There is perhaps no better way to sum up the state of the Bears following their 23-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday than what transpired on the last series of the game.
The Bears began their last possession of the game from their own 39-yard-line with a little over three minutes to play and trailing by less than a touchdown.
As an aside, this scenario alone is enough for us to applaud the team’s competitiveness this season. For a rebuilding team that isn’t quite there yet in terms of talent, you want to see them, ball in hand, with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
Against the defending NFC Champions, it’s all the more satisfying.
The Bears offense played some of its best football of the afternoon on that final drive as they operated out of the hurry-up and found ways to move the chains. Granted, it wasn’t pretty, and three of the first four plays on that drive were dump-offs to the running backs. But it was effective in moving the chains.
Other players besides Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen to contribute on the final drive included Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy — names that don’t inspire confidence that the Bears are going to go places this season, but when called upon they came through with some timely catches. Wright caught a 16 yard pass on third-and-five to pick up one first down, and hauled in another eight-yard reception for a second first down. Bellamy corralled a 14-yard reception to convert on a fourth-and-three to sustain the Bears’ final drive.
The Bears successfully moved the ball into the red zone, setting up a first-and-goal from the 5-yard-line with 21 seconds to play.
In essence, in spite of any mistakes they had made up to that point in the game, they had succeeded from one standpoint: they put themselves in position to win the game. They were “good enough” to steal one from the Falcons and make a statement.
What followed next, however, exemplifies the struggles the Bears might continue to have the rest of the season unless we see marked improvement from those involved.
With four chances to punch the ball into the end zone and pick up the opening week victory, the Bears took chances on four different players — or, at least three. We don’t know what would have happened had Mike Glennon attempted a fourth pass because he was sacked from behind to end the game.
Glennon looked Bellamy’s way on first down and actually threw a pretty good ball where only his receiver could get to it. Unfortunately, Bellamy got tangled up a little bit with the defender in the end zone and it was enough a delay to prevent his outstretched hands from snagging the ball for a touchdown.
On second down, the Bears had another golden opportunity to score when Howard snuck out into the flat and dropped a pass at the goal line from Glennon that also could have been a touchdown (whether the approaching defender would have tackled Howard short of the end zone is debatable, but it’s a moot point given that Howard took his eyes off the ball and missed a golden opportunity).
After two unsuccessful tries, the Bears decided to look Zach Miller’s way on third down. The normally sure-handed tight end was heavily covered and Glennon threw a pass a little behind him, which fell incomplete and brought up fourth down.
And we know how it ended from there.
The Bears are lacking a playmaker in the passing game. This is not a surprise. We feared this heading into the season and it is something that doesn’t look like it can be fixed until the 2018 season — unless someone currently on the roster steps up in crunch time and becomes reliable.
The Bears’ final series proved this to us when the Bears attempted to go to three different players to win the game for them.
What can we take from the Bears’ opening week loss? My first take is simply this: the Bears are improved, and they can play football.
This idea that some in the media have branded them a “bad” football team, one destined for a 4-6 win season is foolish nonsense. (Disclaimer: don’t take this to mean I don’t think there’s a possibility they finish at that. Of course it’s possible. A few bad breaks, complete injury decimation … any number of things can cause a 4-6 win season).
But my greater overall point is that if the Bears continue to compete and play at the same level they did for the majority of the game on Sunday against the Falcons, they’re going to win more than 6 games. They’re going to be competitive into the fourth quarter more games than not. And the only difference between a 5- or 6-win season and an 8- or 9-win season is if they make those key plays at the end of the game.