Something didn’t sit right with me when I was breaking down this game last week, which is why I had predicted the Redskins to win by a field goal. Whether it be the defense’s susceptibility to being picked apart in the passing game with short and intermediate routes, or the offense’s inability to convert third downs or keep Jay Cutler off the ground. Unfortunately, the Bears could not shake the problems that have plagued them all season as they fell to the Redskins, 17-14, on Sunday.
I don’t mean to break out into Jim Mora here, but suddenly Bears and playoffs are two words that sound incongruent. After a 4-1 start to their season and games against the lowly Seahawks, Redskins, Bills, and Lions left on their schedule, playoffs seemed almost a lock. Even Pro Football Weekly publisher and editor Hub Arkush, who is about as critical of the Bears as any analyst is, had them locked in for at least a wild card spot.
Suddenly, that all looks foolish and playoffs seem like a long shot after the Bears dropped their second straight home game and lost for the third time in the last four games. The majority of the offensive’s problems this season have been the fault of the offensive line. And while their performance was far from great in the team’s loss to the Redskins — they did give up four sacks — the line did not earn the lion’s share of the blame for the loss.
Five turnovers from Cutler has earned him that piece of the pie.
Cutler completed 26 of 40 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, which would have been a good performance had he not thrown four interceptions — all to DeAngelo Hall — and fumbled at the goal line on a quarterback sneak. Ironically, the Bears should have challenged that play but Lovie Smith was hesitant to do so because he had just lost a challenge on the previous play, a 48-yard reception from Cutler to Earl Bennett that was ruled down at the 1-yard line. I’m not sure why Smith challenged that play. I understand the Bears have had problems in short-yardage situations, but you have to have faith that your offense can punch it in from the 1.
The play calling continued to be unbalanced, leaning heavily toward passing, despite the lesson that the Bears should have learned from last week’s game. The Bears passed the ball 40 times against the Redskins compared to just 16 runs. Matt Forte rushed 10 times for 41 yards and Chester Taylor carried it three times for 20 yards. Together, they had a 4.69 average. Why the Bears wouldn’t run the ball more when they were never trailing by more than one score is and will continue to be confounding.
Cutler deserves blame for his interceptions, of course, but it also takes two to tango. Devin Hester didn’t put up a fight on Cutler’s first pick. It was a bad throw, sure, but sometimes the receiver has to play the role of the defensive back and break the pass up. On his third interception, Cutler tossed a pass over the middle to Johnny Knox and showed visible frustration — stunned frustration — over the miscommunication between he and Knox. Because the majority of the miscommunication that happens on the field occurs with Knox involved, it’s pretty obvious that Knox has mental lapses that cost the team.
Another player that needs to share the blame for the loss to the Redskins is Forte. The Bears were trailing by a field goal early in the fourth quarter but were driving into field goal range. Forte caught a pass from Cutler and gained 11 yards on the play before fumbling the ball, which the Redskins recovered. Forte has had a problem holding on to the ball this year and with how well Taylor has carried the ball in spot duty, fans will be calling for the backup to get more touches.
Although I feel Cutler deserves the bulk of the blame for the loss, he’s certainly not the only one at fault and fans should be aware of where they’re directing their anger. After struggling for much of the first half to move the ball, Martz finally adjusted his play calling to institute shorter and quicker passes, a plan that ultimately led to a 7-play, 70-yard drive in the final four minutes of the first half that culminated in a Cutler to Knox 9-yard touchdown pass. After stepping up in the pocket to avoid a sack, Cutler found Knox in the back corner of the end zone, threading the ball between two defenders.
It wasn’t all bad for the Bears on Sunday. Due to the problems endured by the offense, the performance of the defense seems to go unnoticed. They permitted just 308 yards of total offense, which is 14 yards less than the offense gained, just about matches their season average, and is better than the season average of 26 NFL teams. The defense also only allowed 10 points because 7 of the Redskins’ points came off an interception return. The Bears have the league’s No. 2 scoring defense, allowing just 16.3 points per game. The defense picked off Donovan McNabb twice and recovered a fumble, too. Three takeaways is the key statistic that usually leads to a win, but only when the offense doesn’t commit as many or more.
D.J. Moore continues to look like a playmaker that finds himself in the right place at the right time. Moore intercepted a deflected McNabb pass and took it 54 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He almost had a second pick-six, but the play was called back because the Redskins had a delay of game penalty.
Charles Tillman led the Bears with 8 tackles but got beat by Santana Moss on an early touchdown, the Redskins offense’s only touchdown. Israel Idonije played really well with a sack and the tipped pass that Moore intercepted and returned for a score. Julius Peppers made his presence felt despite not recording a sack and Brian Iwuh, who had to fill in for Lance Briggs, also recorded a sack.
Briggs started the game but had to leave early. His lingering injury could be a problem for the team even though the defense performed well without him. The Bears have two weeks to heal up and rest some of their injuries. They have a bye this week before playing the Bills in Toronto on Nov. 7. Hopefully Briggs and safety Major Wright will be healthy enough to play in that game.
With two weeks to prepare for the winless Bills, I’d like to think the Bears should win that game hands-down. But I’m not so sure that’s a guarantee anymore. While the Bears were busy losing to the Redskins, the Bills nearly knocked off one of the best teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens. They were leading the Ravens for a good portion of the game but ultimately lost by a field goal in overtime, 37-34. The Bills put up over 500 yards of offense and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 43 passes for 373 yards and 4 touchdowns.
In this uncertain year of football, it would not surprise me if the Bears became the Bills’ first victim. Then again, despite their shortcomings, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears blew them out, either.
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