CHICAGO -- In the past, clinging to a six-point lead with 5:21 left and the opposing team taking possession at its own 11-yard line, it would have seemed almost certain the Chicago Bears would hold on to win.
Yet that wasn’t the feeling Thursday night at a tense Soldier Field, and likely won’t ever be this season with the way Chicago’s defense continues to struggle.
During that frantic sequence, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs broke loose for 14 yards on first down. Three plays later, Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for an 11-yard gain. Two more running plays picked up 25 yards, and by the 2:02 mark, the Giants had advanced all the way to the Chicago 35.
“It wasn’t pretty out there,” said cornerback Tim Jennings, arguably the game’s most valuable player. He preserved Chicago’s 27-21 victory with an interception at the Bears' 10-yard line with 1:54 remaining, and he had put a touchdown on the board in the first quarter with a 48-yard interception return.
“We got off to a fast start. We didn’t finish strong, though. We’ve got to go back and figure it out. We didn’t play well. Of course we’re happy with the win. But just going back and watching, it’s not going to be a pretty thing to watch. It’s a learning tool. We’ll get something out of it.”
The Bears certainly need to.
Chicago captured its 10th consecutive victory in a game in which it scored a defensive touchdown. Since 2005, the Bears are 24-2 when they score on defense. It's an impressive statistic. But the primary objective on defense is to stop the opponent from scoring -- something Chicago hasn’t done all season.
The Bears are allowing 26.8 points per game, and haven’t yet limited an opponent to fewer than 21 points. Since 2010, the Bears are 15-6 when they hold teams to 17 points or fewer. During that span, when they allow 18 points or more the Bears are 18-15.
“Our guys, we missed some tackles,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We didn’t make some plays, certainly, we need to make down the road here.”
Jacobs finished the game with 106 yards and two touchdowns, marking the third time an opponent rushed for 100 yards or more against the Bears.
The Giants came into the game with the NFL’s lowest conversion percentage (26.2) on third down, yet skyrocketed that number up to 64 percent against the Bears. Manning completed four passes for gains of 20 yards or more, including two connections for 30-plus yards.
“We’ve got to work on third downs,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Third downs have been the bane of our defense this year.”
Injuries, too. Already hurting up front due to season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton and Nate Collins, the Bears also played Thursday night without starting defensive tackle Stephen Paea, who missed his second consecutive game, and Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman.
Chicago’s starting front four featured defensive end Corey Wootton inside at tackle alongside Landon Cohen, who joined the team on Sept. 29, as well as defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.
“You’re right about these injuries,” safety Major Wright said. “But it’s the NFL? What do you expect?”
Obviously not what observers in the past had become accustomed to from a Bears defense in a crucial situation with advantageous field position. But in the end, Chicago’s defense found a way to seal the victory thanks to two interceptions from Jennings and another from Zack Bowman, who filled in for Tillman.
“We want to be out there on that field around that time,” Wright said. “We’ve got some special players, and any time during a game, we can get a turnover -- by anybody. We knew something was gonna happen, and it was Tim.”
But the truth is, the Bears can’t always rely on that.