With the game on the line, nursing a 14-10 lead, the Bears allowed rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to engineer a 97-yard, implausible touchdown drive to seemingly defeat Chicago in regulation. After a miraculous connection between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall sent the game to overtime, the Bears defense rinsed and repeated their awfulness by allowing Wilson to navigate 80 yards with ease. The only way the Seahawks could have beaten the Bears on two drives was to successfully move the 177 yards for two touchdowns. They did. And they had very little resistance.
It is easy to reach for the extremes after a defensive collapse so dramatic. It is easy to blame the age of the defenders and question whether a gimp-legged Brian Urlacher is able to contain running quarterbacks the way he once did. (The Bears have been dominated by Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.) But the age of the defense was decidedly NOT in question with three minutes remaining in the game. Is it possible age takes 57 minutes to emerge? Is it possible Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and company only have 55 good minutes in their bodies at this stage in their career?
There was a season for the Bears defense before the 177 yards. It was a season of remarkable touchdowns, the globalization of the Peanut Punch, the best corner back play the city has seen in more than a generation, surprising development from the safeties and, well, did I mention touchdowns? They were one of the best defenses in the league and perhaps the best defense of Lovie Smith’s tenure.
What will the season be for this defense after the 177? More than anything else, this is the question that will define the 2012 regular season campaign. Not Mike Tice. Not Jay Cutler. Not the offensive line. The defense will determine how far along the NFL road the Bears travel. And anybody who tells you they know how this group will perform moving forward is selling you something.