Bears fail in the red zone, fall to Commanders

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I don’t know who thought it’d be a good idea to put a rebuilding Bears franchise in prime time, but Thursday night’s disaster against the Commanders — a 12-7 ‘Manders victory — really put a lot of people to sleep who weren’t a part of the Chicago or Washington markets.

And even then, I’m not completely sure televisions remained on in and around those cities for the entire duration of the game.

I’m still trying to parse what we witnessed Thursday night. To sum it up, the Bears controlled the game for much of the evening. They had more first-, third-, and fourth-down conversions; more total, passing, and rushing yards; more time of possession and fewer penalties.

In short, when you see these types of numbers your first instinct is to assume that the Bears won the game.

But then you look at the important statistics and you understand why they did not come out victorious.

The Commanders had zero turnovers while the Bears had two — a tipped interception and a Velus Jones muffed punt (yes, another one). Despite some successful drives, including a few that went deep into Washington territory, the Bears came up empty three times inside the five-yard line: the Fields interception and two turnovers on downs.

That simply cannot happen if you want to be successful. The Commanders are one of the worst teams in football; can you imagine how badly the Bears would have been pantsed had they been playing against a team with a better offense? This game would have been a rout.

More than anything, my biggest takeaway is that Fields is on an island by himself. Oh, sure, every now and then a visitor flies in to visit — such as a David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, and occasionally Darnell Mooney or Cole Kmet. But there’s no real help elsewhere. This offense is atrocious from a personnel standpoint and the only way they succeed is when the whole plays better than the sum of its parts are capable of playing.

Fields got absolutely abused Thursday night. More times than not, when he dropped back to pass, he had a defender in his lap before he could say, “oh crap, not again.” A good offensive line will give its quarterback at least three seconds to go through his progression. Fields sometimes holds the ball too long — he’s not off the hook for that. But Fields doesn’t have time to advance past his first look all too often for him to have any kind of consistent success.

Despite Fields being under duress, the Bears actually had some good plays and sustained drives worth mentioning.

After the teams traded punts to open the game, Fields led the Bears on an 11-play, 61-yard drive spanning nearly 7 minutes, leading them down to Washington’s five-yard line. Fields had some nice throws, connecting with Kmet for 15 yards and Dante Pettis for 19 yards. He also scrambled a couple times while David Montgomery helped move the chains as well.

Unfortunately, that drive failed to produce points as Fields fired a pass to Kmet, which Washington picked off to kill the momentum.

After the defense stifled the Commanders again, the Bears offense took over on the ensuing drive and marched right back into Washington territory following a 64-yard scamper by Khalil Herbert. However, once again, the Bears came up empty inside Washington’s five-yard-line, turning the ball over on downs when Herbert got stopped at the one on a fourth-down attempt.

The rest of the first half was ugly as a lone Washington field goal provided the only points of a miserable, offensive half of offensive football.

Why the Bears have such trouble scoring points in the first half of games is beyond me, and that’s something that they’ll need to rectify moving forward. They shouldn’t need to wait until the second half to wake up and score.

After a ‘Manders punt to open the third quarter, the Bears offense marched down the field for a 9-play, 94-yard drive culminating in a beautiful, 40-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Pettis. I don’t know what was most impressive: the placement of the ball by Fields, the over-the-shoulder tracking and catch with both feet in bounds by Pettis, or the fact that it was Pettis who actually caught it, given his struggle with notable drops this season.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Bears came out firing in the second half was a big boost for the offense and the crowd in attendance. It started to feel like the Bears were going to put away a putrid Commanders team.

Unfortunately, the defense, which had been playing great ball up until that point, got pushed around on the ensuing drive. Washington drove 65 yards on 13 plays in almost seven and a half minutes and kicked a field goal to draw within a point.

The Bears and Commanders traded punts after that, and it looked like Fields was going to get the ball back midway through the fourth period to try to expand his team’s lead. Sadly, as we witnessed two weeks ago, a Velus Jones muffed punt gave the Commanders possession of the ball inside the Bears’ 10-yard-line. Two plays later, rookie running back Brian Robinson punched in his first career touchdown to give the Commanders the lead. The two-point conversion attempt failed, giving the Bears some fresh hope.

However, the offense just couldn’t protect Fields at that point and the Bears struggled to move the ball. The offense ran a 10-play drive, chewing up nearly five minutes of valuable clock, only to move about 27 yards down the field. They attempted to go for it on fourth down near midfield with just over two minutes to play and turned the ball over on downs.

Hoping that their defense would stop the Commanders and give Fields one more chance to play hero, the Bears got lucky when Washington kicker Joey Slye missed a field goal attempt that would have put them up by 8.

That indeed gave the Bears new life, and Fields capitalized. After a sack and fumble — which was recovered by David Montgomery — Fields hit Pettis for 10 yards, Montgomery for 13 yards, and then scrambled 39 yards to Washington’s 5-yard line to set up what looked like the go-ahead touchdown.

With first-and-goal from the five-yard-line, I don’t think there was nary a Bears fan — or football fan in general — who didn’t think they’d punch that ball in for the win.

And yet — these are the “baby Bears,” as play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak has dubbed them.

On four straight plays, the Commanders denied the Bears the end zone. One of the plays, a third down pass to Pettis, looked like an egregious defensive pass interference penalty that did not get called. But, you still have three other chances to get the ball in the end zone, and the Bears simply failed.

For Bears fans such as myself, expecting the team to beat a bad Commanders outfit, this game was a big disappointment. Especially considering the games remaining on their schedule will only get tougher, not easier.

But for those Bears fans, also like myself, who know that this team is intentionally bad — or, let’s just call them intentionally underfunded — we knew that games like this would happen multiple times this year. We have to live with the growing pains of young, inexperienced, and sometimes bad players.

The Bears will have some time to rest up — and trust me, Fields will need it — before they play a week from Monday against a mediocre, if not bad Patriots team. They are well coached, though, so the Bears better be a lot more disciplined and execute much better to avoid another prime time embarrassment.

Former high school and college kicker. Lifelong Chicago Bears fan. I've been writing about the navy blue and burnt orange since 2007. You can follow on Twitter, like it on Facebook, or email me.