Yesterday's game was a microcosm for the "how far they've come, how far they've yet to go" feeling that this entire season has had. The Bears were not blown out by a better Broncos team, they were right there with them for the majority of the game and came within a yard and a half of tying the game with under 30 seconds to play.
It goes without saying that this game would have been a slaughter a year ago, but I am saying it anyway. In the black and white world of macro NFL analysis, this game shouldn't have been close, save for the fact that Brock Osweiler was making his first career start.
Even with that, Osweiler had almost all his weapons healthy, while the Bears were trotting out Marc Mariani and Cameron Meredith in key situations. Arguably, the Broncos are even better with Osweiler just because he is 100 percent healthy and Peyton Manning has not been close to 100 percent at all this season.
The point is, the 4-5 Bears played a 7-2 Broncos team to the final whistle. Chicago overcame a depleted depth chart and a far less talented roster to be within two points of a playoff team.
That is what John Fox and his staff have brought to Chicago. If Ryan Pace can turn in another offseason and draft like he had last year or string together a couple of solid drafts and there is no doubt this team can be in the playoffs.
Redzone struggles are costing them wins: The Bears converted only one of their four redzone trips against Denver into a touchdown. Thanks to Brad Biggs of the Tribune I have some season numbers as well for context: Four of their six losses (to Denver, Detroit, Green Bay and Vikings) were by a combined 16 points. In those losses the offense scored TDs in the redzone six times on 17 trips including just five from 10 tries in a goal-to-go situation. Including yesterday's game, the Bears are now converting TDs on just 41.2 percent of their redzone trips. This team can't settle for field goals against better opponents and expect to win but it's happened all too often and it's a big reason why they've been on the wrong end of close games.
Matt Forte was missed: Would Forte have found more running room than Ka'Deem Carey or Jeremy Langford did? No probably not. However, on the team's third drive, on third and 10 Cutler threw a ball deep into the endzone for Langford. The ball was well thrown, outside, toward the sideline where only Langford could get it or it would go incomplete. Langford couldn't get a good track on the ball and it fell incomplete. Perhaps Forte would've missed it too, but his extra height and experience likely would have allowed him a better shot at it. There were another couple of plays where I thought Forte's experience would have paid for the Bears.
Jay Cutler wasn't sharp, but wasn't the problem: Cutler had his worst game of the season and certainly his worst game since week one against Green Bay. That said, it was hardly Cutler who cost the Bears. Sure he wasn't as sharp as he's been but there were some drops and at the end of the game it came down to team execution in the redzone and that is where the offense as a whole, from the playcaller on down, came up short.
Where is Martellus Bennett? I've defended Bennett for a long time, I like his goofy attitude but now his attitude is becoming troublesome. He's gone from free-thinking, free-spirited, goofy guy to complaining about his role and obviously giving half-effort on the field. He isn't at all playing like a guy who wants to earn a new contract, Yesterday should have been a game when Bennett was a focal point and the Bears' best weapon but he turned in two catches on 26 yards on six targets.
Lack of turnovers on defense shows again: The defense has 11 turnovers this year and zero defensive touchdowns. In fact, you have to go all the way back to Week 3 of last season to find the Bears' last defensive touchdown (Ryan Mundy pick six against the Jets). It seems crazy to think that because defensive scores can be flukey. Now living off of defensive scores isn't a great recipe for success either but just getting turnovers to begin with would be nice. The Bears faced a QB in his first career start yesterday. They sacked him five times and hit him six times and yet they forced zero turnovers. The Bears defense was credited with one pass break up. A team can't force a turnover without getting a hand on the ball. Turnovers are one of those x-factor things that can't be counted on week-in and week-out to win games, but there can be teams and players that have a knack for forcing them and the Bears have none of those guys this year it seems.
What were your biggest takeaways from yesterday's game?