Matt Eberflus’ Chicago Bears defense is lights out again in win over Atlanta Falcons

Bears force 4 interceptions against Falcons

Chicago Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon celebrates his interception with cornerback Tyrique Stevenson during their game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

CHICAGO – The Atlanta Falcons struggled all afternoon on third downs in passing situations against the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. Trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke dropped back to pass, needing to move the sticks on third down.

After what had been a relatively quiet afternoon, Bears defensive end Montez Sweat burst by Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary on the outside and hit Heinicke from behind as he was throwing. The ball landed in the dirt for an incompletion. It wasn’t a sack, but it was yet another game-changing play from Sweat.

It was one of nine third-down stops for the Bears defense. Coach Matt Eberflus’ team scored 10 more points over the final seven minutes and won, 37-17, for their fifth victory in the past seven tries.

“The whole game they were taking away the inside with a guard sliding [over],” Sweat said. “So I really had no inside move and I saw the tackle just timing his hands up, just trying to push me out the pocket so Taylor could run up the middle. I just timed my hands up really well. I got his hands. I slipped a little bit but was able to get up and make an impact on the play.”

The Bears defense, yet again, made impact plays all game long. It had four interceptions.

Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson had two. Linebacker TJ Edwards and cornerback Kyler Gordon each grabbed one. Eberflus’ defense has caused three or more takeaways in five of the past six games.

Sweat’s hit wasn’t a takeaway, but it was a clutch play at a key moment against a Falcons team that looked as if it had no business throwing the football. Heinicke completed only 34.5% of his passes before coach Arthur Smith yanked him late in the game in favor of Desmond Ridder. Heinicke threw three interceptions and Ridder threw one.

Those two quarterbacks were no match for Eberflus’ defense. Third downs were especially shaky.

“Just rushing to our full ability,” said defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, who had 1.5 sacks. “Both sides kind of making it no escape for the quarterback. It was a smaller quarterback, so just collapsing the pocket and doing counter moves to get him down.”

That pressure produced only two sacks, but it forced Heinicke to throw the ball quickly, which often led to bad decisions.

The Bears rang in 2024 with a victory during their home finale at Soldier Field. They celebrated, too, like it was a new year. There were cigars in the locker room when the players returned from the field. This is a Bears team that now sits at 7-9 on the season with one game remaining.

They aren’t going to be popping champagne at the Super Bowl in February, but they have unequivocally made improvements. General manager Ryan Poles spent the past two years building this defense in the image that Eberflus wants. The results over the last two months are evident.

“It’s really a credit to the players,” Eberflus said. “The players put a lot of hard work in there. They’ve really bought into the system. This system has a lot of history. Way back. If you just believe in the system.

“The coverages have changed over the years. The front has pretty much stayed the same, but the men all look the same: They’re long, they’re lean, they’re fast and they know what to do and they know how to do it.”

The players put a lot of hard work in there. They’ve really bought into the system. This system has a lot of history. Way back.”

—  Matt Eberflus, Bears head coach

On the other side, Justin Fields and the offense dismantled the Falcons defense. The Bears totaled 432 yards of offense. Fields threw for 268 yards with one touchdown on 20-for-32 passing, while also rushing for 45 yards and a touchdown.

At one point, chants rang out across Soldier Field: “We want Justin! We want Justin!” The fans, or at least some of them, let their feeling be known about who they want at quarterback in 2024.

The Bears believe they’re building something. They don’t feel like a team that is looking to start over, at least they didn’t on Sunday.

“[It] just feels like high school or college again when you get those old memories,” Fields said. “That’s what it feels like. So it’s a great feeling.”

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.