By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – His Bears gathered around with another defeat at their hands, coach John Fox set a different tone for this new season.
Sunday saw the Bears come up just short to the defending NFC champion Falcons, losing 23-17 at Soldier Field in their season opener. Chicago had a busted coverage lead to the game-changing score and saw a valiant comeback finish five yards from the goal line. It seemed all too familiar.
Really, it felt like so many games before for Fox’s tenure, except for one aspect. This team deserved to be right there at the end. Fox wanted his Bears to know that.
“Right now, we’re a pretty good football team,” Fox said in the locker room and echoed again during his postgame press conference.
Quarterback Mike Glennon made it clear that the Bears won’t accept moral victories, a topic that frankly is tiresome as they are 9-24 a game into Fox’s third season. The difference here is that it seems that the Bears will win more games in 2017.
This Bears defense appears to be good, containing the Falcons’ potent offense for most of the game. Akiem Hicks bullied his way through the line for a pair of sacks, while the front seven was disruptive. But the game changed on a miscue from Hicks, a roughing-the-passer call on a third down, which extended a third-quarter drive for a Falcons a field goal instead of forcing a punt. If not for those three points, the Bears could’ve kicked a field goal at the end of regulation and forced overtime.
Then came the biggest blow, as a mixed-up defensive call that left safety Quintin Demps alone in single-high coverage as Falcons tight end Austin Hooper was wide open in the fourth quarter. He then stiffed-armed Demps along the sidelines en route to an 88-yard touchdown.
But a game that could’ve easily gotten away from the Bears stayed close as Glennon led a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, which was capped by a 19-yard touchdown to Tarik Cohen. Top target Kevin White may be done for the season again after suffering a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. With little help at receiver, Cohen was the Bears’ top target. He caught eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Cohen set a Bears franchise record for all-purpose yards in a debut with 158 on the game.
“Secret’s out,” Glennon said.
Glennon led the Bears from their own 18-yard line with 3:18 on the clock and brought them to a goal-to-go from the Falcons’ 5-yard line. To get there, he converted on a fourth-and-3, connecting with a strike to Josh Bellamy. But with a chance to win the game, Glennon was left without a top target. He didn’t have an Alshon Jeffery or White to target in the corner of the end zone. Rookie tight end Adam Shaheen, the second-round pick in this year’s draft, was apparently not deemed ready for that opportunity.
Instead, Glennon threw incomplete to Bellamy, Jordan Howard and Miller, all passes that could’ve been caught. On fourth down, he was sacked after right tackle Bobby Massie was beat by defensive end Brooks Reed.
Though he wasn’t great, Glennon gave the Bears a shot at winning. He finished 26-of-40 for 213 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers, posting an 86.8 rating.
“I thought he did a hell of a job for us, put us in position to win,” tight end Zach Miller said.
After such a long and strange offseason, this opener revealed what the new-look Bears will be in 2017. Glennon will be asked to manage the game and mitigate risk, all while working around a lack of talent at receiver. Howard will be the feature back, but Cohen is much more than just a change of pace. Somebody — anybody — has to emerge at receiver.
Victories will come if the Bears are able to force turnovers. After finishing dead last in takeaways a year ago, the Bears came away with zero in their season lid lifter. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. The defensive front was constantly in the backfield, making reigning MVP Matt Ryan look rattled at times. Julio Jones had just four receptions on five targets as the Bears did solid work in the secondary.
Had it been for one more play or one fewer breakdown, it would’ve been different for the Bears on Sunday.
“We could easily be 1-0 standing up here right now,” Fox said. “The enthusiasm would be a little different. But I think we’re capable of getting better as we go.”
Fox will continue to work for the best of his Bears. All throughout the locker room and coating the walls of Halas Hall, there are words of motivation. There are quotes all around for his players to see.
Frustrated by two tough seasons, Fox had a message of his own entering this pivotal third year in charge. He wanted the Bears to know they’re good enough to beat anybody, the Falcons included. It’s why he reiterated that message postgame.
The Bears came out Sunday confident that this year would be different. Though the result was the same, that belief won’t waver moving forward.
“It was a sense of showing the outside world – showing that we can compete and we’re better than we’ve been in the past,” Miller said. “We believe in that, we believe in ourselves, and it’s just something we got to execute down the road and we’ll be sitting here super happy with a victory. But it didn’t work out that way.
“We’re tough, we’re strong, smart football team. So I’m excited about where we’re going to go. But this one hurts.”