Bears defense ‘just not good enough’ in loss to Dolphins

Frustrated by the league’s best passing offense, Bears defenders huddled Sunday and uttered something that hadn’t been heard on the Soldier Field home sideline since, probably, Marc Trestman’s first season.

The defense needed to give the offense — and quarterback Justin Fields — something for which to be proud.

“Really, for us, it was just giving (Fields) help,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said after the Bears’ 35-32 loss to the Dolphins. “We know what it’s like to be on the other end of that as well, and wanting some help.”

The Bears were consistently better on defense than on offense throughout the John Fox and Matt Nagy eras. That’s not the case anymore, after a week in which general manager Ryan Poles traded star linebacker Roquan Smith and gave Fields a potent offensive weapon in Chase Claypool.

As much was clear Sunday when the Bears spent most of the game on pace for the worst defensive showing in franchise history. Through three quarters, they allowed 9.07 yards per play, the most they’d ever given up in a full game by almost a half-yard. They gave up a franchise-worst 8.65 yards per play to the 49ers on Halloween last year.

Then they rallied.

After giving up four touchdowns on the Dolphins’ first five possessions — their only reprieve was kicker Jason Sanders pushing a 29-yard field goal wide left late in the first half –the Bears didn’t allow a single point the rest of the way.

After the Bears forced two turnovers on downs, head coach Matt Eberflus put his faith in his defense when, with 3:11 to play, he decided to punt on fourth-and-13 and hope to force a three-and-out. The Bears did, stuffing Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert on consecutive runs and using a timeout after each play, and then forcing an incomplete pass to Jaylen Waddle on third-and-11.

With 2:38 to play in the game, they forced their first punt.

“I feel like we started being more aggressive and playing our type of defense. …” safety Jaquan Brisker said. “The offense was giving us energy.”

The Bears played their linebackers deeper in the second half to curtail the damage on quick-hitting passes. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa helped them, too. On third-and-two with about two-and-a-half minutes left in the third quarter, Tagovailoa fumbled a shotgun snap to set up fourth-and-six at the Bears’ 35. He threw wide of tight end Mike Gesicki to give the Bears the ball back.

The Bears forced another turnover on downs to end the next possession when Tagovailoa bounced a pass to tight end Durham Smythe in the flat.

Tagovailoa was excellent on the day, though, completing 21 of 30 passes for 302 yards, three touchdowns and a 135.7 passer rating. His receivers ran open for most of the game, thanks to creative play-calling — and plenty of pick plays and rub routes — by head coach Mike McDaniel. Tyreek Hill, the league’s leading receiver, had seven catches for 143 yards. Waddle, who was fourth in receiving yards entering the game, caught five passes for 85 yards.

The Bears mourned the trade of Smith to the Ravens this week, and could still sense his absence at the start of the game.

“He’s a great communicator, a great leader out there,” defensive end Trevis Gipson said. “So of course him not being out there is a difference.”

Eberflus was happy with undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn’s play in his place, particularly against the run. He played middle linebacker, while Nicholas Morrow moved to Smith’s old position on the weak side.

Eberflus’ defense gave Fields a chance — eventually. But it needs to be better than that to avoid a gruesome second half of the season.

“Just not good enough. …” Johnson said. “That’s just something we got to take on the chin: that we just weren’t good enough.”

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