Not until sometime early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Seahawks did I feel the Bears were going to lose the game. Despite trailing for the majority of the afternoon and not being able to move the ball effectively, I had the feeling that the Bears could and should still find a way to come back and win. And they didn’t. It’s losses like these that are the toughest to swallow.
Everybody knew that with the return of Jay Cutler from his concussion that the Bears would return to a pass-first mentality after running the ball 40 times with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor last week at Carolina. Considering the Seahawks were the NFL’s No. 2 run defense and No. 31 pass defense entering the game, it seemed even more likely they’d air it out. What was confusing is that the Bears were never more than one possession out of the game until early in the fourth quarter when Seattle took a 23-13 lead, but the Bears felt they needed to abandon the run game altogether. Forte and Taylor combined for just 12 rushing attempts for 42 yards. Cutler rushed for 19 yards on two scrambles.
Honestly, though, with how poorly the offensive line is playing right now, play calling seems a bit trivial. The best offenses in the league are those with offensive lines that can block. Blocking is one of the two basic fundamentals of football; tackling is the other. The best offenses in the history of the game — which includes Mike Martz’s “Greatest Show on Turf” — couldn’t have operated without adequate blocking. Sadly, this isn’t something that can be fixed by continually shifting pieces around as the Bears have tried to do the last four weeks. And quick fixes along the offensive line during the off-season are hard to come by unless you spend a lot of money in free agency, which may not happen next year considering the big spending spree the Bears had this off-season. Plus, there could be a work stoppage.
Cutler looked erratic in his return to action. Most quarterbacks will when they barely have time to set their feet before they feel pressure from the defensive line. Cutler misfired on several throws and completed just 17 of 39 passes for 290 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. Cutler completed passes to seven different targets. After being largely neglected the past two weeks, Johnny Knox caught five passes for 120 yards to lead the team. Earl Bennett had three catches for 55 yards and Devin Aromashodu caught two passes for 40 yards including a 34-yard reception.
Not only did the offense fail to block anybody, but they didn’t seem to know what they were doing at times, too. Cutler had to burn a few timeouts after his teammates broke the huddle and didn’t know where to line up. Other times, the Bears had two receivers run patterns next to each other on passing plays. It’s hard enough to execute without protection; it’s even worse when they can’t run plays correctly.
The defense clearly missed the presence of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, although I’m not sure he could have helped the secondary cover any better. The most damning statistic of the day were the 10 catches for 123 yards, both career highs, by Seattle receiver Mike Williams. This is a player who was a bust with three different teams before joining his former college coach in Seattle. And somehow, the Bears made him look like he belongs in the NFL. The one thing that agitated me most last year was how often I heard broadcasters say the words, “first”, “best”, “highest”, “longest”, “season”, or “career” when describing performances or plays by opponents against the Bears’ defense. This year the defense has been a Top 10 one and we’ve been spared from any such performances. Until Sunday, sadly.
The Bears defense failed to record a single sack, compared to the six that the Seahawks recorded against Cutler. They also didn’t get a single takeaway, something they’ve thrived on this year and on which they’re dependent in order to win games. When you add up these facts, it’s a surprise they lost by only three points.
Filling in for the injured Briggs, linebacker Brian Iwuh led the team with nine tackles. Charles Tillman was second with seven tackles, but the majority of those came after Tillman allowed his receiver to catch a pass in front of him. Chris Harris showed up third on the stat sheet in tackles and also on the film with some hard hits, but the secondary as a whole failed on Sunday.
On special teams, the Bears did a good job keeping the ball away from the Seahawks’ dynamic kick returners. On the flip side, Seattle did the same thing — for the most part. Late in the game with a 10-point lead, Seattle punter Jon Ryan punted the ball to Hester at the numbers after kicking away from him the entire game. Hester took advantage and returned the punt 89 yards for a touchdown, his NFL-record-tying 13th kick return score. Ryan took a vicious hit from Earl Bennett as punishment for kicking to Hester. Maybe next time he’ll know better.
Danieal Manning couldn’t seem to find any running room and he had some trouble fielding kickoffs in the first quarter with the sun in his eyes. I also tweeted about this during the game, but Brad Maynard is both an asset and a liability for the Bears. When the Bears are punting from midfield, he’s one of the best punters in the game due to his excellent directional kicking. However, when they’re backed up in their own territory, he’s one of the worst punters in the league because he has no leg strength left and his punt average is among the lowest in the league.
It’s not exactly time for panic because the Bears are still tied for the best record in the NFC and still maintain a virtual two-game lead over the Packers in the NFC North by virtue of the Packers’ overtime loss to the Dolphins on Sunday. But anytime you lose to an inferior team when you have much tougher opponents later on the schedule, it stings a bit. The Bears will host a Redskins team next week that lost to the Colts last night and the Redskins have the talent to be a good football team, albeit an inconsistent one. They have some big hitters on their team and they might want to consider running the ball a few more times next week if only to preserve the health of Cutler for another week.
Following the Redskins game, the Bears have their bye week and it’d be a much more pleasant feeling if they enter that with a victory and a 5-2 record than a loss and a 4-3 one.