Atlanta Falcons 23 – 17 Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears put up a gutsy week 1 display to almost shock last year’s Super Bowl runners up at Soldier Field. Atlanta would have approached the game with a certain level of optimism and confidence after the two teams respective 2016 campaigns but the Bears stifled last year’s most potent offense at times and had chances to steal an unlikely win.
Last year’s MVP Matt Ryan ended with 321 yards and a touchdown from 30 attempts as Austin Hooper’s endzone catch and Devonta Freeman’s short yardage rushing touchdown proved to be enough for the Falcons to close out in Chicago.
The Bears can look to some very good personal performances from an unheralded group as Mike Glennon threw for 213 yards and a touchdown, to potential rookie star in the making Tarik Cohen, as well as last year’s rookie star Jordan Howard rushing for a further 6 point score.
The first quarter was a cagey affair as both the Falcons and the Bears could only manage a field goal apiece whilst not threatening the red zone along the way. Cohen introduced himself to the game with a jinking punt return and a sharp 12 yard run from a Glennon hand off. Howard also made his presence known with a few strong runs in setting up the field goal and revealing an exciting one-two back field strike force.
Matt Ryan grew into the game during the second quarter and produced a lovely drive from his own 17 yard line which was finished off by a short run from Freeman into the corner. Ryan connected with Julio Jones on two occasions for around 40 yards, including one lovely tight throw to the right side-line which was caught in typical Jones toe-tapping style, whilst also finding Gabriel and Coleman on short throws. A first down rush from Ryan into the Bears 5 set up Freeman and he sprinted, unchallenged, into the corner.
The Bears answered back before the end of the half with a brilliant drive highlighted by a wonderful reverse field run by Cohen inside his own 25. A rushing play to the left side of the field was blown up by the Falcons defence as Cohen read the situation and cut hard to the right opening up the field and sprinting along the side-line before being taken down on the Falcons 30. Cohen and Howard combined for a couple of first downs to force the Bears to a first and goal situation, in which Howard received a wildcat sweep to the right hand corner of the end zone and was aided in with the help of a Mike Glennon block to even the game up at 10 apiece.
The second half started with a few unsuccessful drives from both teams before the superior pass offense of the Falcons drove themselves to the Bears red zone. Coleman and Sanu were heavily involved on the lead up but the Bears defended the rush and goal line well, forcing the Falcons into just three points and the only score of the third quarter.
The game was blown open when Matt Ryan made a great play to free himself from a pressure filled pocket and find a wide open Austin Hooper in terrifyingly absent Bears deep coverage. Hooper provided a cruel stiff arm and was aided by a few blockers to make the end zone. A play that never really threatened in the previous three quarters but the Bears will learn a lesson about switching off against a great passing offense.
Mike Glennon forced the Bears back down the field with a good yardage gain on a slant to Dion Simms and nearly provided a 50 yard touchdown pass to Cohen who couldn’t hang on in the end zone. However Glennon came back with three throws to find the end zone. The first was a dump off to Cohen who superbly evaded a tackler and gained valuable yardage before Bellamy caught well for a first down in the middle of the field. Cohen was then located on the side-line and trucked his way into the corner and narrowed the lead of the Falcons to only 3 points.
The Falcons could only manage 3 points on a long drive which left the game perfectly balanced with 6 points in it with only 3:24 on the clock.
After reclaiming a fumble from Devonte Thompson from the kick off Chicago again set off up the field through a series of short runs and quick throws. The drive was nearly ended near the halfway line with 42 seconds on the clock and a fourth down but Glennon stood in the pocket and found Bellamy for the first down to offer a chance in the dying seconds of the game.
Perhaps the best chance to steal the game came when Bellamy put down a diving catch to his left in the end zone but Jordan Howard also fumbled a catch on 1 yard line which might have led to him staggering over the line had he managed to hold on. The game finished with a fourth down sack as Chicago receivers couldn’t get open and Atlanta descended upon the new Chicago quarterback.
The Chicago Bears must take great heart in the performance and John Fox will be pleased with the performance from a large number of his players. The defence played well, defending the rush very well with a potent backfield due only managing 53 yards and putting Ryan under pressure at times. They will rue the blown secondary coverage which resulted in the Hooper touchdown and proved costly come the end of the game.
The offense has a new shining beacon in Tarik Cohen who looks so sharp in both the passing and rushing game and could be a wicked side-kick to Jordan Howard. Mike Glennon looked reasonably composed in the pocket when offered time by the big men in front but his lack of mobility does lead to issues when flushed from the pocket or when a play action does not completely sell the defence. A huge issue for Glennon is the fact he has very few receiving targets to throw to. Kevin White has joined Cameron Meridith on the injured list of receivers and let’s face it, the Bears pool to pick from is not looking strong.
Another big issue is that the Bears lost a game they could have won. They have not won many games in the recent past and this does not offer a relatively young and certainly inexperienced roster much confidence in trying to get over the line. Chicago could do with a win soon to gain some momentum or they could end up falling to another miserable season.