Much to the chagrin of Chicagoans expecting so much more, the Bears arrived Friday in Seattle hoping to play up to the high NFC standard of the Seahawks but left looking more like the defending AFC champion Broncos.
In Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks blew out the Broncos 43-8 last Feb. 2, and, obviously, the stakes of a Super Bowl loss and a 34-6 defeat in the third exhibition game do not compare. The stink, however, did.
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The Bears defense couldn't stop a soul, their special teams couldn't cover with anybody except the punter and the starting offense couldn't score due to protection issues and penalties. Other than that, the Bears' trip to the Great Northwest was all good.
When it rains on opponents at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, it pours. On their first four possessions, the Bears defense gave up four touchdowns, 250 total yards and seven straight third-down conversion attempts. The Seahawks looked so dominant the first two quarters that you expected Rihanna or Coldplay to perform at halftime. In the truest preseason evaluation, the Seahawks reaffirmed themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl favorite while the Bears regressed badly.
As far as measuring up, this was like a kid standing back-to-back with his dad, showing the gap between boys and men in the NFL — the difference between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders. That's not an overreaction to a game that means nothing as much as it is an obvious interpretation about a team vastly overrated in its hometown. Now can we all stop hearing about a special feeling in the air around Bourbonnais and Halas Hall? Maybe it was just humidity.
Let's start over now that the Bears have been together exactly one month.
Those who went into training camp predicting the Bears would win 10 or 11 games — the original thinking here — came out believing eight or nine victories sounded more realistic, if not slightly optimistic. Things can change quickly in the NFL, but the Bears appear too inferior in two of the game's three phases — defense and special teams — to keep up with the class of the NFC. Wild-card contention, here they come.
"There's a strong feeling between myself and the coaches and players that the things that happened (Friday) are fixable," coach Marc Trestman said.
Can coaching fix a lack of speed on defense?
More than anything, the Seahawks made the Bears look slow — something, granted, that quarterback Russell Wilson does to many defenses. But the glaring difference in quickness reminded everybody that the Bears believed they got better defensively in the offseason but they didn't get any younger. The question is almost as old as Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman: Has either 11-year veteran or any of the other defensive regulars over 30 such as D.J. Williams or Tim Jennings lost a step?
As much as the defensive line has improved, the back seven too often has been exposed on the perimeter for being a half-step late — especially on third downs when athletes need to make plays.
Free safety Chris Conte, underrated athletically, made an encouraging return in the second quarter but left with a concussion that further clouds his status. No other impact safety has emerged.
The youth the Bears want to infuse, guys such as linebackers Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic, have yet to master their jobs enough to make the explosiveness in their games consistently matter.
Yes, the return of cornerback Kyle Fuller after missing two games will make the defense speedier, but can a unit miss a player it never had? Should a rookie be so important?
In fairness, the Bears can point to defensive end Jared Allen playing just 28 snaps in three games and the No. 1 defense being on the field for only five quarters as mitigating factors. But enough evidence exists during defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's tenure to feel uneasy about the overall direction.
Nothing suggests the Bears know how to scheme their way out of anything defensively. All the new defensive players general manager Phil Emery added obscured the fact that the Bears retained Tucker, who has as much to prove as anybody on the Bears' payroll.
Quarterback Jay Cutler threw an interception that reflected poor judgment but, given his overall growth this preseason, he represents the least of the Bears' problems. Same goes for wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who dropped passes they can't if they want to call themselves the NFL's best tandem. The offensive line needs right tackle Jordan Mills back and more cohesion but, in this offense, running back Matt Forte remains on pace to become every fantasy football owner's dream.
The reality is the Bears defense still threatens to ruin everything, a fact reinforced during a second straight disappointing exhibition effort.
Consider it a jolt courtesy of Seattle's best.