If Bears want to end up on Elite Street, defense better improve in a hurry
Thank you, Detroit.
Thank you, New York.
Thank you, Atlanta.
Hallmark could have made a killing just selling cards to the Chicago Bears the last three weeks after the Lions, Giants and Falcons all gift-wrapped victories and handed them to Matt Nagy's squad.
The latest implosion came after Matt Ryan and Co. failed to put away a game in which they led 26-10 early in the fourth quarter in Atlanta on Sunday.
The Falcons blew a chance to go up 29-10, then remembered who they were -- a bad team with perhaps one of the worst defenses we've seen in recent years. They allowed Nick Foles to throw 3 TD passes in just over four minutes.
So credit the Bears for getting to 3-0 by posting a 30-26 victory.
But if they want to truly compete with the big dogs, their defense needs to start playing like one of the best units in the NFL.
Because right now, it's anything but.
Top-notch defenses do not allow a QB to throw a 63-yard bomb to open the game.
Nor do they allow backup running backs to burst into the secondary and run 35 yards for a touchdown on third-and-5.
Nor do they allow back-to-back-to-back double-digit yard gains, which is how Atlanta went up 23-10 on its first possession of the second half.
Now, credit Akiem Hicks (1.5 sacks), Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson and others for stepping up when it mattered most. They completely shut down Ryan, Todd Gurley and Calvin Ridley down the stretch, allowing the Bears to post yet another victory.
After a sizzling start in which he went 8-for-9 for 124 yards, Ryan completed just 11 of his final 29 attempts for 114 yards.
Increased pressure, as always, was a big key to Ryan's demise. But better and more confusing coverage also played a big role. Ryan's last throw, which should have been completed to an open Ridley, was instead off target and intercepted by Tashaun Gipson.
"Obviously it's been a very unique start to the season for us, a very unique three games for us," said TE Jimmy Graham, who got the comeback started with a 2-yard TD reception with 6:20 remaining. "It's truly taken every player, every coach -- offense, defense and special teams to pull out these wins.
"When you're able to do things like this -- to block out all the noise and to block out all the BS and come out with lessons off a win -- that's when you know you're building something special."
But we likely won't know for another month if this team is truly for real. That's because the Bears continue facing mediocre to weak opponents the next three weeks in Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Carolina.
After that, they'll see the Rams and Saints -- and by then the Bears' defense better have things figured out.
If they do, then, yes -- this team could do special things.
If not, it's hard to fathom the Bears being much more than a so-so team that's destined for an early playoff exit.