“You can’t play good run defense if your corners don’t tackle and your safeties don’t tackle,” Fangio said. “You can’t play good pass defense if they can’t cover and make plays. We need improvement in all areas.”

The worst-case for the Bears is that they’re unable to get within striking distance and the Falcons cruise to a relatively stress-free win. There are plenty of reasons why the Falcons won the NFC last year and the Bears went 3-13, after all.

Prediction

Falcons 24, Bears 19