Bears' defense not too bad, except for one big blip
A new season and equally fresh contract extension yielded crisp play from defensive end Akiem Hicks.
A moldy storyline surfaced for the Bears defense in their season-opening loss to Atlanta, however.
A breakdown in the secondary, complete with an embarrassing moment for the defender, led to a momentum-changing touchdown. And despite rallying against the defending NFC champions, the Bears fell 23-17 at Soldier Field on Sunday.
"One play doesn't define us," new safety Quintin Demps said. "It doesn't define me, either, as a player. I think we got a good team. I know we got a good defense. It's a long season. We still had a chance to win, even with that big play we gave up."
It looked so familiar. Up 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, Atlanta faced third-and-3 from its own 12. The Bears broke late out of their huddle, defenders scrambled to their positions, and the reigning league MVP dropped back to pass.
Matt Ryan stepped up in the pocket just before Hicks could land one of his huge arms on him and found an extremely wide-open tight end Austin Hooper over the middle.
"I think we had miscommunication on the call," Bears coach John Fox said.
Hooper caught the ball and ran "as fast as I could," he said. He stiff-armed Demps to the ground around the Bears 30 and sped to the end zone.
"First half, they wanted to play true defense," Hooper said of the Bears. "The second half, for one play, they got nosy. Veteran quarterback Matt Ryan made them pay."
Hooper's TD covered 88 yards.
"I got to play it better," said Demps, one of the Bears' free-agent signings in the off-season. "I definitely got to make the tackle.
"It was bad football on my part."
Hicks played good football, registering the Bears' only 2 sacks one day after the team announced a four-year contract extension ($48 million, $30 guaranteed) for the 6-foot-5, 332-pound sixth-year pro. He notched 7 sacks last year in his first season in Chicago.
"It feels good to get things done and get going in the right direction," Hicks said. "This is my home now. I look forward to many more years of putting good football on the field."
Hicks was also part of a front seven that limited Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to a combined 53 yards on 20 carries. Ryan finished 21 of 30 for 321 yards.
"(The defense) is everything that I've said throughout OTAs and training camp," Hicks said. "Our defense is going to be nasty. It's going to be tenacious. We're going to get after the quarterback. We're going to hit people. I think that's what we went out there and did today."
A Hicks hiccup proved costly, however. He was flagged for roughing Ryan, knocking the QB to the grass after a deep throw on third-and-8 from the Atlanta 40 sailed out of bounds. The penalty led to Matt Bryant's tiebreaking field goal with 2:10 left in the third quarter, putting the visitors up 13-10.
Hicks wouldn't concede that the official made the right call.
"I'm going to take my lick and keep it moving," said Hicks, smiling. "I can't do anything about it. It's part of the game, and I have to accept that."
It's all part of moving forward and learning for a team that won only three games last season.
"It hurts," Hicks said. "But one thing that I learned from guys that played before me is that you got to take the hurt and look forward to the day when you're on top."
In the meantime, losing remains an old story for the Bears.