We’re less than 48 hours removed from the Bears’ 16-15 NFC Wild Card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and I still wonder how the season ended so abruptly.
Cody Parkey’s botched 43-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game remains fresh in every Bears fan’s mind.
- Per common practice, Parkey’s Wikipedia page was vandalized by someone undoubtedly with years of experience doodling on bathroom stalls.
- Meme-makers scrambled to develop witty responses to the most devastating moment possible for a kicker.
- And one clever video edit added an audio track of “My Heart Will Go On” to the visual of Parkey’s miss. It’ll leave you bawling in despair as it did when Leonardo DiCaprio sank to the bottom of the ocean after the Titanic hit that iceberg.
Er, um … when your wife or girlfriend cried, that is, and you were just comforting her. Yeah, that’s it. We’ll go with that.
The long and the short of it is that Parkey does have responsibility in the Bears’ loss. He was on the field for the final play. Which means, he had a chance to win it, but could not convert. He had a job to do, but failed at it.
These are fair and legitimate criticisms of Parkey and every fan has the right to voice them.
That said, the Bears had many problems that contributed to the loss.
Playoff experience matters
One of the concerns I had about the Bears facing the Eagles was the difference in playoff experience. I wrote a blurb about it — titled “Eagles present a dangerous challenge” — at the conclusion of my post last week (scroll to the bottom of that article).
In that section, I stated the experience factor of the defending Super Bowl champions, as well as Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s familiarity with Matt Nagy and his offense, as causes for concern.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t expecting a Bears victory, though. It just meant there was a reason to give pause to the big point spread that the Bears were favored by. And a purpose for ripping up the armchair game planning for the Los Angeles Rams in the next round.
Playoff experience is an often overlooked intangible. Ask any professional athlete who has played a postseason contest and they’ll tell you that the playoffs are a whole different ball game.
With the way the Bears played in the first half against the Eagles, one could make the argument that the experience factor — or lack thereof — reared its ugly head.
Offense begins game a little slow, lackluster
For an offense that turned some heads this year with its creativity, the Bears looked anything but innovative in the early going.
The Bears punted on three of their first four possessions to open the game, and went three-and-out on two of those series.
Whether it was the defense taking away the long ball or the Bears protecting Trubisky in his first career playoff start, the Bears kept just about everything underneath. The majority of the plays were lateral and/or within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The offense didn’t want to, or seemingly couldn’t, push the ball down the field and stretch the defense.
Sometime after the half, and more specifically in the fourth quarter, the Bears opened up the playbook and looked more like the offense we had hoped Nagy would orchestrate all game.
Nagy allowed Trubisky to take more shots downfield. Or, maybe the calls were there and Trubisky hadn’t taken chances earlier in the game. Either way, the second-year pro started connecting on some well-placed throws down the field.
Down 10-9 early in the fourth, Trubisky led the offense on a 6-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Trubisky connected with Taylor Gabriel for 19 yards, Josh Bellamy for 34, and Allen Robinson for a 22-yard score to cap off the drive.
It was a moment like that that led you to believe the Bears finally figured out this “playoffs thing” and were headed for a victory.
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) January 7, 2019
But that’s when they got conservative again.
Bears couldn’t close the deal
After the defense held the Eagles on the next possession, the offense took over at their 26-yard-line, nursing a five-point lead with about seven minutes to play.
The Bears had the opportunity to seize the moment and capitalize off their surging momentum. One long drive — ending with at best a touchdown, at minimum a huge chunk of time lapsed — would have pushed them to the brink of victory.
— BearsBeat.com (@bearsbeat) January 7, 2019
Instead, the Bears went three-and-out after a Jordan Howard stuffed run of minus-2 yards and a Trubisky sack of minus-7 yards.
After a Pat O’Donnell punt, the Bears’ defense — dominant in so many games all year — succumbed to a 12-play, 60-yard drive from the defending champions that concluded with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Golden Tate on fourth down.
One last gasp
The Eagles went for two after the score, but failed, giving the Bears a little bit of hope.
Tarik Cohen returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards out to their own 42-yard-line. That set up Trubisky and the offense with good field position to start the drive.
With about :48 to play, Trubisky engineered a 33-yard drive, connecting on passes to Robinson for 25 and 8 yards. With no timeouts, it unfortunately took the Bears almost a full 20 seconds to get up to the line of scrimmage and spike the ball after Robinson’s second catch.
When Trubisky finally turfed it, just 15 seconds remained.
Generally, it’s said that around 15 seconds is about as much time as an offense would need to run a quick play, get everybody back to the line of scrimmage, and spike the ball before the clock expires.
That was too close for Nagy’s comfort, and the coach instead elected to try one deep pass to the end zone, which fell incomplete to Anthony Miller.
Out came Parkey with 10 seconds left on the clock, and the rest is history.
Season lost, but experience gained
My gut instinct is probably not unlike that of so many other Bears fans. And that is to say: this Bears team seemed to outperform expectations and were perhaps a year ahead of schedule.
But I can’t pass it off that easily. Whether or not expectations were there for this year’s Bears squad, the loss hurts nonetheless. It was an opportunity missed. A few plays here or there — or a made 43-yard field goal — and we’d be talking about the Rams this week.
The team is young, no doubt. And they will have a bright future. But I don’t want to waste any year, even if it was the first of the Nagy regime.
That said, what the Eagles clearly held as an advantage in playoff experience now transfers, in part, to the Bears. There is no guarantee the Bears ever get back to the playoffs in this regime, even though all signs are pointing toward it happening. And if and when they do return to the postseason, they’ll be that much more prepared for it.
Similarities to Super Bowl Bears?
In closing, this Bears team reminds me a little of the 2005 squad that lost to the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Panthers were two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance while the Bears were just two years into their new regime under Lovie Smith. Comparatively, this year’s Eagles squad is one year removed from its Super Bowl appearance and the Bears are only one season into their regime under Nagy.
The Bears trotted out the young Rex Grossman for his first playoff appearance against the Panthers. Meanwhile, Trubisky led this year’s squad in his first postseason game. Muhsin Muhammad was the Bears’ prized free agent acquisition then and Allen Robinson was the guy this year. The Bears had an emerging young defense back then, ditto that now.
It’s not completely apples to apples, but it sure does feel similar.
What do the Bears do this offseason? How do they make the leap to the Super Bowl in the same way the 2006 Bears did? Can they even make that leap?
We’ll find that out in the months ahead, but one thing is certain: the foundation has been laid by general manager Ryan Pace. The Bears have more pieces in place than most other teams in the league do. Now it’s time to complete the puzzle, build off this year’s experience, and get to the ‘ship in 2019.