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Friday, October 11, 2013
Faith not enough for Bears defense

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- In the typical postgame locker room, where badly bruised football players struggle to make sense of the carnage that just occurred, there are no such things as moral victories or bad wins.

Those are just biased distinctions of onlookers.

So when Lance Briggs said he was happy, naturally, after the Chicago Bears' 27-21 victory over the New York Giants, you believe him.

Brandon Jacobs
The Bears struggled to bring down Giants running back Brandon Jacobs all evening long.

But really he just looked exhausted.

Briggs was the last starting linebacker standing by the end of the game. He's the survivalist on a fading defense trying to subsist on a steady diet of interceptions and blind faith that it will rise to the occasion at the end of every game. Man cannot live on bread alone, but the Bears sure can survive on interceptions.

After the game, Briggs, who had a sack and five tackles, had to pace his words, pausing several times to answer a softball question.

"Brandon Jacobs is a tough man; he's a tough man to bring down," Briggs said.

No kidding.

Jacobs, the bruising back, had a throwback game for his new/old team, rushing 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He had wide-open spaces to rumble through, and rumble he did.

Briggs was asked if he was still out of breath after facing Jacobs.

"No, I'm just excited we got the W," he said. "Tim [Jennings] came up with a huge play in a critical situation. We needed that. They would've got six points out of that and it would've extended the game to overtime, and you don't want that."

Especially considering an extra point comes after a touchdown, which makes seven points, which could have meant a third straight loss for Chicago (4-2).

Jennings did save the game with a timely interception at the Bears' 10-yard line, snagging a high pass that went off the fingertips of tight end Brandon Myers just before the two-minute warning. They don't call him "The Hawk" for nothing.

In the final drive, the Giants started at their own 11 and moved 54 yards, most coming on the ground, to get the Bears' 35 before Manning missed a wide-open Myers in the red zone.

The Bears defense lives for moments such as these. Jennings was in the right spot to make a play.

"Huge," Briggs said. "If it wasn't him, I'm thinking Major [Wright]. If it's not Major, I'm thinking Chris Conte. If not him, then I'm thinking [Julius] Peppers. Some Bear was going to make a play."

That's faith talking, especially considering those other three Bears didn't have good games.

But behind his words, Briggs knows the reality is that this defense is giving up big chunks of yards, because it can't pressure the quarterback without blitzing. The defensive backs are getting hung out to dry trying to cover for so long. New coordinator Mel Tucker hasn't been able to fix what looks like an unfixable problem.

"We're not even close to where we need to be," Briggs said.

And now the injuries keep piling up. Defensive tackles Nate Collins and Henry Melton are out for the season with knee injuries. Cornerback Charles "Peanut" Tillman has been banged up and missed his first game since 2009. And on Friday morning the Bears learned starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Rookie Jon Bostic will now have to step into the starting role in the middle.

Cutler

We've got to get off the field on third down. Third down has been the bane of our defense this year. Third-and-long situations, we've got to get off the field.

-- Lance Briggs

"It was next man up all over the place on defense," coach Marc Trestman said.

It helped that one man was Jennings, who has continued where he left off last year. The clincher was his second interception of the game, which came after a few spotty plays. Jennings returned an Eli Manning pass 48 yards for a touchdown on the Giants' second series of the game to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. It was Jennings' second return touchdown of the season.

Jennings said he wasn't even looking at the receiver on the play. It looked like a busted play, and Jennings caught it cleanly in full stride.

"I saw [Manning's] back foot, and I saw his hand come up," he said. "Once I see all that, I'm gone."

Tillman's replacement, Zack Bowman, picked off Manning on the first series of the game thanks to a well-timed nickel blitz from Isaiah Frey on the other side. Given that Manning had 12 picks coming into the game, the Bears figured they would be able to add to their league-leading turnover total.

"I knew we were going to have a lot of opportunities," Jennings said. "We knew they were going to try to get the quarterback going, take some shots."

The Giants calmed down and picked up 355 yards and 21 first downs. With time on his side, Manning managed to move the ball, but as expected, turnovers killed the Giants (0-6).

"They're going to get their runs. They're going to get their passes," Jennings said. "But our job is to make them grind it out, and that's going to give us opportunities to make plays. We feel like if we make them grind it out, we're going to make those plays in the back end. That's what we preach; the D-line has to make their rush and we've got to cover."

Of course, it's hard to cover when the D-line doesn't get its rush. It's the same story every week. The Bears lead the NFL with 17 takeaways, but opponents are converting 42.7 percent on third down and quarterbacks are completing 67 percent of their passes, both of which are near the bottom in the league. The completion percentage isn't terrible, considering the Bears' style of defense, but it's also the result of a poor pass rush. Quarterbacks are getting time to throw downfield.

The Giants had a chance for their first win simply because they converted 7 of 11 third downs.

"We've got to get off the field on third down," Briggs said. "Third down has been the bane of our defense this year. Third-and-long situations, we've got to get off the field."

While the Bears offense is vastly improved, it's still not consistent enough to carry a defense. And the defense can't carry the offense. So what you have is a team savvy enough to beat the bad teams in the league and lose to the good teams. This could easily be a playoff team, but it's going to be a slog.

With the defense, what you see is what you get, and if you're paying attention, what you see isn't all that pretty.

Julius Peppers can't get loose, and Shea McClellin doesn't look like an NFL defensive end. With Stephen Paea out and Melton and Collins shelved for the year with knee injuries, Corey Wootton is playing out of position at the 3-technique tackle, mixing in with household names Landon Cohen and David Bass.

"I believe in our rush. I believe in our blitz package," Jennings said.

How can you, he was asked.

Jennings seemed almost offended.

"I believe in my defense," Jennings said. "I believe in the guys around me that are going to do their job, just like they believe in me."

It's easy to believe in Jennings, to have faith that he'll be there at the end of the game when the ball is in the air.

The Bears need more than faith right now. They might just need a miracle to get this defense through the end of the season.