I’ll have a more comprehensive take on the season later in the week; where the franchise was, where it now stands, and where it should go in the offseason. But I’d be remiss if I attempted to gloss over yesterday’s defeat to the Packers, as much as I’d like to do so for the sake of my own sanity. In general, it’s sort of obvious what happened: the offense played pretty well, while the defense did not. Yesterday was actually nice microcosm of the season as a whole. As has been the case all year, the offense needed to play what would have amounted to a perfect game, and they were unable to do so.
Here are three plays I wanted to highlight, and then try to scrub from my memory forever:
The Green Bay Fumble Recovery Touchdown
Few sights summed up the struggles of the 2013 Bears defense as well as this play. (Although you’ll find an even better one below.) The Bears were leading 7-3 in the second quarter, but the Packers were set up with a 1st and 10 on the Chicago 17. As Rodgers began his throwing motion, Julius Peppers knocked the ball loose. But the momentum from Rodgers’s hand knocked the ball forward. The ball bounced around on the turf for a few agonizing moments. James Anderson made a half-hearted attempt to pick it up, but dropped it again. Then Green Bay receiver Jarrett Boykin scooped it up, standing still as Rodgers came over to say something. The whistle still hadn’t blown, and it was only after the Packer sideline encouraged Boykin to run that he took off for the endzone, jogging in as the Bears stood around and watched. It was eventually (and correctly) ruled a touchdown for Green Bay.
That is a criminal lack of awareness, for everyone on the field. (The Packers were guilty as well; I think Boykin wanted to toss it to an official. He had no idea what was happening.) But the Bears pride themselves on this sort of thing, and in a game as important as this one, to have made that sort of mental error was crippling. If Anderson just stops, picks it up, and takes off (like Bears defenders have done all year, on meaningless dead balls) he likely scores to put Chicago up 14-3. Instead they trailed 10-7.
Alshon Can’t Quite Recapture the Magic
The offense wasn’t perfect on the day; they punted 4 times, and Alshon Jeffery fumbled in the second quarter, which led to a Green Bay field goal. They scored touchdowns on every other drive (save the final one which led to a Hail Mary interception) but that wasn’t enough. As has been the case all year against relatively competent offenses, the Bears were going to have to score 30+ points to win, which is an incredibly thin margin of error. But late in the fourth quarter, the Bears had the ball and a one point lead. A touchdown likely guaranteed overtime, and I was wondering to myself whether they should consider going for two in that scenario; a nine point lead would have likely put the game out of reach.
The Bears had 1st and 10 on Green Bay’s 38, nearing Robbie Gould’s field goal range. An illegal formation penalty moved them back five yards. Cutler found Forte for a short gain on first down, but that was erased by a five yard loss on second down, setting up third and seventeen. The Packers took their second timeout to avoid having too many men on the field, and out of the timeout Cutler looked deep down the near sideline for Alshon Jeffery; it was a route reminiscent of his other highlight reel catches; he was single covered, he made a wonderful adjustment (including a savvy tug of the DB’s arm) and went up for the ball. He had his hands on it. I thought he was hauling it in. I really did. But he never quite got a handle on the ball, and it fell harmlessly. It was an incredibly tough play to make, and it’s a testament to his greatness this year that I fully expected him to make it. Instead, the Bears were forced to punt, which set up one of the most painful drives I’ve watched as a fan.
Basically the Entire Final Green Bay Drive
The worst part was the final play, of course. But there was so much horror in the buildup. First, the Bears forced a fourth down and inches try from Green Bay; it was converted by John Kuhn, but it should have been a delay of game on the Packers. (As seen in the picture, courtesy Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.)
The Bears forced another fourth and short play near midfield; Rodgers converted that one with a pass to Jordy Nelson. (It was almost underthrown; Nelson made a great adjustment to come back and make the grab. He had 10 catches for 161 yards.)
A few plays later, the Packers were faced with 4th and 8 from the Bears 48. Just 46 seconds remained. And then this happened. (Warning: not for the faint of heart.)
That’s a whole giant heap of failure. The Bears brought the house, playing Cover 0 (no safety over the top, every defensive back in man coverage) in an effort to force the ball out quickly. Randall Cobb ran a go route straight past Chris Conte, who apparently thought he was playing zone. Matt Bowen confirms it was a busted coverage, as if we needed more confirmation; he notes that Conte moved to the flat while everyone else was in man. There were a few hints of miscommunication after the game, as this report from CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge notes. If that was true, it seems like only Conte was affected.
Whatever the cause, that can’t happen. It just can’t happen. It was a great play by Rodgers, and also by Packer fullback John Kuhn, who managed to cut Julius Peppers which prevented a likely game-winning sack. Conte had an interception early on, but he allowed a ball to go through his hands to set up Green Bay’s second to last touchdown, and here his mistake essentially cost the Bears their season. If this were out of character for him, I’d be more inclined to sympathize. But it’s been a season of miscues for Chicago’s safeties, and at this point I would be surprised (and a bit disappointed) if either of them opened next season as starters. Much like the offensive line issues entering last offseason, I have a hard time believing that different players could be worse. Roll the dice with some new bodies; the risk/reward ratio has to be fairly favorable at this point.
I didn’t even mention the questionable officiating (what looked like a blown call on a Bear punt downing, and an extremely bogus roughing call on Shea McClellin that set up a Packer field goal) which was certainly an issue. But the Bears had chances to win, and they failed to capitalize.
That’s an incredibly painful way for the season to end.