CHICAGO – So how good are the 2017 Bears? Apparently just good enough to lose on the last play of the game to one of the best teams in the NFL.
That’s why I was so intrigued when I heard what Falcons quarterback and reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Matt Ryan said after the game when he was asked whether he was frustrated by the Bears’ defense Sunday in the Falcons’ 23-17 victory.
“We knew coming into it, a tough front seven to go against, very difficult to run the ball against them,” Ryan said. “One of the better defenses against the run in the league, and that kind of played out that way.”
The last time the Bears commanded that kind of respect from a quality NFL opponent was after the 2012 season, when Lovie Smith was fired after the Bears went 10-6.
In fact, the Bears’ defense was very good against the Falcons, holding them to 23 points and 64 rushing yards (2.8 yards a carry) after Atlanta averaged 33.8 points a game last year and 120.5 rushing yards (4.58 a carry).
The Bears actually weren’t bad against the pass, either, if you note that while the Falcons finished the game 21 for 30 passing for 308 yards, 88 yards of that and the lone touchdown through the air came on a blown coverage on tight end Austin Hooper and a couple of badly missed tackles.
One could even argue were it not for that play, the Bears win the game.
You also can argue that the Bears win the game if they convert any one of their last four pass attempts that all came from the Falcons’ 5-yard line with less than 21 seconds to play.
Of course, they lost because two of the passes were dropped, one was well covered and quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked on the Bears’ final play.
There are no good losses or moral victories in a sport in which you only get 16 chances a year to win, but Bears Nation still leaves their beloved Sunday night feeling a lot better about them than they did Sunday morning because it’s now clear they are going in the right direction.
General manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are right. While Glennon never will be the athlete Mitch Trubisky is, he is a lot more NFL ready right now than the rookie, and that will allow the talent around him to develop.
Of Glennon’s play, Fox said, “I thought the guys responded pretty well to him. It wasn’t always smooth. Like all opening games, they aren’t oiled up really well. You have a lot of new people.
“In our case, we had our quarterback’s first time in the offense. I think he operated the team very well.”
Last year’s rookie phenom Jordan Howard picked right up where he left off in January, proving he was no fluke, and he would have had a big game had he gotten the ball more than 16 times, 13 on the ground.
This year’s rookie stud, Tarik Cohen, was phenomenal, showing that he and Howard together will be tough for defenses to handle even if the Bears can’t field any NFL-quality receivers.
Glennon may have summed up the day best when he said, “Something we always talk about is that it’s a new year. At the same time, that team is pretty much all back and was a few plays away from winning the Super Bowl. So there are definitely positives to take away from it.
“Nothing will replace a win, but I think we already know that we’re going to be competitive with everyone in the NFL.”
Had we heard that from Glennon a week or two ago, I suspect all we could have done was smirk.
Now, after watching Sunday, we might be no more than another performance or two like the Bears’ play against the Falcons from believing him.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.