Summing up the Bears’ struggles in Sunday’s 36-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could come down to using a single play.
Kyle Long, the heart and soul of not just the offensive line but arguably the entire offense, was being carted off the field after having his ankle rolled up on on the previous play. (And if you need proof how much his teammates love him and his opponents respect him, take into consideration that his departure from the field was delayed after a long line of players waited to give him a send-off with hugs and pats on the shoulder pads.)
As Long was being carted off, he screamed to his offense on the field, smacking the side of the cart with his hand for emphasis, trying to fire up his guys and not let his injury be a buzzkill.
How well did Long’s encouragement help?
On the very next play, Jay Cutler was strip-sacked from behind and turned the ball over to the Buccaneers defense. It was Cutler’s third turnover of the game at that point, barely one minute into the second quarter.
Despite the two interceptions that Cutler threw in the first quarter — one of which was a pick-six by former Bears safety Chris Conte — the Bears were down just 7-3 at the point of Cutler’s lost fumble. In fact, on the ensuing drive after Cutler’s fumble, the Buccaneers had to punt the football rather that capitalize with points off the turnover.
In other words, down by just four points, Cutler’s three turnovers did not lose the game for the Bears.
Sure, they didn’t help, either. And they cost the Bears opportunities to potentially score points.
Bears blowout loss was a team effort
But as I’ve preached many times, you have to leave mistakes on the field in the past. What happens in the first quarter has no bearing on what happens in the fourth. To identify answers to why a team lost a game, you start with the very last play and work your way toward the beginning.
Let’s start with the fact that the Buccaneers engineered a 17-play, nearly 10-minute drive, beginning with the last play in the third quarter and ending with a touchdown more than halfway into the fourth quarter.
You don’t win games by being bullied and controlled like that.
Moving further back into the game, just before the Buccaneers’ 17-play drive, Cutler was sacked in the end zone for a safety. It was the fourth time Cutler was sacked on the day and just one of a handful of times Cutler had defenders in his lap.
You don’t win games without protecting the passer.
On the previous Bears drive before the safety, Cutler completed a pass to Eddie Royal, who took it for 20 yards out to near-midfield. The Bears had something going here, right? Wrong. The play was nullified by a holding penalty on Alshon Jeffery. Instead of having momentum on their side with the ball near midfield, they were backed up to their own 15-yard-line and would punt two plays later.
You don’t win games by committing costly penalties at inopportune moments.
Let’s work our way back even earlier. On the drive before that one, the Buccaneers engineered an 11-play, 52-yard drive, chewing up 6 minutes in the process, that ended with a Roberto Aguayo field goal. The Buccaneers converted two third downs during that series.
You don’t win games if your defense repeatedly fails to get off the field on third down.
On the series before that, the Bears went three-and-out after Cutler was sacked on third down.
Again … pass protection.
On the possession right before that, Jameis Winston connected on a 43-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Martino — who? — yes, Freddie Martino, who slipped behind Cre’Von LeBlanc, and caught his only pass of the game.
You don’t win games by blowing coverage for big plays — much less to no-name jobbers.
All of this was in the second half. Allow me to illustrate just one more play, this one before halftime.
On the possession immediately after Cutler’s strip-sack, Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard — who had a nice day with 100 yards on 15 carries — fumbled the ball away. This Bears turnover — as opposed to two of Cutler’s turnovers — actually led to points allowed, and put the Bears into a 14-3 hole, leaving Howard sitting alone, licking his wounds and having to be consoled by teammates as he sulked on the bench.
You see, Bears fans, I’m not apologizing for Cutler. He played poorly, his worst outing of the season just one game after his best. The inconsistency of such a stretch kind of sums up why many Bears fans have such a hard time supporting him.
But what I am trying to do his head off the scapegoating that inevitably comes from fans any time that Cutler does not have a perfect game. He deserves blame, to be certain. But this was a complete and utter bed-wetting effort by a team that just doesn’t have enough talent to compete in the NFL this season.
To prove that it’s not all about the quarterback, take a look around the league at some of the performances from quarterbacks in losing efforts.
All of these quarterbacks apparently outplayed Cutler and yet their teams lost games. Why? Because winning and losing is a team effort.
Cutler played poorly and contributed to the loss, but his team was not prepared to beat the Buccaneers, and it showed.