A wave of emotions flooded through my body as Blair Walsh’s game-winning field goal sailed through the uprights late in overtime, giving the Vikings a 23-20 victory over the Bears — the Vikings kicker’s second attempt in overtime, that is. Because of course, he got a second chance.
At one point, I wanted to stand in front of a microphone and declare that you play to win the game, not to avoid losing it.
At another point, I wanted to shout a profanity-laced diatribe from a podium somewhere, loudly proclaiming that the Vikings were who we thought they were, and the Bears let ’em off the hook.
And at a third point, I wanted to go on a rant about how badly the Bears defense stunk and express my shock about their playoff chances given that they can’t beat teams as bad as the Rams and Vikings.
I’m not kidding about any of those thoughts or emotions, either. I used the above video clips from Herm Edwards, Dennis Green, and Jim Mora, respectively, for visual effect, but none of them were meant to be humorous.
The facts are: the Bears played scared in overtime and didn’t play to win; the Vikings are a bad team that the Bears had in position to bury and they let the Vikings back in the game; and at this point, with the Bears a “virtual” two games behind the Lions, playoffs seem like a long shot — and I’m hoping with a defense this bad, they can even win another game this season.
Let’s start with the immediate heart of the matter. The Bears won the coin toss in overtime and elected to receive. They moved the ball a short distance but were not able to score, and had to punt the ball to the Vikings. At that point, I was sure the Vikings would win because I had so little faith in the Bears. And sure enough, the Vikings marched right down the field on the Bears and set up their kicker for an easy, 39-yard attempt. Walsh nailed the kick and celebration ensued.
Briefly, that is. Because a careless facemask penalty was called on Minnesota and the kick was moved back 15 yards. The Vikings ran one play to try to get some of those yards back but they actually lost a few. Then, the Bears lucked out as Walsh’s 57-yard attempt missed wide left.
At that point, I thought victory was within grasp for the Bears. The Vikings defense had not been able to stop the Bears offense with consistency all game and I thought for sure the Bears could systematically work their way down the field for an easy chip shot field goal.
So, what play calling did we get? A heavy dose of Matt Forte.
Forte up the middle for 7 yards. Forte off left tackle for 4 yards. Forte up the middle for 9 yards. Forte up the middle for 1 yard. Forte up the middle for 3 yards. On a second down, the Bears trotted Robbie Gould out to attempt a game-winning 47-yard field goal. Which he proceeded to punch wide right.
On second down. Not the traditional third down on which most overtime kicks are attempted.
First of all, either the play calling on that drive was too conservative and done out of fear, or the Bears shouldn’t have stopped what was working. One or the other had to have been true, but not both.
You can make the argument that five straight Forte runs and no passes was done out of fear of turning the ball over, especially since the Vikings had no answer for Alshon Jeffery — who set a Bears single-game record with 249 receiving yards on 12 receptions. Why the Bears wouldn’t run their normal offense, one that has torn apart defenses this year and was working well against the Vikings, is baffling.
But then you can also make the argument that Forte was having such success running the ball, so why pass if you don’t need to? And if that argument holds water, then why did the Bears offense simply stop on second down? If they were moving the ball so well, why did they attempt a kick on second down and not run at least one more play to try to get closer for Gould?
Well, those in defense of the call will offer these excuses:
“The Vikings tried to run one more play earlier in overtime and they lost three yards.”
I’m sorry, but that’s the Vikings. Not the Bears. And that loss of three yards by Adrian Peterson was on third down, which means they had no choice but to attempt that 57-yard field goal on fourth down. With the Bears, if they had lost three yards on second down, they still had another down to get more yards.
But still, you play to win the game. You can’t play scared, afraid something bad will happen.
Another excuse: “Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and 47 yards is within his range. Nobody thought he would have missed it.”
First, Walsh is also one of the most accurate kickers — particularly from long distance — and he had just missed.
Second, I thought Gould most certainly could have missed. And he did. It’s 47 yards; that’s no chip shot, even for one of the most accurate kickers of all time. Even if you disregard all other points I make, take it from me when it comes to kicking, for I was a kicker for 7 years: no kick is a gimme. There are a lot of factors that go into a simple kick: the snap, the hold, the blocking, the timing, the elements (none in the dome) and the mechanics. You’re not playing a video game of Madden here where you point the arrow at the goal posts and then simulate the snap and distance with a few taps of buttons.
Even Bears head coach Marc Trestman — whom I respect and admire a great deal and will defend until I’m blue in the face on so many other issues — said this: “There’s no guarantee that we would get any yards on second down, third down — there’s no guarantee of that. I just thought we were in range and let’s get it done. … We just didn’t get it done.”
I’m sorry, Marc. I have to disagree with you on this point. There’s also no guarantee that you would have lost any yards on second or third down, either. Which means, the Bears were playing conservative and scared, rather than trying to win the game.
Finally, for those who want to criticize me, or anyone else who questioned kicking it on second down, of having “hindsight,” I tell you this: I thought it was the wrong decision a few weeks ago to kick the field goal on third down in overtime against the Ravens. It’s been my long-held belief that you should get as many yards as possible with as many downs as you have.
It’s commonplace to send out the kicker on third down, so that if you have a bad snap or hold, you can simply fall on the ball and try the kick again on fourth down.
Honestly, I don’t see the point. It’s not as if terrible snaps happen all the time. Can somebody give me the percentage rate of the number of field goal attempts in which the kicker doesn’t get a kick off because the snap or hold was so terrible? Neither can I. Because it doesn’t happen that often.
So, if a team attempts a field goal on fourth down and it’s a terrible snap, why would we blame a head coach for not electing to attempt it on third down? Put the blame where it belonged: on the snapper for a bad snap or the holder for a bad hold.
But I digress.
That whole concept of “playing it safe” and “following protocol” on that last Bears drive in overtime had me sick to my stomach. This Bears offense was eating up the Vikings defense and they elected not to “take the game,” rather, they wanted to be given it. And they lost.
I realize I’ve spent the entire column on one decision, but, really, what difference does the rest of the game mean?
I already mentioned Jeffery’s historical day. Matt Forte rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries (5.2 yards per carry). Josh McCown had another good game with 355 yards on 23 of 36 passing for two touchdowns and no interceptions and a 114.9 passer rating. FOX play-by-play man, Thom Brennaman, only stirred up more controversy among Bears fans by wondering if the Bears should remain with McCown in the lineup when Jay Cutler returns healthy.
Defensively, the Bears weren’t as abominable as last week, but they still gave up 211 rushing yards to Peterson. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff saw his first action with the Bears and the guy looks like he could have been a big help to the Bears — if he had been available anytime in the past two months. Julius Peppers was like a sleeping giant that somebody woke up — maybe it was Lance Briggs’ comments that did it. Whatever the case, Peppers was a man on a mission, recording 2.5 sacks and chasing down Peterson all over the field.
But these individual performances mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The Bears have now lost two straight games that they could have — should have — won. They are a game behind the Lions in the standings, but due to the tiebreaker, they have to win two more than the Lions do in the final four games. I don’t see the Lions going winless or even winning only one game. So, that means at minimum, the Lions could finish 2-2, which means the Bears would have to win all four of their remaining games to make the playoffs.
With the way they’ve been playing, I’m not so sure they can even win one.