Eddie Jackson

Given golden opportunity, Bears defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers' substitute in gut-wrenching loss to Packers

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AP

Given golden opportunity, Bears defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers' substitute in gut-wrenching loss to Packers

Aaron Rodgers was standing on the sideline in a big winter coat, his hands buried in his pockets rather than unleashing a discount double check.

Brett Favre? He was probably wearing a good pair of Wranglers and throwing passes to his dog somewhere in Mississippi.

This was the Bears’ best opportunity to beat the Green Bay Packers in years. And they couldn’t do it.

There was much made of the fact that the Bears were favored against their longtime rivals for the first time in nearly a decade. The chatter all week was that the Bears finally had a quarterback edge, with Mitch Trubisky figuring to be better than Rodgers’ fill-in, Brett Hundley, who led a dismal offensive output during a three-game losing streak that mustered only 44 points.

But the oddsmakers out in the desert didn’t factor in the Bears playing like this.

Sunday’s 23-16 loss was a story told by one self-inflected wound after another, the Bears repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with penalties or defensive breakdowns or challenged touchdowns that resulted in turnovers (don’t ask about that last one, we’ll be here all day).

But the Bears have a struggling offense themselves. Fluky football stuff happens all the time — especially to a team that’s failed to win as often as John Fox’s has. What couldn’t be explained was the performance of this defense, one going up against not Rodgers, not Favre, but Hundley. This should’ve been the Bears defense — which has played at times this season like one of the league’s best — dominating an overwhelmed opponent.

Suffice it to say, things didn’t play out that way.

“This is a game we for sure thought we had,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said, “and we came up short.”

That’s one way of putting it, the Bears’ allowance of 23 points to a team that averaged 14.7 a game in the three contests prior with Hundley at the helm. A defense that took the ball away from offenses led by Cam Newton and Drew Brees couldn’t wrest it from one led by Hundley.

It was a defensive breakdown that allowed the Packers’ first touchdown of the game, a 37-yard scoring dash by Ty Montgomery. But the Packers’ fourth-quarter score stung worse.

Trubisky had just launched a deep-ball touchdown pass to get the Bears within three points. A menacing defense that’s stood tall so many times this season could’ve done it again and given the ball back to the offense with a chance to take the lead — the defense did sack Hundley five times Sunday.

Instead, Hundley did what Rodgers and Favre did to the Bears so many times before.

Hundley immediately responded with a five-minute, 75-yard scoring drive. After marching down inside the Bears’ 40, Hundley faced a key third down and scampered away from the Bears’ defense, toward a wide-open area of the field that picked up 17 yards and the first down and got his team in the red zone. Two plays later, he had his team in the end zone with a 19-yard touchdown toss to Devante Adams.

It was something Bears fans have seen an awful lot of before. They just didn’t expect to see it from Hundley. And maybe the Bears defense didn’t either. But they let it happen, and with it, the game was all but finished.

And so it was another loss to the Packers — the Bears falling to 3-16 against their rivals dating back to the start of the 2009 season, including that 2011 playoff game — this one a little more gut-wrenching than many of the ones that came before it.

“We’re definitely disappointed as a team, but we’re not discouraged by any means,” Amukamara said. “Not taking away from Green Bay did. Brett played a great game, and he’s been getting better ever since he started. But a lot of the stuff was self-inflicted on ourselves, and that’s just been the theme this year. And when we’ve had enough, it’ll stop, but we’ve got to make a decision.”

“We kept giving up too many yards on the run, we gave up some big passes, some big plays. We always want to limit the other team, the amount of big plays and rush yards,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “It’s on us, it’s a team thing. And especially on the defensive side of the ball, everyone will tell you the same thing. We didn’t play our best game.”

In the end, it was one gigantic missed opportunity. Maybe the Bears were asleep at the switch. Maybe they were just outplayed by an upstart group of Packers reserves — in addition to Hundley subbing in for Rodgers, the Packers lost two running backs to injuries in this game and had a less-than-healthy offensive line. Didn’t seem to matter.

But with their team favored, with their longtime tormenter relegated to street clothes, the legions of fans streaming out of rain-soaked Soldier Field probably will all go home with the same memory: “Remember when Aaron Rodgers was hurt and the Bears still couldn’t beat the Packers?”

How Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson have teamed up to solidify the Bears at safety

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USA TODAY

How Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson have teamed up to solidify the Bears at safety

Games against divisional opponents inherently are ideal for measuring progress, with straight lines able to be drawn between Games 1 and 2 against the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions.

Sunday’s rematch with the Packers — who beat the Bears, 35-14, in Week 4 — will be scrutinized heavily for signs of progress, especially for an offense that has a different quarterback under center.

The absence of Aaron Rodgers muddies things a bit for the Bears’ defense, but Sunday will mark the sixth game of the Adrian Amos-Eddie Jackson safety pairing, with those players starting together for the first time at Lambeau Field in late September. And since that rough evening in Wisconsin, the pair of Ryan Pace draft picks (Amos was a fifth rounder, Jackson a fourth) has played well.

“The ability to play together, feeding off one another,” Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson said of the improvements Amos and Jackson have made. “I think they play well down in the box, they move well in the back end. Jackson had a big game a couple weeks ago with a pick and a fumble return, so guys that are always around the pile and ready to make a play when they get that opportunity.”

Both Jackson and Amos have pick-sixes and fumble recoveries this year, with Jackson’s going for a score against the Carolina Panthers. Amos is fourth on the Bears in tackles (35) and third in tackles for a loss (four) despite barely playing on defense until Quintin Demps’ suffered a broken arm Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jackson is second on the team with four pass break-ups.

While both made some mistakes against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8, they’ve played at a high enough level together that the Bears haven’t missed Demps, the veteran and team captain who signed a three-year contract back in March.

“You have to have a trust factor there with your partner on the back end,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I think those guys have it.”

Amos sort of struggled to explain the chemistry between he and Jackson, beyond saying “we just work well together.” That’s not a bad thing — it just works and makes sense for the pair, and that speaks to the natural fit between Amos, who’s strong in the box, and Jackson, who’s strong in coverage.

“He’s a better tackler than I am, so he’s more in the box than I am,” Jackson said. “I’m in the field, covering receivers most of the time. We just really try to balance it out.”

The Bears liked Demps’ experience next to Jackson to begin the year, but Amos has played over 2,000 snaps in Fangio’s system at this point, which has helped the pair mesh. The Bears seem to have found the right mix at safety, and potentially without a key defensive player (linebacker Danny Trevathan, who didn’t practice this week due to a calf injury) against a scuffling Green Bay offense, will need to keep trending in the right direction for continued defensive success on Sunday.

“Amos is a smart guy,” Jackson said. “He’s been around so long, if I’m confused on something, I can look at him and he’ll give me the check real quick. And if he has a blur in his mind, he can look at me and I’ll give him the check. So it’s just, you help each other out, you can be a crutch for one another.”

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

How can Dontrelle Inman affect the Bears’ offense? Start with Kendall Wright

Kendall Wright has been the Bears’ most productive receiver in 2017, with 20 catches on 26 targets for 236 yards and a touchdown. But he only played eight snaps against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, about 21 percent of the offense’s total.

The Bears’ gameplan — which went ultra-conservative after Eddie Jackson’s two touchdowns — was centered around a run-first, mistake-free approach that dictated more heavier sets (two tight ends, two tight ends and a fullback, three tight ends, etc). And that led to Wright being used sparingly.

“When you’re in the bigger groupings and trying to play to your strengths that way it does limit some of the things he does,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “The last two weeks we’ve chosen to do some no-huddle stuff on third down to kind of help Mitchell (Trubisky). So, it has limited some of Kendall’s touches and those things.”

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Wright, who played under Loggains during his most productive years with the Tennessee Titans and signed a one-year prove-it contract in the offseason. He’s a savvy, football-smart veteran who can reliably get open, especially ahead the chains on third down. Those traits haven’t vanished.

But the team views Wright mostly as a slot receiver with some ability to play outside, though it’s telling that over 70 percent of his snaps since Trubisky took over at quarterback have come in three-receiver sets.

This is where Dontrelle Inman could, theoretically, help get Wright on the field more. Inman had success last year with the Chargers as someone with the flexibility to play inside and outside, but at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he has better size to play outside than the 5-foot-10, 194 pound Wright.

It’s unlikely Inman — who coach John Fox expects to take his physical either Wednesday night or Thursday morning — will step in and make an immediate impact on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Not only will Inman have to get up to speed on a new offense quickly, but he hasn’t been active since Oct. 8 and last was targeted Oct. 1. Inman has two catches on four targets this year after a 97-target, 58-catch, 810-yard breakout season in 2016.

But the addition of Inman gives the Bears a low-risk, low-cost (ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Chargers are receiving a conditional 2018 seventh-round pick in the trade) shot at finding a wide receiver for Trubisky to trust. But even if he doesn’t find the form he had a year ago, perhaps he’ll help allow the Bears to find a way to get Wright on the field a little more. And Wright is definitely someone Trubisky can trust.

“(Wright)’s a guy in my opinion who’s better when he doesn’t play 75 snaps,” Loggains said last week. “When he gets to play in that 25-35 range, he’s fresh and can bring the energy and juice.”