The Bears defense played a solid game Sunday at Soldier Field but couldn't make enough big plays to put the Bears on top.
While their best statistical performance came against the New York Giants in Week 2, the fact that they held a likely future Hall of Fame quarterback and a stout offensive line to 19 points may make Sunday the defense's most impressive performance of the young season. After allowing a touchdown on the Colts' first drive, the defense continued its pattern of gaining momentum as time went on. The defensive line kept pressuring Rivers, and the team recorded 11 tackles-for-loss.
However, it wasn't enough this week. The defense left the field on the wrong end of a 19-11 score. Speaking after the game, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks struck a balance between appreciating the performance and acknowledging the need to improve.
"I think there were some big plays made," said Hicks. "There were some clutch situations where guys came up and performed. It just happened to not be enough in the scenario for us to get that 'W'. I feel like there was hard play on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. Shoot, special teams as well. I feel like we want more, but unfortunately, the cards didn't fall our way today."
The defense saw a few of its less-known players shine against the Colts. The lone sack of the day was recorded by defensive tackle Brent Urban, his first since arriving in Chicago in the middle of last season. Defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris got to Rivers in the first quarter, but a holding penalty on the Colts nullified the sack.
The Bears forced four three-and-outs in the game, but at times struggled to end drives early. The Colts' only touchdown of the day was the result of two converted third-downs. Well outside field-goal range and nine yards away from a first-down, Rivers found open receiver Zach Pascal for 36 yards. Three plays later, Rivers connected with tight end Mo Alie-Cox for a 16-yard score.
"It's like always," said linebacker Roquan Smith. "Get off the field, try to force the guys into the open field and not give up any more yards, but we didn't do that soon enough. So [we] just gotta get back in the lab, and we got to focus on our craft and just get better."
The defense's play was marred by a lack of turnovers, especially two near misses with scoring implications. Linebacker Khalil Mack dropped a sure interception on a tipped pass in the first quarter. With the Colts playing deep in their own territory, a catch would have likely resulted in points either on the return or the resulting drive.
The other came in the second quarter when Smith's apparent diving interception of a deflected pass in the end zone was reversed via a replay review that showed he had caught the ball before re-establishing himself in the field of play after stepping out of bounds. The defense held Indianapolis out of the end zone on the ensuing third-down play, but the Colts were still able to kick a field goal and end the drive with points.
"We understand there will be plays that we give up over the course of a game," said Hicks, "but there is a desire, an ambition to be productive and to make those plays that our team needs. When it comes to those situations, we're going to win our fair share as a defense. We have to shore up those other occasions when they are able to complete and get that first down."
The defense honed a bend-but-don't-break philosophy in the second half, keyed by strong performances. Hicks recorded six tackles, one for a loss, and hit the quarterback twice. Rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson broke up two passes and now ranks second in the league in that category.
"Make no mistake," said Hicks, "[in] the game of football, there is a reason why everybody gives up a couple points, they're going to get a couple first downs. Your job when you get into that red zone is to fight and not give up and say, 'They marched down 40 or 50 yards, so let's just give up a touchdown and get off the field.' Our mindset is to punish our opponent until the very last second."
Holding the Colts under 20 points was an accomplishment even if it feels hollow after a loss. Rivers came into the game having completed 78 percent of his passes in the first three games, but only completed 16 of 29 passes against the Bears. However, Hicks doesn't accept a moral victory.
"We held them to four field goals," said Hicks, "but unfortunately it wasn't enough for our team to overcome it. I think that there's some plays on defense that we definitely want back, but I believe in our guys. I believe we have the capability to have a good season. Unfortunately, like I said earlier, some of the circumstances we couldn't overcome."
The defense will have a quick turnaround, facing another future Hall of Fame quarterback playing for a new team on Thursday night: Tom Brady. The chance to take on Brady may help to wash away the disappointment of Sunday's game.
"I think it's going to be a great opportunity," said Smith. "Short week for us. So we just got to look at it as an opportunity to bounce back against a really good team in Tampa Bay. We just gotta flush this one here."
See the game unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers as the Bears face off against the Colts at home in Chicago, Illinois.