I don’t just mean because they’re done. I literally want to stick a fork in some of the Bears.
Let’s be honest for a minute, the Bears’ chances of winning the NFC North pretty much went out the window when Brian Urlacher was lost for the season in Week 1. The playoffs weren’t likely, but then this team gave us hope after rolling off three straight wins heading into the Week 5 bye.
Just five games later, it was all but over. At 4-5 following a 10-6 loss to the 49ers on Thursday night, the Bears are still mathematically alive for a postseason berth, but their play and remaining schedule make it a longshot at best. So what went wrong on Thursday night?
Let’s start with the statline making all the headlines, Jay Cutler’s 5 interceptions. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are or how many weren’t his fault, 5 interceptions in one game is unacceptable. To be fair to Cutler for those who couldn’t see the game on NFL Network (another rant for another time), in my opinion 3 of the 5 picks weren’t his fault. Devin Hester fell down after the ball had been thrown on one, an ump set an accidental pick on Hester on another, and one of the more blatant pass interference calls I’ve seen in awhile was not given on a third. I promise you, that last one has nothing to do with bias.
What is concerning, and has been all season, are the nature of his other two interceptions, both of which happened in or right in front of the end zone. Both picks saw multiple defenders in the path of his intended receivers, and appear to be the result of nothing more than poor decision making. Jay Cutler certainly has all the tools to be an NFL QB, but it seems like he allows those tools to let him think he can make throws that just aren’t there.
Much is made of home-road splits in the NFL, but in Cutler’s case, what cannot be ignored is his Day-Night splits. In six games during the day, Cutler is 4-2 with an average QB rating of 93.5, 11 TDs and 6 INTs, 3 of which came in the dismal loss to Cincinnati. In 3 prime time games, he is 0-3, has an average QB rating of 65.3, and has thrown just 3 TDs to 11 INTs, 5 of which of course came on Thursday night. Cutler’s yardage average is greater by nearly 50 per game at night, but that is a result of him attempting nearly 10 more passes per game. Whether this is a coincidence or a mental issue, I’m not sure, but the Bears’ next contest is a Sunday nighter against Philadelphia at home, where Cutler will need to improve.
To continue with the negative aspects of the Bears’ night / season, where the heck has the running game gone? This can no longer be considered a slow start for Matt Forte, as he rushed 20 times for only 41 yards on Thursday night, just over 2 yards per carry. Granted, he had 8 receptions for 120 yards, but as we saw Thursday night, that means nothing if the Bears can’t get anything going on the ground.
Part of the issue is the porous offensive line, as they seem to let everyone through except Forte. The names are all there, but these guys just aren’t creating holes for Forte. As a result, he seems to be dancing around in the backfield a la Thomas Jones more often than not, and getting stuffed for no gain way too often.
I won’t put all the blame on the offensive line, as another troubling aspect is Forte’s lack of breakaway speed. On multiple occasions this season, he has failed to leave a trail of defenders in his wake and been stopped earlier than he should have. A good example was in the second quarter last night, as Forte took a screen pass 37 yards to midfield before being stopped from behind. The very next play was one of Cutler’s INTs which led to the only TD of the game. Forte just doesn’t seem to have that extra gear that can get him past the last level of defenders, in the rare occasion when he gets past the first.
Finally, before I get into the redeeming aspect of last night’s game, let’s talk about the penalties. The Bears committed 10 penalties for 75 yards, which of course does not include those declined by the 49ers. There were at least 3 offsides calls in which the Bears were lined up in the neutral zone, an inexcusable offense. One of those penalties actually nullified an interception which would have given the Bears the ball near midfield. Go figure. This is just an undisciplined team, whether it’s an offside penalty or a block in the back on a punt with no return, and it’s frustrating beyond belief.
Was there anything positive to take from this outing? Absolutely, the performance of the defense. I know Alex Smith is no Kurt Warner, but the Bears defense made him look more like Matt Leinart. The Bears allowed just 216 total yards, and the 49ers longest drive didn’t even make it to their team name, covering just 48.
The defense came up with some critical stops, including a 4th and inches at midfield in the middle of the 3rd quarter which should have swung momentum, and a goal line stand in the fourth quarter which gave the Bears a chance to win. The only time the Bears let the Niners in the end zone was a 1-play drive which started in the red zone, and held Frank Gore to 4.2 yards per carry, a full yard below his season average.
One week after being throttled by Arizona and allowing the Cardinals to score on their first six possessions of the game, the defensive unit dug in, got pressure (including 2 sacks), batted balls down at the line, and made a few plays. Aside from the offside penalties, the only other major blemish was the inability to recover the Frank Gore fumble in the 4th quarter inside the red zone.
So while the outcome was not the desired one, at least 49ers TE Vernon Davis was forced to eat his words, as he caught just 3 passes for 16 yards on the day and didn’t “destroy” anyone.