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Closing Bigger for Bears than Starts

Analysis: Forget the slow starts, it's winning when you get into position to do it that matters and the Bears failed two straight weeks.

Media questions for Matt Eberflus after Sunday's 29-22 loss to Minnesota centered around the poor start by his team's defense, something perceived as a trend.

The Bears gave up three touchdowns on drives of 12, 11 and nine plays to start the game, all 70 yards or longer.

It's easy enough to surrender points at any time when Minnesota has Justin Jefferson at receiver and the three Bears cornerbacks are Kindle Vildor and rookies Jaylon Jones and Kyler Gordon.


The Bears had also fallen behind against the New York Giants 14-6 early, as well, but in a different way. It was all on the ground then. This time all through the air against a pass defense that had been ranked in the top 10 despite not having cornerback Jaylon Johnson now for more than half the season.

"I mean, you missed like that," safety Eddie Jackson told reporters after the game. "You have a guy like that out you miss him, you know? Every game, week-in, week-out, you know what Jaylon can do. You know, shut down any No. 1 receiver easy so, you know, just trying to get him help to get him back man it's gonna help us a lot."

Jackson gave the next-man-up mentality speech, too, but it was obvious the Vikings had the weapons to attack a secondary that had three rookies, including Johnson's backup, undrafted Jones. They picked at all of the inexperienced players with Jefferson early, for 10 completions.

When the Bears adjusted it was a case of Kirk Cousins looking for the other receivers less successfully.

Put Johnson back in the lineup and maybe Bears inconsistency at the start of games disappears. He's the closest thing they have to a lockdown cornerback and replaces massive inconsistency with two-plus seasons of success.

The real problem in this game was not the way the Bears started on defense. Giving up 17 of 17 to Cousins to begin the game means little once you've rallied from 21-3 to lead 22-21.

The real problem was not finding a way to close a game in which they'd worked so hard to earn a chance at the win.

For the second straight week, despite poor starts the Bears were in position to win or tie on the road with their final drive and both times they turned the ball over in embarrassing fashion—a muffed punt and then Ihmir Smith-Marsette getting the ball stolen from behind when he could have stepped out of bounds only 39 yards from the potential tying or winning points.

Both of those turnovers happened with plenty of time left.

This goes directly against the HITS principle Eberflus has. Taking care of the ball is one of the components.

The Bears have turned it over eight times, and just seven teams have more. They have fumbled the ball 12 times and the league average is less than seven.

HITS indeed.

Looking at the picture from a 30,000-foot view, the real problem is not that they started slowly twice on defense but that they don't close. 

Turnovers affected this two straight weeks.

The defense hasn't stopped the run at times and Sunday experienced its first problem trying to stop the pass. 

They've shown the ability to make up for poor starts on either side of the football by making in-game adjustments.

They've now had games when the running game and passing attacks both came to life, when the run defense and pass defense both struggled and stood out.

The finishing problem is the real worry. 

It wasn't just the offense turning it over. The defense could have stopped a 75-yard, 17-play epic drive on any one of five third downs but didn't, after they'd been stopping Minnesota routinely since the first half.

The Detroit Lions started their rebuild last year and in 22 games under coach Dan Callahan they have had eight when they lost by four points or less.

It's easy to become a team capable of losing close games in the NFL.

One of the issues Eberflus said after the game that he addressed with the team was how each week in the NFL comes down to tight finishes like the last two Sundays.

"Like I said, make the plays at the end for a different outcome," Eberflus said

The winners are those who finish at game's end and the Bears obviously don't want to wind up like Detroit, looking for this ability in the second year of a rebuild.

It's difficult enough to experience it two straight weeks in Year 1 of a rebuild.

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