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Good not good enough for Bears’ defense

The Bears contained Derrick Henry and held the Titans to a season-low 228 total yards. But one stat again was a glaring deficiency: zero takeaways. A workmanlike performance just won’t do it. 

Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, gained 68 yards on 21 carries (3.2 avg.) in the Titans’ 24-17 victory over the Bears. It was Henry’s second lowest rushing total this season.
Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, gained 68 yards on 21 carries (3.2 avg.) in the Titans’ 24-17 victory over the Bears. It was Henry’s second lowest rushing total this season.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Derrick Henry didn’t beat the Bears on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill didn’t, either.

So how did they lose?

The Bears’ defense faced a familiar Matt Nagy-era scenario in a 24-17 loss to the Titans in Nashville: It played well enough to win, but the team didn’t.

The Bears held Henry, who entered the game as the NFL’s leading rusher, to 68 yards on 21 carries. They sacked Tannehill three times and held him to 158 passing yards. They held the Titans to 228 yards and 4.1 yards per play — well below their averages of 385 yards and six yards per play. In fact, it was the Titans’ fewest total yards since the Broncos held them to 203 yards in a 16-0 loss in Week 6 last season.

‘‘Our defense played really, really well,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘They’re doing everything that we’re asking them to do.’’

And it’s just not enough. The defense is playing well, but it keeps reaching for a fastball it has not had since former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left. As impressive as the defense was Sunday, one statistic again was a glaring deficiency: zero takeaways. A workmanlike performance just won’t do it.

‘‘We know it looked like we played well,’’ linebacker Danny Trevathan said, ‘‘but there’s a couple of plays we should have made — myself included. We’ve got to get the turnovers. We played well enough to win, but it’s never enough. We’ve got to be hungry. We’ve got to not allow them to get that many points.’’

The Bears’ takeaway opportunities were few against the ever-careful Tannehill. Cornerback Kyle Fuller had a shot at an interception on the Titans’ first series but was a split-second late to get it. Defensive end Brent Urban, effective in an expanded role with Roy Robertson-Harris out, hit Tannehill as he threw in the second quarter, but it was a split-second late to cause a fumble.

And the Bears’ sacks came from the inside: linebacker Roquan Smith, defensive tackle Bilal Nichols and defensive end Mario Edwards. They never got a blindside hit that shakes the ball loose. Neither outside linebacker Khalil Mack nor outside linebacker Robert Quinn had even a pressure against Tannehill.

‘‘I was proud that everybody was fighting; that’s the kind of character we have,’’ Trevathan said. ‘‘At the same time, I know we all can be better. I always put myself in there because I know I could be better at situations, probably make a turnover here and there.’’

Trevathan’s performance provided at least some hope the Bears’ defense can reach another level. After a mostly sluggish first half of the season, he was more noticeable against the Titans, especially on a downfield pass breakup against receiver Corey Davis that any defensive back would be proud of.

On the next play, however, Henry broke free for his only good run of the day — 26 yards — to propel the Titans toward a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive for a 24-3 lead.

The defense wasn’t perfect. Safety Eddie Jackson missed a tackle that sprung receiver A.J. Brown for an additional 27 yards on a 38-yard pass play that led to a Titans field goal for a 3-0 lead. The Titans’ other offensive touchdown came on Tannehill’s perfectly thrown pass to Brown for a 40-yard touchdown. There wasn’t much cornerback Buster Skrine could do on that one.

But with the offense spinning its wheels, the defense is going to have to take matters into its own hands. That means takeaways.

‘‘I know they’re coming,’’ Trevathan said. ‘‘We had a couple of [chances]. But guys hold that stuff real personal. They’re going to attack it next week. I’m excited to get back to work with them. We know we have a great defense, and we can win any one of our games.’’