The Bears had a chance to maintain their NFC North division lead and distance themselves from the Seahawks and other wild card contenders with a victory over Seattle Sunday at Soldier Field.
Instead, they lost. They lost the game, 23-17, in overtime. They lost the division lead to the Packers. And they lost their confidence and momentum heading into the final quarter of the regular season.
I just wanted to clear up one thing before I get too far into the game recap. I can’t believe I even have to address this for how ridiculous an allegation it is:
The Bears lost to the Seahawks because the defense could not stop Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. The Bears did not lose because of Lovie Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth down early in the second quarter instead of kicking a field goal.
There were almost three full quarters of action left following that failed fourth down. Furthermore, the Seahawks didn’t even get points off the very next possession!
For those who have read me long enough, you might know my stance on this by now. In football, just as in all of professional sports, if you’re going to assign blame for why a team didn’t win a game, you start at the end of the game and work your way backwards.
For instance, how about blaming the defense for allowing the Seahawks to drive 80 yards on 12 plays in overtime for the touchdown, when if they held Seattle to a field goal, their own offense would have at least gotten a chance?
Or how about the fact that with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks offense backed up to its own 3-yard line, the defense allowed another 12-play drive that ended with a touchdown?
Two consecutive drives, 24 plays, 177 yards of offense, and 14 points.
Don’t even dare tell me a Lovie Smith fourth-down decision with just under 13 minutes left in the first half had anything to do with the Bears blowing the game.
As long as there is one more play to be made in any game, nothing that happens prior to it matters. And if you lose the game, it’s because you failed on that last play.
The Bears entered the game holding on to the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture while the Seahawks were clinging to the No. 6 seed. Which meant if the playoffs had started yesterday, that would have been the first-round matchup. Same place — likely the same time — and the same opponents. We learned just how narrow a gap there is between the Bears and other playoff contenders.
It’s not as if the Bears didn’t play well. They had a good offensive game plan, ran the ball 32 times, and racked up 358 total yards. The offensive line protected Jay Cutler well for the second straight week and only yielded one sack. They gave him enough time to throw — plus, he bought himself extra time with nifty footwork and mobility in the pocket — and he connected with Brandon Marshall 10 times for 165 yards against one of the best defenses and secondaries in the NFL.
What I was not pleased with from the offense was the run blocking. They finished with 132 net rushing yards, but 27 of which came from Cutler scrambling. Matt Forte only averaged 3.1 yards per carry while rushing 21 times for 66 yards. Michael Bush fared a little better with 39 yards on 7 carries.
But, just like I can’t blame Smith’s decision to forego a field goal early in the second quarter, I can’t blame the offense for not producing bigger holes and averaging more yards per carry. The fact that they ran the ball 32 times demonstrated that they were largely in control and dictated the tempo of the game.
That takes us to the defense, which, for the second time in three weeks, could not handle the mobility of a young, athletic quarterback. Wilson had a career game that will shine the limelight on him even more after accomplishing so much against what is widely considered one of the best defenses in the league.
Wilson ran on the Bears’ aged defense (9 rushes for 71 yards). He passed all over the defense (23 of 37 for 293 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions). He basically did whatever he wanted and the Bears had no answer for him. The most effective tool was the option that Wilson continuously ran. With running back Marshawn Lynch gaining 87 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, the Bears couldn’t contain both players.
It wasn’t just the Seahawks backfield that had a good game. The Seattle wide receivers had their way with the Bears secondary as well. Sidney Rice caught 6 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Golden Tate finished with 5 catches for 96 yards and a score as well. Doug Baldwin caught 4 passes for 46 yards, and five other players caught at least one pass.
The Bears recorded just one takeaway in the game and it was a sketchy one at that. Lynch was on his way to the ground in the first quarter and appeared to be down in the middle of a pile of bodies. The ball came loose at the end and Kelvin Hayden came away with it. The officials ruled on the field that it was Bears ball, which was key because that meant it would take indisputable evidence to the contrary to overturn the call. Because of the piled up bodies, there was no camera angle that could prove Lynch was down before losing the ball, so it remained in the Bears possession.
With all that said, though, one takeaway does not get the job done for a Lovie Smith defense.
I suppose I could give individual props to different players. Kudos to Cutler for another terrific game. For those who still don’t appreciate the value that he adds to the team, just imagine how badly the Bears would have lost without a quarterback that could evade a pass rush and complete 65% of his passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Of course, we all know what happened to Cutler without a big time wide receiver the past three years. He would have forced too many passes to bad players which would have been tipped and intercepted, or picked off outright. So, kudos to Marshall for being an absolute beast and a reliable target. After the Seahawks took a 17-14 lead with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter, things looked bleak for the Bears. But on the ensuing drive, Cutler found Marshall down the field for a 56-yard gain which helped move them into field goal range for Robbie Gould to send the game into overtime.
…where the defense blew it.
The Bears now enter Smith’s proverbial fourth quarter of the season. They currently sit in the No. 5 seed and would travel to face the defending champion New York Giants if the playoffs were to start this week. While no game is a gimme in the NFL, the Bears have winnable games against the Vikings, Cardinals, and Lions coming up, and they certainly could beat the Packers in two weeks as well.
Realistically, the Bears just need to go .500 over the next four weeks to get into the postseason, but why settle for the wild card? Any team can win on any given Sunday, which might explain why an average team with a gifted young quarterback stole one from the Bears on Sunday.