SEATTLE—It's not a pattern the Bears want to establish going into the regular season, but the defense picked up the slack as the offense struggled Saturday night.
Brandon Coutu's fifth field goal of the game gave the Seattle Seahawks a 29-26 win in overtime, but the game might have been out of hand a lot earlier were it not for some useful plays by the Bears' defense.
Charles Tillman's first-quarter interception, a forced fumble by safety Kevin Payne and a veteran play in coverage by cornerback Nathan Vasher limited the Seahawks to three field goals instead of touchdowns in a low-scoring first half. It was a much improved effort by the defense after a sluggish performance in the exhibition opener against Kansas City.
"Tonight we were faster and better prepared at the beginning of the game," Tillman said.
Problem was, the only scoring the Bears could manage in the first half was Robbie Gould's 39-yard field goal and a safety set up by Darrell McClover's block of a Seahawks' punt.
The 9-5 halftime score was more appropriate for a White Sox-Mariners game.
The Bears got a defensive touchdown when cornerback Corey Graham intercepted a short Charlie Frye pass launched from deep in Seattle territory, then did a swan dive into the end zone from a couple of yards out. The official record showed a 6-yard interception return.
They also got a touchdown on special teams: Rookie Earl Bennett, taking a page from Devin Hester's book, brought a punt back 75 yards for a score in the third quarter.
Thus defense and special teams accounted for all 19 Bears points going into the fourth quarter.
The Bears needed that type of lift, with Rex Grossman struggling through a miserable half and his offensive line succumbing to the Seahawks' relentless pressure up front.
Israel Idonije set the tone on Seattle's first series. Starting in place of Tommie Harris, the defensive tackle sacked Frye on third-and-5.
Payne, starting in place of injured Brandon McGowan at strong safety, also proved a capable replacement. The Seahawks drove to the Bears' 34-yard line in the first quarter when Julius Jones took a short Frye pass and turned upfield for a 9-yard gain, only to fumble after taking a jarring hit from Payne. The Seahawks kept the ball, but Payne's play kept them from picking up a first down.
The defense was equally stout on the Seahawks' next possession. Frye marched his team to the Bears' 26-yard line. But on third-and-10, Adewale Ogunleye and Mike Brown brought pressure. Frye panicked and lofted a pass that Tillman intercepted at the 8-yard line, bringing it back 25 yards to give the Bears a little breathing space.
Too bad the offense gave it right back—Leroy Hill intercepted Grossman two plays later.
With 2:20 left before halftime, Frye had receiver Jordan Kent streaking toward the end zone on a second-and-23 play from the Bears' 38. Frye put the ball in Kent's hands, but Vasher, moving step-for-step with Kent, used his left hand to knock it free.
Earlier in the week, Bears linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher talked about expecting a better defensive effort. And it was better, but far from flawless. Vasher nearly got beat deep early. Briggs missed a tackle. Urlacher couldn't catch Jones at the corner, and there were moments when Frye, playing for Matt Hasselbeck, found holes over the middle.