DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 11: Head coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears looks on during the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 11, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
There's playing conservative and then there's playing scared, and the Chicago Bears played scared down the stretch against the Broncos. I understand the thinking by Lovie Smith and/or Mike Martz in the 4th quarter. Don't do anything stupid. But there are ways to safely throw the ball in late game situations when nursing a lead. I know most Bears fans are laying blame for this loss on Marion Barber, and I'm with you to a point, but the fear they showed in the waning minutes isn't how you win in today's NFL.
Now Barber running out of bounds was as inexcusable and idiotic of a play that you'll see this side of Leon Lett, but even if Barber did stay in bounds the Bears needed a first down to run out the clock completely. A three and out would have still left some time on the clock for Tim Tebow's magic. Not much time, probably around 30 seconds, but it was enough time that warranted Chicago trying to pick up a 1st down. The talk of taking 3 knees and punting is silly talk.
On the Bears last 4 possessions (all 3 and outs btw) they ran the ball 11 of 12 times including running the ball on their last 9 plays. After Robbie Gould kicked his record setting field goal the Broncos had their own 3 and out, and punted the ball back to the Bears. Chicago started their 4th from last possession with a 10-0 lead and 13:02 left in the game. This was much to early to go super conservative. The majority of the 4th was yet to be played and the Bears were in coast to the victory mode. The Broncos knew the Bears were running the ball, and their defense played like it. Eight or nine in the box, shooting gaps, and gang tackling. They were primed to get burned by a creative play caller, but Martz had Hanie turn and hand off, again, and again, and again...
There were two specific play calls that really got my goat. The first one actually came on the Gould FG drive, and in the grand scheme of things it really didn't matter, because Chicago picked up a first down on the very next play. But nevertheless it was a situation that begged for some playaction. The Bears had just picked up 9 yards on a run off left tackle by Barber to set up a 2nd and 1. A 2nd and short screams for a play action pass, but the Bears went with another Barber run, this time off right tackle, and this time for a one yard loss. The Broncos loaded the box to stop the run, and I thought a playaction pass with a couple of sight levels for Hanie to read would have been the perfect play call.
The next play that had me screaming at my TV was the play right before the 2 minute warning. The Bears had a 1st and 10 and they needed to pick up one 1st down to seal the game. I understand not wanting to put the ball in the air for fear of the incomplete pass stopping the clock, but with only 2:05 left in the game the clock was about to stop anyway, so it was a perfect time to run a playaction pass. They could have got the flow going left off a that misdirection run fake and rolled Hanie to his right. Best case scenario is Hanie hitting someone for a nice gain by catching the unsuspecting Bronco D all amped up to stop the run. They could have made the play a run/pass option for Hanie, so he could tuck it and run if what they hoped to see wasn't there.
The Barber run play the Bears actually ran ticked 5 seconds off the clock, so a fake to Barber and roll would have took at least the same 5 seconds. If the Hanie pass somehow went awry, and let's be honest, Caleb isn't the most accurate passer, the incomplete pass would have happened after the clock ticked under 2 minutes and the clock would have stopped anyway.
Then with how they opened up in overtime, that just pissed me off even more after the conservative 4th quarter. The Bears are so worried that Hanie would make a mistake in the 4th, but in OT they have enough confidence in him to start with 4 consecutive passes? Of which he completed the first three, for 18, 5, and 16 yards. Makes. No. Sense. I'm probably just reading between the lines here, and this is pure speculation on my part, but the passes in OT tell me that it wasn't Martz that wanted to be so run heavy down the stretch. He took his cue from a higher power.
I could probably keep my tirade going and write another 5 or 6 paragraphs on the defensive play calling at the end of the game (you call that soft of a zone...really? Really?), but I've gone on long enough.
I loved the offensive game plan for most of the day. Limit Caleb Hanie's attempts in what was sure to be a defensive struggle. Run the ball, play good defense, and make fewer mistakes than Denver. With a back up QB playing and Matt Forte out, this was perfectly fine by me. I thought the Bears D was fast enough to slow down what the Denver offense has become and I thought if the Bears played a game manager type offense, they could win the game. But even when managing the game, you have to know when to step on the throat.