The Bears came tantalizingly close to pulling off a dramatic upset of the defending NFC champion Falcons in Sunday's season opener at Soldier Field.
But four failed attempts by the Chicago offense to score the go-ahead touchdown from the 5-yard line in the final seconds enabled Atlanta to escape with a 23-17 win.
After three straight incompletions, quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked from behind by defensive end Brooks Reed with :03 remaining. Glennon had completed 7 of 11 passes for 54 yards on the drive to reach the 5 with :21 left, including a 14-yard strike to Joshua Bellamy on fourth-and-three from the Falcons' 42.
Tarik Cohen takes a handoff from Mike Glennon in Sunday's season opener.
"Pretty much what I told the team in [the locker room] is that's a really good football team we played today in the Atlanta Falcons and I think right now we're a pretty good football team," said coach John Fox. "Obviously it's a bitter pill, whenever you're down there knocking and you don't get it done. It was a one-score game that we had the opportunity to win. Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short.
"To be a good football team, how you respond to moments like this and games like this is going to be critical, and I think we'll respond just fine."
Despite the loss, there were some promising signs for the Bears.
"It was definitely tough to come up a few yards short, but I think we can take a lot of positives out of that game," Glennon said. "That's one of the best offenses in the league and [the Bears defense] played well. We ran the ball well and threw it well in the fourth quarter, but that's definitely a tough one to swallow, to not finish that drive at the end."
Rookie running back Tarik Cohen had a breakout performance in his NFL debut, rushing for 66 yards on five carries and catching eight passes for 47 yards. The fourth-round draft pick had a nifty 46-yard run, a 19-yard touchdown catch and a 17-yard punt return.
The Falcons led 3-0 before the Bears tied it 3-3 on Connor Barth's 54-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. The 10-play, 41-yard drive was sustained by Glennon's 15-yard pass to Deonte Thompson on third-and-eight.
Devonta Freeman's 5-yard TD dash around left end gave the Falcons a 10-3 lead with 4:29 left in the second quarter. The 11-play, 83-yard drive was highlighted by Matt Ryan completions of 18 and 25 yards to Julio Jones and 18 yards to Taylor Gabriel. The Atlanta quarterback completed 21 of 30 passes for 321 yards with one TD and a 116.1 passer rating in the game.
The Bears answered, tying the score 10-10 on Jordan Howard's 5-yard TD run. Lining up in the Wildcat formation, Cohen took the shotgun snap and handed off to Howard, who dashed around right end and picked up a block from Glennon, who was lined up wide on the play.
All seven plays on the 75-yard drive were runs, with the longest a 46-yard scamper by Cohen, who took a handoff to his left, reversed field and burst between two defenders.
The Falcons scored the game's next 10 points to take a 20-10 lead. Matt Bryant's 28-yard field goal made it 13-10 late in the third quarter. The Bears seemingly had forced Atlanta to punt following a third-down incompletion. But a roughing-the-passer penalty on Hicks sustained the drive.
The Falcons then widened the margin to 20-10 on Ryan's 88-yard touchdown pass to Austin Hooper. The Bears defense lined up late on the play and left the tight end uncovered down the middle of the field. Quintin Demps caught up to him, but Hooper stiff-armed the veteran safety to the ground and rumbled into the end zone.
"We had miscommunication on the call," Fox said. "The particular call we played was not the call we called. I'm not going to throw people under the bus. But obviously we didn't execute very well."
The Bears answered on their next drive as Glennon completed 7 of 9 passes for 70 yards, including a 19-yard TD to Cohen, to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 7:26 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Falcons increased their lead to 23-17 on Bryant's 37-yard field goal with 3:24 to play and then held off the Bears on their final possession to secure the victory.
"We came up a little short," Fox said. "But our guys played their rear ends off and fought to the very end. Unfortunately, we couldn't get one punched in there from the 5-yard line."