If Jameis Winston giveth, will the Bears’ secondary taketh away?
It could have been an interception. It might have been a pick-six.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper was a split-second away from the big play the Bears’ defense has been looking for when he jumped recevier Julio Jones’ sideline route in a 23-17 loss Sunday to the Falcons. He settled for a pass breakup.
‘‘Such a small margin [between a pass breakup and a pick-six],’’ Cooper said. ‘‘It really comes down to a missed opportunity for me. I’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity. The team was looking for a turnover at that point. I just didn’t handle it like I should have.’’
The Bears, who had the fewest takeaways in the NFL last season with a league-record-low 11, came up empty again in a mostly sound defensive effort against the Falcons. As random as takeaways appear to be, the Bears might be getting closer. Besides Cooper’s near-miss, cornerback Kyle Fuller had a shot at a bobbled reception but couldn’t make the play.
The Bears’ defense is getting there. But the opener also revealed two missing elements: avoiding communication and mental errors, such as the one that led to tight end Austin Hooper’s 88-yard touchdown reception, and developing the bite that forces quarterbacks, running backs and receivers into game-changing mistakes.
‘‘I feel good about what we’re trying to do to get them,’’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said about the takeaways. ‘‘I don’t feel good about the results. There is a fine line.’’
Every game is another opportunity for a defense that expects to take a big step this season. Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, whom the Bears will face Sunday, threw 18 interceptions (second to the Chargers’ Philip Rivers) and lost six fumbles (tied for first with the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles) last season. On the other hand, he also threw for 4,090 yards and 28 touchdowns.
‘‘Jameis is a guy who believes in his arm and believes in his receivers, so he’s going to throw into double coverage,’’ outside linebacker Sam Acho said. ‘‘He’s going to make some throws that we’re going to have opportunities to pick off. So we’re going to take advantage of those opportunities.’’
The Bears have intercepted Winston twice in two games against him, both by since-departed safety Harold Jones-Quartey (in a 26-21 victory in 2015 and in a 36-10 loss last season). But they also have added Cooper, who intercepted Winston twice for the Cardinals last season and returned one 60 yards for a touchdown.
“If you want to be a great defense, a great secondary, you’ve got to have takeaways,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘We need to get those takeaways if we want to be what we want to be.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.