Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Saints (09.18.11)September 19th, 2011 - 7:10 am
The Bears entered Sunday’s game against the Saints riding an emotional high from their home opener victory against the Falcons. After the 30-13 beating they took in New Orleans, you’ve got to wonder how low they’ll be feeling as they prepare to face the defending Super Bowl champion Packers next week.
The Bears got off to a promising start but could not sustain the momentum. After exchanging three-and-outs with the Saints, the Bears drove 87 yards on 11 plays, spanning five and a half minutes. Jay Cutler connected with a wide open Dane Sanzenbacher for an eight-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Saints answered with an even longer drive that culminated in a field goal by John Kasay. After the Bears punted the ball away on the next series, the Saints scored yet again, this time on a 79-yard touchdown strike from Drew Brees to Devery Henderson. Two things went wrong on that play that are utterly inexcusable. First, the Bears had the Saints in a third-and-12 situation and could not get pressure on Brees. He had enough time to set up and deliver an unhurried throw. Secondly, the Bears run a Cover 2 defense which is supposed to prevent the over-the-top pass. D.J. Moore let Henderson run right past him without so much as helping the safeties out and then Henderson breezed past Major Wright to make the catch.
I’m also curious why Chris Conte was on the field at the time. He didn’t have anything to do with the play, but what happened to Brandon Meriweather? Was Meriweather being given a breather? Was he hurt? Was he playing that poorly that the coaching staff yanked him for a play? Or were the Bears just trying to give Conte playing time? I hope it wasn’t the latter option because that would be inexcusable. The time to give Conte playing time is against a bad team; not against one of the league’s best offenses in a passing situation.
That touchdown pass was one turning point in the game which took quite a bit of wind out of the Bears’ sails. The Bears seemed to abandon the run game from that point on. Matt Forte had eight carries up until that point and only finished with 10 on the game. That’s only two more carries in almost three full quarters of the game. It’s unfathomable why Mike Martz abandoned the run game when the Bears were trailing just 10-7 at that point.
As the Bears’ offense continued to flounder with three-and-outs, the defense and special teams suffered as well. Sam Hurd, making his regular season debut with the Bears, was penalized for Fair Catch Interference on an Adam Podlesh punt. The penalty gave the Saints good field position and led to another Kasay field goal. The defense, backed into a corner due to the poor field position, could not prevent the high-powered Saints from tacking on points.
The Bears tried to mount a rally and added two Robbie Gould field goals to bring the score to 16-13 early in the third quarter, but that’s all the Bears’ offense could muster before Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams turned his dogs loose.
Cutler got sacked at about the 10-minute mark in the third quarter after Turk McBride blew right past Kellen Davis. Cutler fumbled and the Saints recovered at the Bears’ 29-yard line. Five plays later, Brees connected with Robert Meachem for a four-yard touchdown to put the Saints up 23-13. At that point, it appeared the game was over, at least I tweeted as much. The offense was inept, Cutler was under duress, and Matt Forte was the recipient of almost every single pass attempt because there was not enough protection to look down the field.
The Saints added another touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a Darren Sproles 12-yard reception. Reviews showed that Sproles’ heel may have been touching out of bounds — his foot was certainly hovering over the line — but the play was not reviewed. I’ve already heard complaints from Bears fans wondering why Lovie Smith did not challenge the play, but it wasn’t Smith’s fault because scoring plays are automatically subject to booth reviews and Smith was probably assuming they’d review it.
The Bears couldn’t even buy a break in the fourth quarter down by three scores. Williams had his mind set on punishing Cutler by sending an array of blitzes at him. Not only was the Saints’ defensive coordinator keeping his foot on the gas pedal late in the game, but head coach Sean Payton was calling plays that had Brees operating out of the shotgun in the final period. It seemed a little unnecessary, but they had every right to keep the pressure on and make sure they finished the game strong against the Bears.
What also was unnecessary was keeping Cutler in the game to continue absorbing the beating he was taking. I’m sure Smith probably thought about pulling Cutler when the game was out of reach, but I bet it was Cutler who wanted to stay in the game. He probably assumed Bears fans would ridicule him for not finishing a game, so I can’t blame him for wanting to stay in.
Cutler was sacked six times on the afternoon, five of which came in the fourth quarter and three of which came on consecutive plays. On one of the plays, he got kicked in the throat and his voice reflected as much during the postgame press conference. That kind of onslaught hasn’t been seen since Cutler was sacked nine times in the first half against the Giants in 2010. These are historic records of shame and the performance of the offensive line is dismal. The heat that general manager Jerry Angelo is bound to take after this will surely be resounding. Part of the problem — but not nearly all of it — was the early departure of rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, who left the game with a knee injury with under two minutes to go in the first half.
That injury leads me to my next point. Last year, the Bears rode a strong defense, a balanced offense, and more return magic from Devin Hester to a division title and a trip to the NFC conference title game. But even more important than that was the good health the Bears enjoyed, which was almost unnatural and unheard of for an NFL team.
This year, the health is already a cause for concern. Carimi’s injury is just the latest of a string of problems the Bears have endured in this young season. Earl Bennett got struck in the chest on a quick dump-off from Cutler and left the game and would not return. Lance Briggs was hurt in the preseason and still seems to be showing signs of recovery — either that, or his contract dispute is becoming a distraction because he’s certainly not showing any signs that he deserves more money. Marion Barber has yet to make his regular season debut with the Bears after he suffered a calf injury against the Titans in the preseason. Roy Williams hurt his groin last week against the Falcons and Lance Louis left the game with an ankle injury. Chris Harris is nursing a hamstring and Major Wright is built like a piece of glass; each week he gets dinged up over something. The Bears cannot survive the grind of the entire season at this pace.
The Bears will face perhaps their toughest test of the season when the Packers visit Soldier Field next Sunday. They’ll have to figure out their protection issues or else Cutler could be the latest Bear to join the walking wounded.
Check back later in the day for a few more thoughts from Sunday’s game.