Young Bears provide a defensive jolt
Bears defensive end David Bass smiles as he runs untouched into the end zone on his 24-yard interception return Sunday.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
A flash lit up Soldier Field.
On a soggy Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, young Bears defensive linemen flashed potential in a 23-20 overtime victory, providing the kind of jolt a beaten-up "D" has lacked most of this season.
David Bass looked liked a smaller version of Julius Peppers on his pick-6, using deft hand-eye coordination to excite the home crowd and swing momentum. Fellow backup Cheta Ozougwa, fresh off the practice squad, zipped through the Ravens' offensive line and stripped the football away from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.
And then there was ol' Julius Peppers looking young again, showing that he still has life left in his 33-year-old legs.
"Cheta and David Bass stepped up huge," said defensive lineman Corey Wootton, who contributed too, knocking down a pass in the backfield.
"They're doing a good job developing," Peppers said of the Bears' young D-linemen. "We're getting them out there a lot in practice and getting them in the games a little more. We need those guys to make plays for us, and they're coming around and doing it."
For one day, anyway, they did.
Take Bass' 24-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter that pulled the Bears even on the scoreboard at 10-10.
The rangy defensive end read Joe Flacco's short pass, jumped and snagged the ball with his left hand before securing it with his right. Bass then raced untouched into the end zone, his dreadlocks flapping in the swirling wind.
For the rookie out of Missouri Western State, whom the Bears claimed off waivers from the Oakland Raiders at the start of the season, it was first his touchdown and first "big play" as an NFL player.
"The tackle came down, so my initial read was to close," Bass said. "After I closed, I saw both the fullback and running back coming toward me.
"The quarterback didn't really give a full play-action fake. The fullback went to the flat, and Ray (Rice) came to cut me. (Flacco) threw the ball, and I happened to have my hands up at the time."
"That was nice," Peppers said. "I actually didn't see it. I just saw he had the ball and was scoring. … He's a pretty good athlete."
When Bass reached the end zone, the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder simulated rubbing the ball in an open palm and then tossing his hand in the air. Call it his tribute to the reigning NBA MVP. "It was my LeBron James celebration," said Bass, smiling. "The powder toss."
Already short-handed on the D-line, the Bears lost starting nose tackle Stephen Paea in the second quarter with a toe injury. That meant more snaps inside for Landon Cohen and Christian Tupou, two guys whom the Bears signed after injuries starting piling up this fall.
Ozougwa, promoted off the Bears' practice squad Saturday, made his presence felt in the third quarter with the Bears trailing 17-13 and the Ravens facing a fourth-and-8 from the Chicago 32.
Ozougwa got penetration and stripped Flacco. A former seventh-round pick of the Houston Texans, Ozougwa spent most of last season on the Bears' practice squad, appearing in two games. "If you watch the film, he has some really good rushes on the right side," Wootton said.
Peppers had maybe his best game of the season. His 2 sacks not only doubled his season total, but he also was credited with a hefty 11 tackles, including 4 for loss, and 2 quarterback hits.
"He's been talking all week and saying that we all need to step up," Wootton said. "He said he was going to have a big game, and I believed him when he said that. He came out today and was a force out there."
Peppers' response to Wootton? "I don't know what Corey's talking about," Peppers said, grinning.
Peppers and his teammates came up big on the Bears' goal-line stand late in the fourth. Chris Conte tackled Rice for a 1-yard loss on second down from the 2, as Peppers tied up a block. After a Flacco incompletion, the Ravens settled for Justin Tucker's 21-yard field goal to force overtime.
"We had a lot of guys mixing it up (on the interior of the line), and I thought we did a good job of finishing the game," Wootton said. "It was in our hands. We had to hold them to a field goal, and we were able to do that."
The Bears sacked Flacco three times. Call it progress for a unit that had only 14 through nine games coming in.
"I feel like today was a step in the right direction," Peppers said. "Hopefully we can build off this."
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