As the old expression goes, this was not the way the Bears had drawn it up.
But after the Bears lost another heartbreaker to the Packers, 35-16 on Sunday, they’re still headed for the playoffs due to the Cardinals’ loss to the Rams.
The Bears managed to accomplish a seemingly rare feat: earn a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season despite losing. It made for a lot of mixed and interesting feelings, perhaps put best by head coach Matt Nagy.
“It’s okay to feel like crap right now,” Nagy told his team after the loss to the Packers. But, “hey, when we wake up tomorrow, let’s go.”
I’m not part of the Bears organization, so I can still wake up today feeling like crap. And I do. But that’s just from a frustrated fan who is upset with the one-sided nature of the Bears-Packers rivalry. I’m sure as the week goes on and the playoff hype builds, I’ll be right back in the mood for Nagy’s second trip to the postseason in three years.
Bears opened the game right against Packers
The Packers won the coin toss and elected to defer, leaving the Bears offense with the task of opening the game on the right foot.
And credit to them, that’s exactly what they did.
Mitch Trubisky helped lead a 14-play drive that covered 60 yards and ended with a 2-yard David Montgomery touchdown run. The drive lasted almost exactly half of the first quarter.
To take an early, 7-point lead over the Packers in this uber-important game was a huge moment for the Bears.
I had visions of the previous Bears-Packers game in November when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers received the opening kickoff and then proceeded to march 75 yards on 14 plays, consuming 7:38 of the first quarter. They capped off that drive with a touchdown and immediately put the Bears in a hole that they’d never come out of.
Unfortunately, the Bears would not receive that same good fortune.
On the Packers’ first possession, Rodgers answered the call with a 12-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Robert Tonyan.
The Bears punted on the next possession, but recovered a fumble from punt returner Tavon Austin to set themselves up with good field position in Green Bay’s territory. All the Bears could muster from that takeaway, though, was a field goal.
Packers light up the scoreboard in the second quarter
Just as they did in the first meeting, the Packers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions.
Down 10-7, Rodgers struck again. Taking advantage of what seemed like some confusion on the defense, Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 72-yard bomb. “MVS” left Danny Trevathan trailing in a cloud of dust on that play.
As Bears defenders were scrambling around before the snap, I’m not sure why they did not call a timeout. For a proficient veteran like Rodgers, it was not difficult to take advantage of a slow-footed middle linebacker covering a speedy receiver.
Rookie Cole Kmet fumbled away the ball on the ensuing possession, setting up the Packers with great field position. Six plays later, Rodgers hit Dominique Dafney — exactly, who? — for a 13-yard score to give them a 21-10 lead.
The Bears added a field goal before halftime to make it a one-possession game.
Bears have prime opportunity to take lead, but blow it with questionable call
Kudos to the Bears defense for holding the Packers to two punts in the third quarter. That effort really helped the Bears offense get into position to make a potential game-changing drive.
With about four and a half minutes left in the third quarter, the Bears offense began what would be a whopping 15-play drive that seeped into the fourth quarter. The Bears converted one third down and two fourth downs on that drive.
That’s when a bit of head-scratching set in.
Facing a third-and-one at Green Bay’s 25, Montgomery was stuffed for no gain, setting up the Bears with a fourth down for the third time during the drive. Converting on fourth down once is difficult enough. Doing it twice on a drive is even more rare. But picking up three fourth downs? It seemed like a long shot as it was.
Then the Bears made it all the more difficult to convert with their play call.
For as successful as the Bears were at running the football, and for as short as the first down marker was, they inexplicably decided to pass the ball in this situation. Trubisky rolled out to the right and fired a pass to a heavily blanketed Allen Robinson and turned the ball over on downs.
Yes, Montgomery just got stuffed the previous play. But why the Bears wouldn’t have called his number a second straight time for such a short pick-up is beyond me. Furthermore, the easiest path to a first down would’ve been allowing Trubisky to lunge forward behind his linemen.
Bears fall apart late
Had the Bears converted that fourth down and punched it into the end zone, they would have had the lead and we might have been having a different conversation today. Instead, the Packers took over and Rodgers had his way.
Rodgers burned the Bears defense again by driving 76 yards on 12 plays and Aaron Jones rushed in a score from four yards out.
Back to a two-possession game with under four minutes to go, the Bears had to press their luck and Trubisky was intercepted by — guess who? — former Bear Adrian Amos.
As if a two possession game with three minutes to go and the ball in the Packers’ possession wasn’t daunting enough, Rodgers put the final nail in the coffin with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams to seal the deal.
The fallout: Bears headed for the postseason, but on a low note
The final score was more lopsided than the game actually was. For the Bears to be within a touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter is a positive development. Still, the Bears coming unglued after that failed fourth down was discouraging.
As the waning seconds of the game expired, it was already apparent that the Cardinals were going to lose to the Rams and that the Bears were still headed for the playoffs. But to fall apart the way they did against one of the top teams in the league shows that this playoff spot might just be fool’s gold.
Do the Bears have enough offense in them to compete with the better playoff teams? Can their defense show some kind of resurgence from the floundering unit we’ve seen the past six weeks?
These are questions that will get answered, beginning with Sunday’s battle with the Saints.