Chance to Bounce Back

The Bears don't believe their defensive letdown against the Steelers was anything more than an aberration, which is fortunate considering the Falcons, Sunday night's opponents at Soldier Field, have scored 24 points or more in four of their last five games and nine of their last 11.

The 21 points the Steelers scored last week were the most the Bears have permitted in 10 weeks, and the Steelers' 363 yards and 190 rushing yards were the most the Bears have allowed all season. Sloppy tackling was the culprit cited by most of the Bears, along with a few missed assignments.

"I don't think it's unusual," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Any good football team will go through a game like we went through. I can recall a few - one vividly was when I was in Tampa, and we ended up playing in the (1999 NFC) championship game that year - we went to Oakland and we were beaten 45-0 (in Week 15). They rushed for over 200 yards. Things like that happen from time to time. You have to come back off of a bad game and that's what we'll do, we'll come back."

Players are convinced that the mistakes that allowed the Steelers to dominate the second-half time of possession 22:24-7:36 and convert an unacceptable 50 percent of their third-down opportunities are easily correctable. Coaches picked up a recurring problem in film review on Monday that was common throughout the defense.

"They say our most important grade is the make-the-play grade," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "That's when you're given a chance, or you're in the position, or the running back comes into the place where you're supposed to make the play. Did you make it? I think half of our starters had their worst make-the-play grade of the year.

"It's almost reassuring that it's not that all of a sudden we stink. It's just that a lot of guys played their worst game at the same time. I think there is something to take from it. As long as people make plays when we're in position to, then we're all right."

The Bears' run defense, which was No. 7 in the league before being gashed by the Steelers, will have an even more difficult challenge this week against the Falcons. Atlanta has the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack in yards and average gain per play. The speed and elusiveness of Warrick Dunn and quarterback Michael Vick combined with the power of T.J. Duckett, have produced an average of 178 rushing yards per game, almost double the 93 rushing yards per game the Bears had been allowing before the Steelers game.

"The good news is it's all fixable stuff," Hillenmeyer said. "We had lots of missed tackles and busted assignments. We didn't watch the film and go, 'Oh, my gosh, we stink.' We watched the film, and it was a bunch of things that, if we do what we're supposed to do, and if we do what we're coached to do, it wouldn't have been a problem."

The bottom line is the Bears still have allowed just 148 points, 32 fewer points than the next-best defense in the league (the Colts with 180) and 61 fewer than the next-best NFC defense (the Bucs with 209). And they can still clinch a playoff berth with a victory against the Falcons combined with losses by the Giants and Cowboys, or a Cowboys tie and a Panthers loss.

"I think we just had a bad day," cornerback Nathan Vasher said. "We know that we're a good football team, and we just have to pick up the pieces. We broke down the film to see what happened, but we're not going to dwell on that too long. We still have a bigger picture."

Now it's time to move on.

"We just weren't sound like we've been in the past games," tackle Tommie Harris said. "We paid for it. It's over. Sunday we get to come back and redeem ourselves."

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