Updated: January 10, 2014 2:20AM
It was another missed play during what was starting to look like another long day for Bears free safety Chris Conte.
Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush burst into the second level of the Bears’ defense, and positioned to prevent a long, back-breaking run was Conte.
But he whiffed.
Bush was brought down after a 39-yard gain early in the third quarter. Two plays later, the Lions were in the end zone.
“It was like, ‘Oh, man, not
again,’ ” Conte said of missing Bush. “It’s been kind of a confidence killer for me, missing tackles. When that happened, the coaches did a good job of not letting me go in the tank. I knew I had to come back, make plays and make it up to my team.”
Conte did that. In the fourth quarter, he intercepted Matthew Stafford and returned it to the Lions’ 9-yard line. He later swiped a pass from star receiver Calvin Johnson to prevent a touchdown.
A confidence killer had turned into a boost for Conte. His performance typified a strong game by the Bears’ defense, despite the 21-19 loss at Soldier Field on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of good things from the defensive side that we can take into the next game,” Conte said.
That’s the point. This defeat isn’t on the defense. And that’s something that hasn’t been said too much this season. They were coming off a winning performance against the Packers, and this time an injured quarterback wasn’t involved.
It’s the offense that has tough questions to ponder after Sunday, whether it’s coach Marc Trestman’s decision to stick with a hampered Jay Cutler, the inability to establish running back Matt Forte (a season-low 49 total yards) in any regard, opting against a field goal, failing to convert on fourth down in the second quarter, receiver Alshon Jeffery dropping a touchdown pass and having another overturned, and so on.
Conte played a vital role in giving the offense the opportunity they always talk about wanting in the fourth quarter. He drew a facemask penalty on tight end Joseph Fauria in single coverage and three plays later broke up Stafford’s pass to Johnson in the end zone. Detroit kicker David Akers missed the ensuing 45-yard field goal.
Down 14-13 with over six minutes to play, the offense responded with a three-and-out.
A defense can only hold a player like Johnson at bay for so long. Given another opportunity, Stafford found Johnson for a 14-yard touchdown on their next possession.
“Whenever you lose, it’s never a better day,” said linebacker James Anderson, citing missed tackles and wrong reads against the run. “It’s probably a slight improvement, but we still got to get better.”
But, like Conte said, there are positives to point to.
Detroit was averaging 416 yards of total offense and was held to 364. The Lions came in with the second-ranked passing offense, averaging 317.9 yards, but Stafford had only 219 passing yards. Johnson was targeted 17 times but had only six catches. The Bears defensive line got their hands on two passes after getting only three in the first eight games.
“If you can’t get there, get your hands up,” defensive tackle Stephen Paea said.
The only glaring mistake was the 39-yard run by Bush (14 carries, 105 yards).
Plus, the Bears, thanks to all their injuries, leaned on five rookies on defense; linebackers Khaseem Greene and Jon Bostic, defensive ends David Bass and Cornelius Washington and defensive tackle Christian Tupou.
Was it one of the defense’s best games?
“Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough,” Peppers said.
It was a common postgame refrain despite examples stating otherwise.
“Overall, we’re taking steps in the right direction, but we’ve got to take bigger steps faster,” Anderson said. “That’s the bottom line.”