Postgame Thoughts: Bears vs. Packers (12.13.09)

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With the Bears’ 21-14 loss to the Packers Sunday, the Bears have been swept by their rivals for the first time in the Lovie Smith era. Didn’t he say that beating Green Bay was his No. 1 goal when he took the job six seasons ago?

His other two goals from that press conference? Winning the division and winning the Super Bowl. The Bears haven’t won the division since their Super Bowl run three years ago and they haven’t won the Super Bowl yet, either.

Costly penalties and turnovers and poor coaching decisions led to the Bears’ demise in this one, and to think they played pretty good defense for the entire game, after the Packers’ first play from scrimmage, which resulted in a 62-yard touchdown run by Ryan Grant.

Aside from Jay Cutler’s costly two interceptions and the countless penalties, there were actually a few plays that made you go, hmmm. Cutler and the offense looked sharp in the 13-play drive at the end of the first half that chewed up 6:22 of game clock and ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Johnny Knox. It was good ball placement by Cutler and a heck of a catch by Knox. Or, how about the 6-play drive on the Bears’ first possession of the second half that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Devin Aromashodu? Again, in tight coverage, Cutler made a great back-shoulder throw behind the defender where only Aromashodu could make the catch.

That brings me to my next point. Let me preface this by saying I’m not one to buy into the hype of a player who had one good game, nor am I ready to proclaim Aromashodu “the next big thing.” But Aromashodu racked up 8 receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown while being covered all game by cornerback Charles Woodson, one of the leading contenders for defensive player of the year.

Is there any wonder why Cutler lobbied for Aromashodu to make the roster in training camp? Or why Cutler remarked publicly — not once, but twice — how he’d like to see Aromashodu get more playing time this season? Again, there’s a reason why Aromashodu has bounced around the league on a half-dozen teams before finally latching on with the Bears and that’s because he’s a step too slow and he has unsteady hands. But why did it take him 13 games to get on the field? That’s right, because Devin Hester — a No. 3 receiver and dynamic kick returner on a good team — was injured and was inactive for this game.

I’m not expecting Aromashodu to do anything special. Who knows, maybe next week he fumbles twice and drops three passes. But the fact that it took this long for Cutler to get his wish is baffling.

The run game finally looked respectable as Matt Forte rushed just 12 times for 51 yards, a 4.2 yards per carry average. It’d have been nice if they could have ran the ball more, but game situations dictated otherwise.

I want to go back to the defense and congratulate them again for a good — not great — performance. The Packers scored but two touchdowns in this game, one on the first play of the game and the second one came on a short field following a Cutler interception. The Bears’ defense held Aaron Rodgers to just 180 yards on 16 of 24 passing. Then again, Rodgers didn’t have to throw much while Grant ran 20 times for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even if you take away Grant’s 62-yard touchdown run, he still ran for a 3.9 yard average.

I thought defensive tackle Anthony Adams played a good game. He was credited with 6 tackles and he also recovered a fumble on an Aaron Rodgers rollout. Lance Briggs and Tommie Harris each picked up a sack and Hunter Hillenmeyer and Al Afalava both forced a fumble apiece.

The special teams played much better than last week. Robbie Gould didn’t get any field goal attempts and the coverage teams prevented any big returns. Long snapper Patrick Mannelly was flagged for kicking a Packer, though.

Finally, we get to the coaching. I’m not going to make a huge deal out of it — I’ll let the Chicago media and the callers to sports talk shows take care of that for me. But how in the world does a head coach burn two timeouts in a matter of minutes? And I mean live minutes, not game minutes.

Let me take you back to the play. With just under five minutes to play and the Bears facing a second down and 22 yards to go, Cutler delivered a great pass down the middle of the field for an apparent first down to Greg Olsen. Just as Olsen hit the ground, the ball was ripped from his hands by a defender.

(On a side note, Olsen should have held on to that ball. He’s got to play tougher. And he gets mad when people call him a receiver, not a tight end.)

Realistically, that should have been a first-down catch and a down-by-contact ruling. But technically, the rulebook states that while going to the ground, a receiver has to maintain possession of the ball. But, for how long? I don’t think anybody really knows, and that rule should be addressed by the league. But because the ball was immediately ripped from Olsen’s hands immediately after hitting the ground, it doesn’t matter that he was down by contact, it was correctly ruled an incomplete pass.

Now, here comes the interesting part. Immediately after the play, I remember thinking: Do not challenge, Lovie. You need all three timeouts just in case your defense is trying to make a stand at the end of the game and the Packers’ offense is trying to run out the clock.

So, what happened? I at first got upset the Bears burned a timeout because they couldn’t get back to the line of scrimmage and run the next play. Then, I notice the red flag get tossed by Lovie and, knowing full well the rule, realized that the Bears just lost a challenge and their second timeout with the same amount of time left on the game clock — 4:51 — as when their first timeout was called.

That blunder might have sealed Lovie Smith’s fate. If ownership decides that his contract is too steep to fire him, he’ll most likely serve as a lame duck coach next year, coaching a team we all know he won’t be coaching the year after that. That just means one more wasted year of rebuilding time, precious time lost with one of the game’s most talented quarterbacks.

The Bears have three games left, beginning with a road contest next week in Baltimore. They probably will lose that game along with a Monday night matchup with the Vikings the following week. They’ll probably enter the final weekend of the season with a 5-10 record and needing to beat the Lions to avoid matching Lovie’s 5-11 record in his first season as coach of the Bears.

They should be able to be Detroit, but then again, nothing is guaranteed at this point.

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