It took just 13 seconds in today's contest between the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals for the life to get sucked out of Soldier Field.
Cardinals kick returner David Johnson took the opening kickoff from eight yards deep in the end zone, sprinted untouched to the 25-yard line before cutting left and then up the sideline, outracing kicker Robbie Gould for a touchdown.
"Our kickoff team has started to block better," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "We feel real comfortabl with David and he just hit the crease. He felt good about the height of the kick and brought it out and took it to the house."
From that point on, it was an uphill climb for the Bears, who never led during a 48-23 blowout loss.
"The game kind of started off pretty frustrating," said Bears head coach John Fox. "We have a lot of work to do."
Fuller Finally Benched
Kyle Fuller struggled in the second half of his rookie season yet most were willing to write it off due to hip, leg and hand injuries he suffered miday through the campaign.
Then he came out and struggled in OTAs, which carried over to training camp, where Alshon Jeffery beat him relentlessly and regularly. Then Fuller struggled in the preseason, allowing a reception every time the ball was thrown his way.
Still, there was a pervading feeling at Halas Hall that, once the games counted, the former first-round pick would emerge as a reliable No. 1 cornerback.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Fuller's confidence is shot and he's been a liability in coverage during the regular season as well. He's incurred two pass interference penalties of 30 or more yards the first two weeks, and has yet to break up a pass.
As a result, Chicago's coaching staff benched Kyle Fuller in the fourth quarter today and replaced him with Terrance Mitchell.
"Of course it's tough," Fuller said after the game. "But you just have to get back to work."
On a day in which nearly every defender played poorly, Fuller's benching is telling.
"We're still evaluating. We'll evaluate every game as we march through the season," Fox said. "I just know we gave up 170 yards of penalties on downfield throws and it wasn't a mystery that we were going to see some of those."
Obviously the Bears had prepared Fuller for an offense run by Arians, who loves to take deep shots down the field, and his 38-yard pass interference didn't sit well with the head coach.
I wrote a month ago about the benefit of sitting Fuller, who could use some time on the bench to get his head straight. He's a talented player who was dominant in training camp last year against both Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. He's not a lost cause but sending him out there to get his head beat in week after week is further eroding his confidence. He needs a breather.
At the same time, Mitchell has earned an opportunity for playing time. He was the team's best cover corner in Bourbonnais as well as the preseason. He's young, hungry and has shown playmaking ability. Let's see what the former seventh-round pick can do.
Along with the Oakland Raiders and Indianapolis Colts - who play tomorrow night - the Bears are one of just three teams in the NFL without a sack. Not surprisingly, those teams are a combined 0-5 this season.
Coming out of camp, most believed outside linebacker was the deepest position on the team, yet they've all underperformed.
Pernell McPhee, the club's big off-season acquisition, has flashed his potential but hasn't been able to finish. That includes having a free run today at Carson Palmer, an immobile quarterback coming off an ACL tear, and not getting him to the ground.
More troubling is Jared Allen, who has not even sniffed a sack through two games. Allen has made up for it with some quality play out in space, which includes a diving interception today on a ball he batted into the air, but his disappearance on passing downs is concerning.
"It's frustrating, it's disheartening and has to be corrected," Allen said.
Willie Young, who had 10.0 sacks last year, has also been invisible in nickel situations, while Lamarr Houston can't get on the field.
Getting back DL Jeremiah Ratliff in Week 4 will help, as he should help collapse the pocket in the face of the quarterback, but if the edge rushers don't start winning one-on-one battles, the pass defense will continue to get torched on a weekly basis.
In the first quarter, WR Josh Bellamy ran a flag route against blown coverage and was wide open 40 yards down the field. Jay Cutler found Bellamy near the 20 yard line with nothing but green grass between him and the end zone. The touchdown was the first catch of Bellamy's NFL career.
“It's something I’ve dreamed of all of my football life," Bellamy said. "As a player, you can’t put a specific value on that as it's just so important. You can bet I’ll keep that ball someplace special when I take it back to my house. It means a lot to me right now.”
Bellamy was an undrafted free agent out of Louisville in 2012 and was playing in just his 14th game the last three-plus years.
“I’ve been working hard trying to get things right,” said Bellamy. “It's been three long years since I went undrafted out of Louisville. I put that feeling of needing to prove myself into my work on the field. To see it pay off is both exciting and incredibly satisfying.”
Bears fourth-round rookie running back Jeremy Langford also found the end zone for the first time in his young NFL career on a second-quarter TD plunge that tied the game 14-14.
“It was important to even the game and bring that positive momentum forward," said Langford, who finished the game with six carries for 21 yards.
It was 21-14 when Jay Cutler threw the pick-six interception that led to his pulled hamstring. With the score then 28-14, Jimmy Clausen took charge of the offense. His first drive resulted in a punt but the Cardinals muffed the return, giving the Bears the ball at the 22-yard line. Three incomplete passes later, the Bears kicked a field goal.
On the ensuing drive, Allen intercepted Palmer's first pass, giving Clausen the ball at the 12-yard line. Three plays later, the Bears kicked a field goal.
"We got down to the red zone either two or three times," Clausen said. "That was the big challenge for us this week, to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals. Definitely things I wish we could have back, different throws or what not."
In two-plus quarters, Clausen failed to lead the offense to a touchdown, which is cause for serious concern moving forward, especially if Cutler misses an extended period of time. Clausen looked tentative and unsure of himself in the pocket, and he was inaccurate for most the game.
"We just could never get anything going and the momentum back on our side," said Clausen. "The biggest thing is we've got to get everyone on the same page so we don't have those same mistakes and we can't keep letting drives go."
Clausen started the Week 16 contest last season against the Detroit Lions, throwing for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. It was a solid outing against one of the league's toughest defenses, so all isn't lost with Clausen under center, but he needs to play better than he did today if the Bears are to have any chance of competing this season.