January 20, 2021

Third downs, miscues cost Bears defense in Wild Card loss

A rush of excitement always follows a turnover.

When Bears defensive tackle John Jenkins came down with a loose ball early in the second quarter, it felt like the spark the Bears needed. Not to mention the good field position.

Jenkins pulled a ball out of the air after Bears safety Tashaun Gipson clobbered the Saints’ Taysom Hill. It was initially called an interception, but was later reclassified as a fumble recovery.

It was also what the Bears needed most. They struggled this season in the turnover department, ranking tied for 25th with 18 takeaways and tied for 23rd with 10 interceptions.

But, in typical 2020 Bears fashion, the turnover amounted to only three points from a Cairo Santos field goal. The Bears lost to the Saints, 21-9, and their season came to an end.

[Read more: Javon Wims’ drop in the end zone proves bad omen for Bears in Wild Card loss]

The offense let down the defense after the turnover, but Sunday was no picnic for the Bears defense, either. The Saints made life hard on defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s unit.

“I felt like we were right there on the cusp of switching the momentum and making another big play for us to come out on top,” tackle Akiem Hicks said. “But unfortunately that moment never came.”

The Saints converted on 11-of-17 third downs (while the Bears offense went 1-for-10). Quarterback Drew Brees went 28-for-39 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bears, playing without second-team All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith, struggled in the tackling department. Manti Te’o, starting for Smith, made two tackles on the first possession of the game, but then recorded only four more the remainder of the game. There was simply no replacing a player like Smith.

[Read more: Bears devoted mid-week meeting to C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Anthony Miller still fell for the trash talk]

There were also a few crucial errors.

With the game still close, a 7-3 Saints lead, safety Eddie Jackson jumped offside on a key fourth-and-3 in the red zone. The Saints were going for it at the Chicago 13-yard line. Jackson’s penalty gave them a first down. They scored a touchdown two plays later.

It was a rough moment for what has been a so-so season for the two-time Pro Bowler. The Bears made Jackson the highest-paid safety in the NFL when they agreed to a four-year, $58.4 million contract last January.

Jackson was not available for comment Sunday.

“Those are things you just can’t do, and we know that,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “Some of the guys are all-pro guys, the best at their position. It’s just things that we just can’t do.”

Hicks, now in his ninth year in the NFL and his fifth with the Bears, said the Bears have to “take it on the chin.”

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.