ATLANTA – The Bears planned and prepped for Atlanta kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson all week. Everyone around the NFL is well aware that Patterson can swing a game with his kick return prowess. Not to mention, he played in Chicago for two years.
But Bears kicker Cairo Santos left a second-quarter kickoff just a little bit too short, and Patterson made the Bears pay. He ran back a 103-yard kick return touchdown that helped swing the momentum in favor of the Falcons during Sunday’s win over the Bears, 27-24, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The kickoff return touchdown marked the ninth of Patterson’s NFL career – a new NFL record. Patterson had been tied with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington for the most all time. Now, he sits alone at the top.
“He changed the game with that one,” said rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, who is on the kickoff coverage team.
Patterson has now returned a kickoff for a touchdown for four different teams, including two touchdowns with the Bears. He has returned three touchdowns against the Bears – all with different teams (Minnesota, New England and Atlanta).
Moments before, Justin Fields had just scored a touchdown to extend the Bears’ lead to 17-7. Patterson’s big return, which he took right up the middle, made it a one-possession game again.
“He’s the best to ever do it,” Santos said. “He’s shown that. In that kick, I could’ve gotten the ball deeper and eliminated him. He’s shown that even if it’s nine [yards] deep, he’ll take it out and try to get that record. Just needed the ball out of the end zone.”
The kick marked Patterson’s third return of the game. The Bears had only one more kickoff the rest of the game, but they booted it deep for a touchback.
Head coach Matt Eberflus blamed the miscue on “all 11 guys out there on the coverage squad.”
Defense struggles again: Linebacker Jack Sanborn was kicking himself in the locker room after the game. A fourth-and-2 play late in the fourth quarter was still eating at him. With the score tied, the Falcons went for it at the Bears’ 38 yard-line.
Sanborn initially made a great play to meet Patterson, the running back, in the backfield. He couldn’t, however, bring him to the ground. Patterson broke a tackle and powered his way for a 6-yard gain. It set up the game-winning field goal for Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo with just under two minutes remaining.
“I just didn’t finish the tackle,” said Sanborn, a rookie from Lake Zurich. “I had him. Spun out. Definitely a tough one to look back on. He’s honestly bigger and stronger than I even expected, I think. But, I mean, just got to tackle better.”
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Patterson is a tough man to bring down. He rushed for 52 yards on 10 carries.
As a whole, the Bears defense didn’t come up with enough stops. They had one takeaway, a fumble forced by safety Jaquan Brisker against Patterson that was recovered by cornerback Jaylon Johnson. But the defense forced only three punts in the game.
“It’s tough,” Brisker said. “Everybody giving their bodies, put it on the line. Trying to work very hard to get stops and everything like that. To have it end up like this, again, it’s tough.”
Brisker finished with a team-high 11 combined tackles, while Sanborn had nine. The Bears failed to sack Falcons QB Marcus Mariota.
Santos’ streak ends: Santos missed a 56-yard field goal attempt just before halftime. It left the Falcons with good field position. With 1:10 still on the clock, they turned it into a field goal and went into halftime with a tie game, 17-17.
The missed field goal ended Santos’ streak of 21 consecutive made field goals. The streak dated back to Week 15 of last season. It was the second-longest field goal streak of his career, well behind the 40 consecutive he made between 2020-21.
Santos’ field goal try appeared to just graze the bottom of the goal post. Santos said he was confident from as deep as 58 yards at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Teams will typically have several balls marked to be used by the kicker during a game. Santos said he didn’t have his “best” ball on that field goal try because Patterson kept it after scoring his kick return touchdown. It will likely wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Santos noted that regardless of which ball he used, he didn’t strike it well.
“The ball lost the power and drove down shorter,” Santos said.