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Rare letdown by Bears defense costly

CHICAGO -- Having bailed out the offense countless times this season, members of Chicago’s defense stood flabbergasted in a quiet locker room, reeling from feelings of helplessness after failing twice Sunday to come up with key stops with the game on the line during a 23-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Asked several different ways to explain the unit’s responsibility in the defeat, defensive tackle Henry Melton jammed both hands into the pockets of his black jeans, and shook his head as if to say words couldn't possibly explain this.

“We knew what we were supposed to do. We just didn’t execute the plan,” Melton said. “There’s nothing more I can say about it. It just hurts.”

Led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who displayed poise belying his lack of NFL experience, Seattle rang up 459 yards of offense on the day with 38.5 percent of that production coming over 24 plays in two key drives in the fourth quarter and overtime that ultimately determined the outcome of the game. Wilson completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice in overtime to win the contest for the Seahawks, marking the third time in a row the visitors defeated the Bears in the regular season at Soldier Field.

Wilson found Rice on a crossing route for the score, but it appeared Bears safety Major Wright knocked the ball loose on a crushing hit. Officials eventually ruled the play a touchdown after a quick replay review.

“The ball came out, so I thought (it wasn’t a touchdown),” Wright said. “It’s just a tough loss to swallow.”

Especially when considering the method in which the Bears opened up to choke it down. With 24 seconds remaining in regulation, Wilson connected with Golden Tate for a 14-yard TD pass to give the Seahawks a 17-14 lead after the PAT kick. That play capped a 12-play, 97-yard drive in which Seattle travelled almost the entire length of the field in 3:16.

Wilson completed 6 of 9 for 80 yards during the drive at the end of regulation and converted a fourth-and-3 from the Chicago 48 by completing a 7-yard pass to tight end Zach Miller. Wilson completed four consecutive passes to close out the drive and also scrambled twice for 19 yards.

“That hasn’t happened to us very often around here,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “Terrible job I did (of) getting our football team ready. Once you get a lead, you’ve got to be able to hold a lead at home with our defense. We had opportunities to make some plays late. We didn’t.”

Seattle did, though. Even when it appeared Chicago’s offense had given the home team momentum going into the overtime period. The Bears took possession with 20 seconds left to play in regulation, and Jay Cutler quickly fired a 56-yard pass to Brandon Marshall with the receiver frantically diving out of bounds at the Seattle 30.

Two plays later, Robbie Gould kicked a 46-yarder as time expired to tie the score at 17. Given the offense’s struggles all season, the quick scoring drive should naturally have given the defense a lift going into OT.

Wilson scrambled around right end for an 11-yard gain on Seattle’s first play in overtime, and Marshawn Lynch ripped off a 14-yard run the very next play. Wilson scrambled three times for 28 yards during the game-winning drive, and completed all three of his passes for 38 yards and the TD to Rice.

During the drive, the Seahawks converted on third down all three times they faced the situation.

“It’s a lot of things that go into it,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “I can’t sit and explain to you play by play or go a lot into it because I’m not exactly sure (what happened). What I do know is we got outplayed. We didn’t finish the game well enough to win.”

Melton called the game “a hard pill to swallow”.

“There were just plays we should’ve made,” Melton said. “Some of those third downs we should’ve definitely gotten off the field and put it back in our offense’s hands to win the game for us. We just couldn’t do it.”

Smith ran through a laundry list of miscues made by the Bears on defense Sunday, and criticized the unit’s inability to shed blocks, its lack of takeaways, and poor tackling. At the same time, the coach acknowledged “you have to give (Wilson) a lot of the credit” because “he had a great game.”

Wilson completed 23 of 37 for 293 yards and two touchdowns, and finished with a passer rating of 104.9. Interestingly, the team’s meltdown on defense essentially wasted a brilliant outing by Jay Cutler, who generated a passer rating of 119.6 after throwing for two TDs and no interceptions, while connecting with Brandon Marshall 10 times for 165 yards.

Cornerback Kelvin Hayden called Chicago’s missed tackles “huge” in determining the outcome of the game.

“We understand that (missed tackles) are gonna happen,” Hayden said. “But they can’t just keep happening. We didn’t get the job done today. The name of the game is to stop them, and we didn’t stop them when we needed to. We had them backed up a couple times, and they just marched down and executed. The (thing we) thrive on is when teams are backed up like that, we usually get off the field (on third down). I think a couple of times, coverage broke down or (Wilson) got out of the pocket and extended plays. Things that don’t usually happen to us happened today.”

Smith acknowledged fatigue may have played a role late in the team’s inability to consistently stop Seattle, but wouldn’t cut the unit any slack. Smith said fatigue becomes a factor later for teams that “don’t get off (the field) on third downs, and then you don’t get off on fourth downs.”

The Seahawks converted 53 percent of third downs for the game. In OT, they converted a fourth down and all three of their third-down situations.

“You’ve got to be able to reach down,” Smith said. “That’s what we’ve done in those situations; make a play to get off the field.”

That didn’t take place this time. The defense simply melted down.