Monday Morning Quarterback: Bears-Packers (09.25.11)

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Well, so much for balance.

In their 27-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, the Bears ran 43 passing plays — 37 pass attempts, three scrambles and three sacks — compared to just nine run plays, two fewer than last week when fans griped about the lopsided play calling.

On those nine attempts, Matt Forte managed just two yards, so you can’t blame Mike Martz for choosing to go to the air. The Bears never once led in the game so they were playing catchup for the entire afternoon. That made the offense predictable and the ineptitude oozed all over the field.

The game got off to an inauspicious start when the Bears lost the coin toss and the Packers elected to receive. With their elite offense, they drove 80 yards in three and a half minutes while systematically dissecting the Bears’ defense. Aaron Rodgers found Jermichael Finley in the back of the end zone for the first of his three touchdown receptions.

At that point, the Bears already were in trouble because their offense has proven to be inconsistent and unreliable at this early stage of the season. Playing from behind was not a good scenario for them to be in so early in the game.

The Bears and Packers traded stalled drives before Jay Cutler was intercepted by safety Morgan Burnett while attempting to connect with Roy Williams deep down the field. Williams made a nice double move to break free from the defender but Cutler put the ball too far toward the middle of the field. Had he placed it closer to the sideline, Williams might have had a shot, or it at least might have fallen harmlessly for an incompletion.

The Bears defense kept up the pressure as the Packers resorted to conservative play calling but early in the second quarter Rodgers shredded the zone coverage again to connect with Finley for their second touchdown.

Much like last year’s NFC conference championship, the Packers jumped out to a 14-point lead, at which point I was willing to bet my next three paychecks that the game was over. Unlike last year’s playoff game, though, I kept the TV on this time. I wasn’t expecting a comeback, but I thought I’d at least see if the Bears would have any fight in them. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

As it turned out, only one side of the ball seemed to have any fire in them as the defense did everything in their power to give the offense a chance to win. They continued giving up large chunks of yardage, of course, and they were burned by Finley for yet another score. But at a pivotal point in the game, they presented the offense with a gift.

With 9:33 to go in the game, Rodgers was intercepted for the first time this season by the man who was the last to pick him off last season: Brian Urlacher. Urlacher made his second diving interception in three weeks, proving that the old man still has a lot of gas in the tank.

With the Bears down by 10 and in possession of the ball near midfield, the offense had the perfect opportunity to capitalize off the turnover and make this a game. What happened on that drive was the epitome of all that’s gone wrong this season.

Frank Omiyale couldn’t keep his jelly rolls still and was whistled for a false start on first down.

On first and 15, Cutler’s pass attempt to Kellen Davis was intercepted, but a roughing-the-passer penalty gave the offense a reprieve.

On the following play, still first and 15, Chris Spencer was flagged for holding. Move the offense back 10 yards to make it first and 25.

The Bears finally got positive yardage on the next snap when Cutler dumped off a pass to the offense’s only legitimate playmaker, Forte, for a five-yard gain.

On second down, with 20 yards to go, Cutler couldn’t find an open receiver and was relegated to a two-yard scramble. As if the minimal gain wasn’t bad enough, Devin Hester got into a scuffle at the end of the play and was flagged for unnecessary roughness for taking a swing at a defender.

Add 15 yards to the distance to go for a first down.

With the Bears facing a third-and-33, it might as well have been a mile in order to get a first down, and all they could do was check down to Forte for a 7-yard reception.

False start penalty, near-interception, holding penalty, dump offs to the running back, receivers who can’t get open, the quarterback scrambling for his life, and brain farts. That sums up what we’ve seen from this offense since the beginning of last season and it’s not going to get any better any time soon.

From that point on, the Packers chewed up clock as the defense tried to score by themselves and the offense watched helplessly from the sideline.

It’s hard to look back at this game and point to the positives because there weren’t many of them. Johnny Knox led the Bears with 84 yards on four catches, but one of the most critical of the receptions was the one he did not make. With a chance to pick up a rare and much-needed first down, Knox let a Cutler pass slip through his hands and off his facemask as he, presumably, was thinking about the hit he was sure to take from the defender.

Obviously, Knox is not aware of the new defenseless receiver rules that make it illegal for a defender to so much as give a dirty look at a receiver.

Kellen Davis caught one pass but it was a big one. Cutler found him deep over the middle and Davis made some nifty moves to get past the last line of defense for a 32-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, he, too, dropped a pass earlier in the game that hit him in the shoulder pads because he couldn’t get his hands up quick enough.

Little Dane Sanzenbacher continues to carve out his role on offense as Cutler is beginning to use him more and more as a safety valve when the cheese hits the fan. Sanzenbacher caught five passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. The only problem with him is that when the winds pick up later in the season they’ll have to put ankle weights on him so he won’t blow away. I don’t mind when he’s used as a change-of-pace receiver because he’s good at finding the soft spots in zone coverage and he has good enough hands to haul in passes when Cutler is under duress. But when he becomes your go-to receiver, as was the case late in the first half when Cutler forced two consecutive passes to him in the red zone, both of which fell incomplete, then your offense has problems.

Now that the NFL took out the fun from kickoffs, Hester’s importance to the team is greatly reduced. He still has trouble running routes and his hands have been less than reliable. His greatest contribution on Sunday came late in the game when he served as a decoy on a punt return.

On a beautifully-designed return, Hester, and most of the return team, ran to the left side of the field. Hester was looking skyward and signaled for the fair catch. Almost all of the Packers’ coverage unit was duped by the fake fair catch signal, which enabled Johnny Knox to catch the punt on the other side of the field and sprint down the open sideline for a would-be touchdown. Unfortunately, the officials called a phantom holding penalty on Corey Graham — completely away from the play — which wiped out the return — and spoiled my prediction for the final score of the game, 27-24.

Despite Rodgers completing 28 of 38 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, the most credit we can give today is to the Bears defense for making plays to try to give the offense a chance to come back, or to try to win the game on their own — most likely the latter.

Besides Urlacher’s interception, Lance Briggs forced a fumble that Julius Peppers recovered. Henry Melton showed up on the stat sheet this week with three tackles and a sack, and Peppers also added a sack while being held.

The Bears just finished the toughest stretch on their schedule, facing three of the toughest teams in the league led by three of the top quarterbacks. Many predicted a 1-2 or 0-3 finish, so they’re right about where they should be in the standings. The problem is that both the Packers and Lions are 3-0 and Green Bay already has the tiebreaker on the Bears.

The Bears have a date with a beatable, but much-improved Panthers team next week at Soldier Field followed by a Monday night battle with the Lions. They play again at home against the Vikings and then they travel to London to face the Buccaneers before their bye week. We could know by then whether playoffs are in store for this team or not.

Check back later in the day for a few more thoughts from Sunday’s game.

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