CHICAGO — The Bears’ defense did a lot of talking during training camp.
The word dominant was passed around like a bowl of mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table. Multiple players looked to a Week 1 matchup with the Green Bay Packers and asked for Aaron Rodgers to return to face a “real” Bears defense.
All that talking led to Sunday, their first real chance to back up a month’s worth of talking and posturing.
That “dominant” defense the Bears said we’d see? Someone needs to put out an APB for it after the Packers rolled into Soldier Field and delivered a 38-20 ass-kicking that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.
“It doesn’t sit well,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said after the game. “For me, it’s bulls–t. We wanted to come out here and we wanted to play at a high level. Not doing that isn’t OK.”
The Bears’ defensive issues started early Sunday on the lakefront.
After the Bears’ offenses handed the Packers a short field after a turnover on downs, the defense had a chance to bow up and send a message.
It must have been lost in the mail.
Packers quarterback Jordan Love marched Green Bay right down the field. On third-and-goal from the 8, Love had all day to throw, patted the ball, and delivered a strike to Romeo Doubs in the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead.
The Bears’ defense held the Packers to three points for the rest of the half, but things quickly snowballed in the second half.
There was a 51-yard screen to Aaron Jones. Later, Jones beat Kyler Gordon on a slant on fourth-and-3 and took it 35 yards to the house. A 37-yard pass to tight end Luke Musgrave off a broken play was the topper on a putrid performance from a unit that had no bite after an offseason’s worth of bark.
“It kind of hit different for me,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “For me to go out there and give up a touchdown the first drive, it’s eating. We just got to continue to come in and build. I feel like it’s a long season ahead of us. Not to say it’s good this happened now, but it’s good we got this out the way now. We got punched in our face. Sixteen more games. How we going to respond? What we going to do to get better? Each man got to look at himself in the mirror individually and figure out what he has to do.
“It wasn’t good. Nothing was good at all. … Nobody is pointing the finger unless it’s at yourself.”
There was a ton of excitement and optimism around the Bears heading into this game.
Yes, a lot of that had to do with quarterback Justin Fields and his expected growth. But an improved defense with playmakers at every level promised to give the Bears a fighting chance in 2023.
The ref called the fight early Sunday.
The Packers went 9-for-16 on third down. Love finished the game 15-for-27 for 245 yards and three touchdowns. The Bears did not force a turnover and allowed the Packers to go three-for-three in the red zone.
“Disappointed,” Johnson said. “We all compete to win. Not winning and losing in that fashion – it was a competitive loss – but it felt like they whooped our ass in the second half. That’s not what we want to do. We want to be able to finish in the second half and put teams away. We got to do a better job.”
Rodgers was 1,000 miles away Sunday, preparing for the New York Jets’ Monday night tilt with the Buffalo Bills. His exodus created the belief that the NFC North was wide open in 2023. It very well might be for the Packers, Detroit Lions, and Minnesota Vikings. But the 2023 Bears’ defense looked a lot like the 2022 Bears’ defense — just with more notable faces and some higher price tags. If that doesn’t change, those division title dreams will disintegrate quickly.
Second-year safety Jaquan Brisker stood at his locker long after everyone else had cleared out, an ice wrap on his arm. Brisker is the emotional heartbeat of the Bears’ defense. He runs hot on the field and doesn’t pull punches after losses, especially ones in which his unit flops.
If Love, Jones, and Doubs spent three hours delivering body blows to the Bears’ defense, Brisker delivered the biggest blow.
“I feel like we needed this,” Brisker told NBC Sports Chicago and Bear Report. “I feel like we might have been too high, and we just needed to get slapped in the face one good time. We needed this, especially in the first game, early. The type of team we are, the type of players we have, what we built, we needed this—got to be more disciplined.
“We needed this. I felt like we were riding too high.”
Overconfident. Undisciplined. Unfocused. Inability to execute.
The Bears’ defense was flat-out embarrassed Sunday by their rival. The offseason chest-thumping turned into dejected postgame whispers after Love, and the Packers tossed them around the field Sunday like a chew toy and sent them back to the drawing board for answers.
Answers they must find before they take the field in Tampa Bay next week.
“Got to let this one soak in,” Jackson said. “As much as it hurt, bad as it feels, we got to come out, you know, there’s still 16 more games left. Can’t dwell on it. Got 24 hours. Come in tomorrow, look at the film, get the corrections in, and just have that in our mindset that we can’t never let this happen again. Type of team we are, the type of players we have, things we want to accomplish, we got to get it corrected fast.”
Nothing was good about the product the Bears put on the field Sunday. Now, they face an early gut-check moment. Either they have the talent and focus to make Sunday’s errors a one-off, or things will snowball quickly for a team with division-title aspirations.
Based on how the Bears dealt with being punched in the mouth Sunday, that task might be easier said than done.