Taxed defense can’t make up for Caleb Hanie’s ineptitude
By Mark Potash firstname.lastname@example.org December 18, 2011 10:06PM
Charles Tillman (33) celebrates with Israel Idonije after Idonije scored a touchdown in the first quarter on a fumble recovery in the end zone. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 20, 2012 8:21AM
When Julius Peppers beat Seahawks backup tackle Paul McQuistan to force a Tarvaris Jackson fumble that teammate Israel Idonije recovered in the end zone for a touchdown in the first quarter Sunday, it looked like the Bears’ defense was taking matters into its own hands and Peppers was going to have a field day against the overmatched McQuistan.
At that point, the defense had scored as many touchdowns as the offense in the last three games — one.
But it wasn’t nearly enough. With Caleb Hanie trumping the Idonije touchdown by throwing two interceptions that were returned for scores, the defense couldn’t keep up in a 38-14 loss to the Seahawks at Soldier Field. Peppers, who was credited with his 10th sack on the Jackson strip, was silenced the rest of the way. And the defense didn’t even get another takeaway, let alone a touchdown.
‘‘It’s disappointing; there’s not much to be said,’’ said Idonije, who scored his first career touchdown. ‘‘Just not a good showing by us as a team.’’
It was a team effort. But the Bears’ fourth consecutive loss was the biggest indictment of the their inability to adequately replace Jay Cutler — Hanie was so poor, the Bears’ defense and special teams couldn’t keep the team afloat against mediocre competition.
The defense not only scored but held the Seahawks to 84 total yards and 2.8 yards per play in the first half. But the Bears wilted under the pressure in the second half, with two pick-sixes putting the defense in an even more difficult position.
‘‘A lot has happened,’’ Idonije said. ‘‘We lose Jay. We lose Matt [Forte]. That’s football. You hope guys come in, and you have to have play at that level. It’s just been a tough year. So many things didn’t go our way. We’ve got to find a way to overcome those.’’
As usual, little things became big. When Jackson muffed a shotgun snap in the second quarter, the ball bounded right in front of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. He reached down and couldn’t get it. McQuistan recovered.
‘‘I’m mad,’’ Urlacher said when asked about the squandered opportunity the last four weeks. ‘‘This is not our team. This is not how we’re supposed to play. It doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback. The defense has to be better.’’
The special-teams units were an even bigger culprit. With virtually nothing from their return game, the Bears’ average drive start was their 24 — 13 of their 14 drives started inside their 34.
Typifying the kind of day it was, Corey Graham, a Pro Bowl candidate on special teams, was called for a ‘‘leverage’’ penalty on Steven Hauschka’s 22-yard field goal in the first quarter. That gave the Seahawks a first-and-goal at the Bears’ 2. Marshawn Lynch scored on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
‘‘They said I used the center for leverage [to block the kick],’’ Graham said. ‘‘We had a play call where I jump over the center to try for the block. But he stood up, and I landed on him a little bit. Just bad timing, I guess.’’