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Bears’ defense out for redemption after collapse vs. Raiders

“That ... was not us,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve had a chip on our shoulder this entire bye week just thinking about it.”

Chicago Bears v Oakland Raiders
Raiders running back Josh Jacobs leaps over the Bears’ defense to score the winning touchdown in the Raiders’ 24-21 victory over the Bears at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Oct. 6. Jacobs rushed for 123 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano didn’t have to do any self-scouting over the bye week to figure out what went wrong against the Raiders. All he had to do was look at the stat sheet — the Raiders had 169 yards on 39 carries and 398 total yards in their 24-21 victory Oct. 6 over the Bears in London.

Coming off a command performance against the Vikings, it looked like a different team.

“It wasn’t us,” Pagano said. “I don’t take any credit away from anybody that we play. We just weren’t good enough.”

Even against a Raiders offense that came in ninth in the league in rushing and sixth in yards per carry, it was an odd decline for a defense that rose to the occasion just a week earlier. The Bears shut down then-NFL leading rusher Dalvin Cook (35 yards on 14 carries) and held the Vikings to 222 total yards and 3.8 per carry without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and inside linebacker Roquan Smith in their 16-6 victory on Sept. 29 at Soldier Field.

“It’s a wake-up call,” Pagano said. “I wasn’t any good. We didn’t play well. We didn’t execute. . . . We got away from all the things that we did in the weeks prior, as far as playing great fundamentals, great technique, setting the edge. All the things that are a hallmark of a great defense, we just didn’t do. . . . They were better than us. We’ve got another chance, thank God.”

The last time the Bears had a lapse like this — allowing 541 yards and 31 points against the Dolphins in Week 6 last year — they got back on their feet the next week against the mighty Patriots and reverted to elite form the rest of the season.

Did the Raiders suddenly expose a flaw the rest of the league can take advantage of? Or was that performance — like the sun in Miami — a result of the overseas trip that seemed to throw the late-arriving Bears out of whack? The response Sunday against the Saints will be very interesting.

“That loss we had to Oakland was not us,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve had a chip on our shoulder this entire bye week just thinking about it. It was definitely awesome to get away — get back to Florida for myself and just to reset, get some sun because it’s freezing [actually mid-50s] here now. But our mindset is still the same — that’s to be a dominant defense. That’s the emphasis this week.”

The Bears will be without Hicks, who is out at least eight weeks on injured reserve because of a dislocated left elbow. The Bears thrived without Hicks against the Vikings, but they withered against the Raiders after Hicks suffered the injury eight plays into the game.

The Saints are 4-0 with Teddy Bridgewater starting for injured Drew Brees but have played one upper-half defense — they scored 12 points, all on field goals, against the ninth-ranked Cowboys.

The Bears are hoping to prove the Oakland failure was an aberration.

“A one-off?” Bears outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said, repeating the question. “Did we feel they did a great job preparing for us? Yes, we did. Did we feel like they made the plays that presented themselves based on what we did? Yes. All credit goes to what Oakland did.

“Did we play our best? No, we did not. And I think we had a lot of balls in the air [because of injuries] through the game. I think we get a chance to dig our heels in — hopefully we get a chance to see ’em the first Sunday in February. Love to see ’em again.”

Its pride hurt, the Bears’ defense seems ultramotivated to re-establish its dominance. Asked if Khalil Mack had responded to getting neutralized by his former team, Pagano’s coy response said it all.

“You guys will see,” he said. “Sunday — 3:25 is kickoff? You’ll see.”