Even after all that mess – after all the silly penalties and all the fundamental failures and a first-half offensive showing that looked like it was being run by the Peanuts crew – the Bears were somehow still alive deep into the fourth quarter Sunday.
A little less than 9 minutes remained at Lincoln Financial Field. A mini-rally was underway. And the Bears, trailing by just five points, had their defense heading back onto the field.
There was life. There was belief. There was the slightest opening for an upset, a potential parachute win that could have slowed the team’s free fall.
“We were pumped up on the sideline,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “There was energy.”
But then there was this: 16 plays, 69 yards and a 38-yard Jake Elliott field goal. That final Eagles march ate up all but 25 seconds of the clock. Elliott’s kick provided the final points of a 22-14 win. And that left the 3-5 Bears to again wrestle with their emotions, the tension and agitation more than a little obvious in the visitors locker room after the game.
“Obviously this is frustrating,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We know the type of team that we are. And we know we can play much better than this. But it’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to do it.”
As for that final Eagles drive, the possession that wrapped itself around the Bears’ neck like a boa constrictor and squeezed the life out of their hopes? The Bears failed to get a stop on four of five third downs, each Eagles conversion sharpening the sting of this lost season.
On third-and-3, Carson Wentz drilled Alshon Jeffery for 13 yards.
Soon after, Wentz found Miles Sanders on a third-and-12 screen that produced 15 yards.
Wentz connected with Zach Ertz for 4 yards on third-and-3. Another conversion.
Finally, another well-designed and well-executed screen to Dallas Goedert netted 16 yards on third-and-9.
“They made some good plays on that series,” Khalil Mack said. “We just weren’t able to finish, man. You want to get those plays back. … Those are plays you need in that situation.”
Added cornerback Kyle Fuller: “On their part, good play-calling and good execution. On our part, we just didn’t execute as well.”
Let’s be clear. These Bears are a last-place team because their offense is an undeniable disaster and finding new ways every week to prove it. On Sunday, that unit bumbled through the first half with only 9 total yards and two first downs on six possessions. They averaged 0.5 yards per play and 1.5 yards per series.
Read that again: 1.5 yards per series.
The halftime drive chart should give coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitch Trubisky nightmares for the rest of the week.
Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt.
Still, that’s the dead horse that has been walloped and clubbed for much of the last two months. The defense, on the other hand, was supposed to be the energy hub for this season, the relentless, attacking group that could rise to any occasion.
Instead? This once-special group is now merely decent. Or to put it another way, just not good enough.
During the team’s current four-game losing streak, the Bears have come up with only three turnovers, including zero on Sunday. The defense’s takeaway total at the midpoint of this season (11) lags well behind last year’s total from the first eight games (21). That’s part of the difference between 3-5 and 5-3.
There are reasons for the regression. The absence of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is a major factor. The offense’s continued ineptitude and inability to provide sizable leads is a significant issue too.
Eventually all that becomes cumulative, the burnout factor for this defense becoming more than just a fear now.
That the defense was on the field for more than 40 minutes Sunday is unforgivable, a plight that is tied in big part to the offense’s six three-and-outs with five of those “drives” netting negative yardage.
It’s a minor miracle that the Eagles ran 78 offensive plays and only two reached the end zone. And even the first Eagles TD came with some officiating controversy.
Ertz’s 25-yard touchdown catch from Wentz in the second quarter came with the 250-pound tight end using his right arm to push Fuller in the face mask, creating immediate separation. A flag was thrown but then picked up and Fuller never got an explanation that suited him despite his passionate requests for a clarification.
“He was basically telling me that it is a tough call,” Fuller said. “And whatever he saw? I guess it was enough for him to pick (the flag) up. … (Ertz) was running his route and he kind of came towards me. So I just braced myself. With him coming at me, I tried to hold on and he pushed to get away. So if anything, I was pulling. (The official) mentioned something about me pushing him away. Which didn’t really make sense.”
Whatever happened and whatever the officials saw and discussed, that Eagles’ touchdown came two plays after a big fourth-down stop by the Bears. But that momentum-turning success was negated by a borderline roughing-the-passer call against Nick Williams for shoving Wentz in the back a beat after the quarterback’s incomplete throw to Mack Hollins was away.
“You can’t put the game in the refs’ hands, man,” Mack said.
On that, Mack is dead on. The officiating errors couldn’t explain all seven of the Bears’ defensive penalties. The officiating had little to do with the inability to spoil Jordan Howard’s revenge game with the former Bear rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
The officiating was not a factor in that final Eagles drive either, the 16-play march that decimated what remained of the Bears’ playoff hopes.
That was simply one team making plays while the other could not. One after another after another.
And it left a dizzied Bears defense searching for equilibrium and annoyed at how the last month has gone.
Said Mack: “This is a hard loss, man, understanding that there are so many self-inflicted negatives on our behalf.”
Added Trevathan: “This is the NFL, man. Things rarely go the way you want it. But strong teams have to fight and stay together.”
A year ago this weekend, the Bears left Buffalo with a 41-9 victory that included four takeaways, two defensive touchdowns and so much positive energy. This? Well, it was certainly not that. And the reasons for the drop-off are deflating.
“We have to get back into the groove of things,” Trevathan said. “And feeling our vibe. But we can’t keep making so many mistakes. We could nitpick. But there are no excuses. We have to play a lot better. I have to play a lot better.”
There’s really nothing the Bears can say that will make the letdown less severe. Even worse, there’s little they can do to revive the season’s grand hopes either.
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