Bears cough up another late lead, fall to the Browns

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For the third time this season, the Bears had a strong lead in the fourth quarter, only to let it slip through their grasp. They dropped a heartbreaker to the Cleveland Browns, 20-17.

Who can forget the utter collapse to the Denver Broncos back in Week 4, falling on their faces after a 28-7 lead? Or the miserable finale of the first Detroit game when the Lions scored two touchdowns in under four minutes to complete the comeback victory? Now, add this unmitigated disaster to the list of “should-have-wons” that not only will keep the Bears out of the playoffs but also explains why they’re not quite ready to win just yet.

They had this. Period. They stomped on the Browns for three quarters. They bullied them. They made old man Joe Flacco look like a never-was. They picked him off three times and sacked him four, to say nothing of the times they harassed him, knocked him down or hurried his throws.

And yet, when all was said and done, the old man showed he still had some plays left in him, as he led the Browns on game-tying and -winning drives.

To blame the Bears defense in this one, however, would be a foolish mistake. The defense held up its end of the bargain — how many times have we said that in the history of this franchise? But the offense really struggled to get anything going, accounting for just 10 points and 236 total yards. A Tremaine Edmunds pick-six was responsible for the other 7 points.

The Bears’ run game, which has been typically very strong, managed just 88 yards on the ground against a stout Browns defense. The passing game, too, was brutal as the receivers just couldn’t get open — and when they did, they couldn’t corral passes like when tight end Robert Tonyan dropped a would-be touchdown on a perfectly thrown ball by Justin Fields. The offensive line was overmatched and had nothing left by the end of the game. It got so bad that the Browns once had a two-man pass rush that somehow got to Fields and flushed him out of the pocket.

Now that is bad.

Speaking of Fields, he didn’t get much help from his receivers — or the officials — but he had a rough outing in this one, completing 19 of 40 passes for just 166 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — both of which came off Hail Marys at the end of the halves, and one of which bounced and should have been ruled incomplete.

I’m not sure if the league’s official statisticians are allowed to change a ruling on the field like they’re able to change passing plays to run plays or assign fumbles from one player to another after further review of the games. But just know that the officials in this game should have reviewed that play at the end of the first half and they would have clearly seen that the ball hit the ground before it was corralled by the Browns’ defense.

Speaking of the zebras, let’s talk about them.

There has been a lot of flak thrown around against NFL officials lately, a lot of it amplified by that Chiefs-Bills game with the controversial offsides call on Kadarius Toney. (He was offsides, by the way, and it was solely his fault. But I digress.)

The officials made at least two egregious mistakes in this one, not counting the interception-that-wasn’t at the end of the first half.

The first mistake happened on that very same play. Not only did Fields not get intercepted there, but he also got hit considerably late on the play and somehow the referee wasn’t watching. That should have been a roughing the passer penalty that would have set up a Cairo Santos field goal at the end of the half.

The second big mistake was on a fourth down play, Jaylon Johnson got held by a Browns receiver, preventing him from making a tackle to stop the Browns’ ongoing drive. The Browns went on to score a touchdown on that possession.

Referees are only a part of the problem, though. Unless it’s one very specific call at the end of a game that means the difference between a win and a loss, I won’t pin them with the most blame.

The most blame goes to the Bears offense, and I’m just not sure how I’d divide the pie. Fields deserves a little, his receivers deserve some, the offensive line deserves probably a lot, and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy deserves his fair share.

Of course, with all that said, the Browns defense deserves credit as well.

Any hope of a Bears last-ditch effort to make the playoffs basically flew out the window with that loss. They are not mathematically eliminated, but what was already a long shot has now become a lottery drawing.

The Bears have three games left, all of which are winnable against bad or mediocre teams, as long as their defense keeps playing the way it has been since the acquisition of Montez Sweat (who had 2.5 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss in this one).

Can the Bears build some momentum to close the season, enough to save the jobs of Fields and Matt Eberflus? That’s about all they’re playing for at this point.

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.