First-and-10: No white flags, but a lot of red ones for Bears

This wasn’t just a loss. It was a letdown. It was only Week 1. But Matt Eberflus’ job just got a little tougher. He not only has to coach ’em up; he has to take the heat in a football town that is just about out of patience after years of disappointment.

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Bears coach Matt Eberflus was unbowed by the Bears’ 38-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday. “it’s a long season. We’re gonna get better,” he said.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus was unbowed by the Bears’ 38-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday. “it’s a long season. We’re gonna get better,” he said.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

It’s only Week 1? It’s just one game? We’ll see about that.

The Bears have plenty of room to rationalize their 38-20 loss to the Packers and Jordan Love on Sunday at Soldier Field. They had 12 new starters. They played seven rookies. Justin Fields played 20 snaps in the preseason. Seven other starters played none. The offensive line was playing together for the first time in a real game.

But fans who witnessed the demise of Bears teams under Marc Trestman, John Fox and Matt Nagy saw some uncomfortably familiar red flags. Back-to-back failed sneaks on the first drive of the season, including one with tight end Cole Kmet taking the snap on third down. (Shouldn’t developing offenses get the football part down first before getting cute?) Allowing a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and three. An offensive game plan that didn’t appear to trust the offensive line.

Failing on third down when the game was competitive on offense (1-for-10) and defense (9-for-14). Not throwing to DJ Moore until the second quarter. Fields, in a critical year of development, losing a fumble and throwing a pick-six. Left tackle Braxton Jones, the fifth-round find expected to take a big step in Year 2, committing four penalties.

Even the emotional element that is supposed to fuel coach Matt Eberflus’ teams was a dud. The Bears didn’t look like a H.I.T.S.-principle team by the eye test. Coming to Fields’ defense for a clean, legal hit by cornerback Jaire Alexander seems like misplaced aggression.

And big plays that revved up the home crowd — and presumably the defense — didn’t have much staying power. Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson ignited the crowd early with a big hit on rookie receiver Jayden Reed for a two-yard loss to set up a third-and-13. It looked like a tone-setter, but Love connected with Romeo Doubs for 13 yards and a first down on the next play.

Later in that drive, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds dropped running back A.J. Dillon for a three-yard loss with a big hit on first-and-goal. Two plays later, Love hit Doubs again for an eight-yard touchdown pass.

This wasn’t just a loss; it was a letdown. Last season, the Bears were poorly constructed — by design. On Sunday, they looked poorly coached. Yeah, it’s early. But it gets late around here pretty quickly. Eberflus’ job just got a little tougher. He not only has to coach, but he also has to take the heat in a football town that is just about out of patience after years of disappointment.

2. You don’t want to overreact to one game, especially when it’s the first game, but rarely has a bad loss not been a harbinger of a disappointing season. The last five times the Bears have lost their opener by more than a touchdown, they have finished 6-11 (2021), 3-13 (2016), 6-10 (2015), 7-9 (2007) and 7-9 (2003).

The last time the Bears lost by more than a touchdown and had a winning season was in 2001, when they lost to the Ravens 17-6, then won nine of their next 10 and finished 13-3 to make the playoffs.

But that loss was on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions in a game in which the Bears were within 10-6 late in the fourth quarter. This wasn’t that.

2b. Only one team in the last 20 seasons has lost at home by 18 or more points in the season opener and made the playoffs: the 2021 Titans, who lost to the Cardinals 38-13 but finished 12-5 to win the AFC South.

3. For What It’s Worth Department: Eberflus’ defenses have a history of starting slowly and improving throughout the season. His defenses with the Colts allowed 34, 30, 27 and 28 points in openers, with quarterbacks combining for a 136.6 passer rating (15 touchdowns, two interceptions). Those quarterbacks were Andy Dalton (109.7), Philip Rivers (121.3), Gardner Minshew (142.3) and Russell Wilson (152.3).

4. As defensive end DeMarcus Walker pointed out, there was a bright side. ‘‘We stopped the run,’’ Walker said. ‘‘They rushed for, what, [92] yards? So we didn’t get the big win, but the small win we take from that and continue working [and] continue getting better as a team.’’

In fact, the Packers rushed for 92 yards on 32 carries (2.9 average). Last season, they rushed for 203 and 175 yards with 5.4 yards per carry against the Bears.

5. It’s never too early for second-guessing when the Bears lose in a dispiriting fashion. Eagles rookie defensive tackle Jalen Carter had a sack and six pressures Sunday against the Patriots, the most pressures by a rookie defensive tackle in a game in the last five seasons, according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats.

General manager Ryan Poles’ decision to pass on Carter at No. 9 still seems prudent. He drafted starting right tackle Darnell Wright at No. 10 and defensive tackles Gervon Dexter (23 snaps against the Packers) and Zacch Pickens (12). But the difference is clear. Dexter and Pickens are playable projects being retrofitted into Eberflus’ defense; Carter is plug-and-play.

Carter still has a long way to go to prove he was worth the risk, but it also might be that Poles underestimated his roster’s ability to nurture a generational talent. The Bears won’t be a young, inexperienced team forever.

6. If all a defense has to do is focus on Moore to take him out of the Bears’ offense, that seems like more of a Luke Getsy problem than a Moore problem.

Moore had only two targets and two receptions for 25 yards. That’s the fewest targets he has had in a full game in 62 games (Week 3 of 2019). It was his fewest targets in a game his team lost in 74 games as an NFL starter.

Moore’s production was a letdown, especially compared with other savior receivers in their first games with the Bears. Brandon Marshall had 13 targets (nine catches, 119 yards, TD) in 2012. Allen Robinson had seven targets (four catches, 61 yards) in 2018. Muhsin Muhammad had 12 targets (six catches, 59 yards) in 2005.

7. The Bears’ offensive line was an even bigger disappointment because that’s supposed to be Poles’ strength. Regardless of circumstances — center Lucas Patrick and guard Nate Davis didn’t play in the preseason — the line’s substandard play was a red flag.

Another one: Jones, who had four penalties in his first nine games as a rookie, had four penalties against the Packers — two for holding and two false starts. He has 11 penalties in his last nine games.

8. Marvin Harrison Jr. watch: The 6-4, 205-pound Ohio State junior had seven receptions for 160 yards and touchdowns of 71 and 39 yards in the Buckeyes’ 35-7 rout of Youngstown State.

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: Running back David Montgomery had 21 carries for 74 yards and scored on an eight-yard run with 7:06 left in the fourth quarter in the Lions’ 21-20 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

10. Bear-ometer: 7-10 — at Buccaneers (W); at Chiefs (L); vs. Broncos (L); at Commanders (L); vs. Vikings (W); vs. Raiders (W); at Chargers (L); at Saints (L); vs. Panthers (W); at Lions (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Lions (W); at Browns (L); vs. Cardinals (W); vs. Falcons (L); at Packers (W).

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