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Bears’ defense ‘just found a way to screw it up at the end’

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano laments another breakdown by his once-vaunted defense that paved the way for the Bears’ sixth consecutive loss. “That’s not Chicago Bear defense. And that falls on me.”

Lions tight end Jesse James (83) catches a nine-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford in front of Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) in the Lions’ 34-30 victory over the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Lions tight end Jesse James (83) catches a nine-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford in front of Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) in the Lions’ 34-30 victory over the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears’ defense has faltered in stunning fashion in back-to-back games, but the shame against the Lions on Sunday was greater than the previous week against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Against Green Bay, the Bears were without defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and were manhandled by Aaron Rodgers, who was orchestrating a top-five offense. They never had a chance. It happens.

But against the Lions, the Bears’ defense — with Hicks back — didn’t just play poorly, it played just poorly enough to lose. With a 30-20 lead and the Lions backed to their 4-yard line with 4:33 to play, just mild resistance to force Detroit to burn precious time very likely would have been enough to win. Instead, the Lions drove 96 yards on seven plays in only 2:15 for a touchdown that opened the door.

Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano pointed to that drive in particular when asked about what has gone wrong with the Bears’ defense the last two games. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed consecutive passes of 14, 22, 17, five and 13 yards before a too-easy 25-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones — beating rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson — with 2:18 left.

“We did some really good things in that game, and then we just found a way to screw it up at the end,” Pagano said. “You had that long drive, we had a 10-point lead, they go down the field, bing, bing, bing, bing — that’s definitely not us.

“I know you guys see it and say, ‘That’s not Chicago Bear defense.’ And that falls on me. That’s my responsibility to make sure those things don’t happen.”

The crumbling defense has just about sapped whatever enthusiasm there is left about the Bears. The offense is a lost cause at this point, in need of major surgery to get where coach Matt Nagy wants it to go. But the defense was an anchor and even a weapon that allowed Bears fans to dare to dream: If Nagy’s offense can just be average, this defense can win a lot of games. You give this defense 30 points, and the Bears should coast to victory. In fact, the Bears were 6-1 under Nagy when they scored 30 points. The only loss was against the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots — 38-31 in 2018.

But the Bears gave Pagano’s defense 30 points Sunday, and the defense gave up 34. Two weeks ago, the Bears’ defense led the NFL in red-zone efficiency (44.1%) — allowing 15 touchdowns in 34 possessions. In the last two weeks, the Packers and Lions have combined to score seven touchdowns in eight red-zone possessions (87.5%).

“Everybody’s done a lot of soul-searching and watching the tape over and over and over again ad nauseam and trying to figure out what it is,” Pagano said. “It’s not rocket science. I gotta coach better. We gotta execute better, especially when the game’s on the line.”

Speaking of ad nauseam, the loss to the Lions also highlighted an old bugaboo — the Bears’ inability to make offenses pay for going all out to prevent outside linebacker Khalil Mack from dominating. Mack was shut out on the stat sheet against Detroit — though he had a sack nullified by a penalty. But Robert Quinn on the other side was shut out, also.

“We’ve looked at it every single way we can look at it,” Pagano said, “and we continue to daily because [Quinn’s] a playmaker and a talent, and it’s not showing up. And he’d be the first to tell you, ‘I’ve got to make plays when I have my opportunities.’ We’re looking at all the same things that everybody else is looking at. It’s coming to light every single week. We get it and understand. It’s my job to make sure we get them in position to have success.”

In 11 games, Quinn has 13 tackles (nine solo), one sack, no tackles for loss, three quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

“Guys got to win those one-on-ones,” Pagano said. “It hasn’t happened obviously to this point. But it’s not [for] lack of toughness and athleticism and preparation and willingness and character. His football character is off the charts. But it’s a bottom-line business. You get it done. I get it done — otherwise they’ll find someone else to do it. We all understand what this is all about.”