The Bears’ vaunted defense seemed to reach a breaking point Sunday.
Put to the test by more offensive discombobulation — including an Anthony Miller fumble at in the first quarter, the defense was the primary reason the Bears were down only 12-10 at halftime. The Saints scored a safety on a blocked punt and a touchdown on a 24-yard drive after Miller’s fumble. A 12-play, 52-yard field-goal drive gave the Saints their 12-10 lead.
But it unraveled from there, as the Bears’ defense wilted early in the third quarter and fueled a 24-0 run that turned a close game into a blowout en route to a deceiving 36-25 final. After holding the Saints to 33 rushing yards on 12 carries (2.8 avg.) in the first half, the Bears allowed 113 yards on 20 carries — and 249 total yards in the second half.
“The first half we felt pretty good — good enough to win,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “Second half, I don’t know what happened. We’ll have to look at the film. What I do know is they came out and punched us in the mouth and just kept going and going and going.”
Bears defensive players were at a loss to explain the second consecutive game in which it fell flat.
“Words really can’t explain it now,” safety Eddie Jackson said.
That might have been as accurate as any statement in the aftermath of the biggest regular-season loss of the Matt Nagy era. Several key players were unavailable to talk to reporters after the game.
Linebacker Khalil Mack, as is his custom after losses, did not talk. Linebacker Leonard Floyd had to get treatment. Linebacker Danny Trevathan mumbled something about something as he hurriedly dressed, picked up his belongings and left the locker room with nary a word. And linebacker Roquan Smith never even showed up to say no.
It wasn’t that mystifying. The Bears’ defense seemed to wear down as the Bears’ offense continued to short-circuit. The Saints ended up with a massive edge in time-of-possession: 37:26 to 22:34. Saints running back Latavius Murray rushed for 30 yards on nine carries (3.3 avg.) in the first half. He rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries (4.9 avg.) in the second half.
“We just started doing uncharacteristic things,” defensive end Bilal Nichols said. “We didn’t play our techniques right. We just played bad. That’s all I can tell you.”
The defensive meltdown started early in the second half. On the opening series, Latavius Murray gained seven yards on first down. Two plays later, Murray drove up the middle for a 17-yard gain — driving several Bears defenders back for the final six or seven yards of that gain.
On the next play, Ted Ginn burned Amukamara for a 45-yard pass to the Bears 3-yard line. Murray scored on the next play to give the Saints a 19-10 lead. And the route was on.
“The game was a tale of two halves,” Amukamara said. “The first half we felt we were right there and the second half, I think that one deep ball — with me — I felt like it kind of changed the momentum of the game.”
What went wrong on that play?
“I just have to be there,” Amukamara said.
Now, the defense has to pick itself up off the floor as well with the Bears 3-3 and the season appearing gloomy.
[Hurt our] pride — not at all,” Jackson said. “It just gives you that gut feeling, you just want it. Now you’ve got to go even harder. For us, we’re going to see how we respond. The type of team we have, especially on the defensive side of the ball, we have guys that like to step up — that love adversity. Right now we’ve got to build on that.”
“It’s just unacceptable,” Amukamara said. “I feel like we’re losing our identity and we just have to get that back.”