Tackle like it's 2013: Bears defense flails in 30-27 loss to Packers

Aaron Rodgers strolled onto the field, raised both arms, then emphatically pumped his fist. It was part elation, part relief after the Packers made a 32-yard field goal as time expired to escape the Bears' furious rally and win 30-27 Sunday at Soldier Field.

Rodgers summoned enough magic to help the Packers take control of their destiny in the NFC North. A 60-yard completion to Jordy Nelson against rookie cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc on third-and-11 with 31 seconds remaining was his abracadabra moment.

With that flick of his arm, Rodgers dealt the Bears one of the cruelest blows in a season with no shortage of them.

The Bears had erased a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit, and they could have done even better. With 87 seconds remaining, they were 4 yards from a go-ahead touchdown. But they settled for a short field goal, leaving the door cracked for Rodgers to kick open.

"We've got to find ways to finish so we can win these games," safety Adrian Amos said. "But it's close. Change is going to come soon."

The bad news: All that talk about the defense's progress this season? Silenced Sunday by a rash of poor tackling that was reminiscent of 2013.

Maybe the Rodgers-to-Nelson dagger can be compartmentalized as one the NFL's greatest players doing his thing with the game on the line. But the Bears gave up a season-high 451 yards.

Receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery had 162 yards and two touchdowns on only 16 carries. Christine Michael added 45 yards and a touchdown on four carries. Coach John Fox likes to say he's not a math major, but you don't need a degree to figure out the Packers running backs averaged more than 10 yards per carry.

"When you've got that many rush yards, there is an issue," Fox said.

Amos noted how shifty Montgomery was but acknowledged he missed a tackle because of a poor pursuit angle.

"It comes down to us filling our right gaps and assignments," he said. "I know on the one I missed, I've got to break down in the open field and get him on the ground as the last line of defense."

The defense had no margin for error after the Packers scored 17 points off quarterback Matt Barkley's three turnovers on the first three possessions of the second half. A strip-sack, then a pair of interceptions put the Bears in too deep of a hole.

The good news: The offense scored 27 points to establish a new season high. In fact, Bears are averaging 22.8 points per game in Barkley's four starts, compared with 15.7 in the 10 games Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer started. Barkley continues to thrive in the hurry-up offense.

"There's nothing I don't like about it," he said. "It's easier to see what the defense is doing."

Beyond that, the Bears remain competitive despite their 3-11 record. There are no moral victories, and they have earned their place among the dregs of the NFL. But the Bears at least are a functional team with energy and fight. That's more than you can say for the Browns, 49ers and Jets, each of whom lost by at least 20 points in Week 15.

Extra point: Those monitoring the Bears' projected place in the draft order undoubtedly were perturbed the Jaguars blew a 12-point second-half lead and lost to the Texans. If the Jaguars had won, they would have joined the Bears with three wins, and the Bears would have slid in front of them into projected position for the third overall pick based on strength of schedule. As it stands, the Bears are slotted fourth with two weeks to go.

Up next: The Bears host the Redskins at noon on Christmas Eve. Because Christmas is on Sunday this year, the NFL moved most of its Week 16 slate to Saturday. While the Redskins continue their push for an NFC wild-card spot, it will be interesting to see how many people sacrifice some of their day to attend the home finale of a three-win team.

Final word: "We've been so close in a number of games now for the last couple of weeks. We're still shooting ourselves in the foot. I can only imagine what we would look like if we were consistent and we're executing for four quarters." — Barkley.

rcampbell@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @Rich_Campbell

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