The last couple years, the Bears have been relegated to playing out the string - a five win season followed by a six win season can lead to a bit of trying times. It was such on Sunday, when we had two teams fighting to stay out of the division basement. Kind of hard to believe that as recently as two years ago the Bears were fighting for the division crown - then again, things can change quickly in the NFL.
But as quickly as things change, the more they stay the same, and what we got yesterday was more of the same from the Bears over the last two or three months: a close game, but just didn't make a play in the end when they needed to.
We can start at the beginning, where the Lions immediately marched downfield to score the 8th opening drive touchdown against the Bears this season, featuring Harold Jones-Quartey lining up and whiffing a tackle, then outright being dismissed by Tim Wright as he walked into the end zone and received the 9-yard Matthew Stafford toss.
Jay Cutler and the Bears answered back with a long touchdown drive of their own - a ball caught in the end zone counts, right? Not quite, as Cutler's laser directed at Cameron Meredith was batted down and into the hands of James Ihedigbo. There's a couple of problems with this play - among them, asking Cam Meredith to make a big play well covered, on a straight laser toss - but it took two great plays by Lions defenders to make it an interception.
If this game did one thing, it acted as a microcosm of the Bears' offensive woes all season. A number one receiver contingent of Marc Mariani, Cam Meredith, and Josh Bellamy to go with Rob Housler is a disaster. Then, there's pass protection, which was a real let down in this game - case in point, Cutler's second interception of the day, as he had his first multi-INT game of the season on a terrible-luck day for him. Ziggy Ansah beat Charles Leno enough to hit Cutler's arm mid-throw, which sent it wobbling straight into Tahir Whitehead's arms. On Cutler's third interception of the day, Ansah ignored the arm and hit Cutler as he threw, lofting a ball into the arms of Glover Quin as Deonte Thompson kept running towards the end zone.
Three interceptions is a rough-looking statistic, but the rest of Cutler's numbers look pretty good in the face of four sacks - 17 completions on 23 attempts, 10.7 yards per pass, two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 97.5 despite those three picks is a pretty good day. If anything, I'd put the three interceptions to trying to make plays and being hampered by receiving talent and bad luck on the first, and getting hit on the other two.
The only other really noteworthy things in the first half were Kyle Long briefly leaving to get a knee brace, the Lions failing on downs the drive before the second Cutler interception (I'll give props for aggressive play when it's legit aggressive play, and the Lions did a great job both missing the open throw and missing the open Stafford running lane), and a timing snafu that awarded the Lions an extra second to kick in a 59-yard field goal (as well as the ball into the collective groin of the Bears at the time).
But after the half, would you be surprised if I told you the Lions would be the only team to punt in the second half? The Bears picked up with a field goal to finally get on the board, then tied it up as Cutler found Josh Bellamy deep for a 34-yard strike. Apparently, letting Bellamy go by without so much as a line check was a bad idea for the Lions, when Cutler can unload it over the defender.
The next drive seemed to be stopped on 3rd and 9 for the Lions, but Matthew Stafford found a hole in the pocket to pick up 12 yards for the first down. Two plays later, he threw it in the general direction of Calvin Johnson, who laid out to haul in the 36-yard touchdown behind Tracy Porter. Porter was matched up on Johnson throughout the day and had an up and down day, although that was one of his better coverages.
It's kind of belaboring the point, but there's the throw to Bellamy, and then there's what Calvin Johnson just did. Quality of weapon matters, and thanks to injuries, the Bears' receivers were never really able to establish anything with a very talented group (when healthy). What was on display yesterday was not a very talented group.
The next drive, after a lateral on the kick return and after a first down conversion to Marc Mariani, Cutler found Deonte Thompson wide open for 45 yards down the right sideline; two plays later, Matt Forte hauled in a toss from Cutler and scored from 23 yards out, Cutler's second passing touchdown on the day.
By this point, both teams had given up on playing defense, and the next drive showed, as Stafford hit Joique Bell on a short screen pass, the back bumped into a Bear, then kept running for about 36 yards deep into Bears' territory. Theo Riddick took another short pass 18 yards to the 4; Eric Ebron capped the touchdown drive with the catch over the middle.
Marc Mariani took the kick and brought it back to the 47; Cutler hit Housler to bring the ball to the Detroit 38, then hit Mariani for 17 yards to get into the red zone. After missing Meredith deep, Cutler missed Mariani on 3rd and 10 to bring on Robbie Gould to make the score 24-20. One probably could have looked at this point as when the Bears started not making enough plays, but the defense would come through. The Bears forced a Detroit punt, then got the ball back at their own 43 yard line. Matt Forte punched through to the Detroit 37 for 13 yards, then just after the two minute warning, Cutler's third interception went up, and just like that, the game was academic, and over.
- At this point, you can look up and down the roster and make a case for spending a first round pick and having that player start day one at about eight different positions. Harold Jones-Quartey had a couple glaring errors early, but was steady as the game went on. Tracy Porter struggled, as he has the latter part of the year, and Kyle Fuller has played better as the CB2, but his time as a CB1 hasn't been that good. The Bears started two undrafted players at inside linebacker, both of whom showed a few flashes but who could be upgraded easily. Bruce Gaston picked up two quarterback hits, and Wednesday pickup Greg Scruggs added another. Offensive line could use an improvement at guard and tackle, and while Zach Miller looks the part of a solid receiving tight end, a new tight end isn't a bad idea either. This will flesh itself out for sure as we move down the offsesaon, but the team needs a lot of help.
- That being said, the ragtag group of misfits still found ways to put in some work - Mariani put up career highs in receptions (6) and yards (80), as well as getting to experience what a sack felt like (though he never put the ball in the air on that double pass, it was an interesting wrinkle). Thompson and Bellamy each connected on deep balls, although Bellamy did also drop a sure touchdown pass and Thompson wasn't aware a ball was being thrown at him. Now keep in mind two of the four of Mariani, Bellamy, Thompson, and Meredith will be gone with the returns of Alshon Jeffery (maybe), Kevin White, Marquess Wilson, and Eddie Royal.
- The same thing holds up with the offensive line. Every starter in game 17 either moved to a new position or wasn't a starter to begin the preseason, which is going to lead to problems like, well, yesterday. Kyle Long's season was up and down at tackle, and he closed out on a somewhat okay day; Vlad Ducasse of course can't cease to be a Bear fast enough. Also, something tells me that on Devin Taylor's sack of Cutler, that Forte having to block Taylor should have required a chip by the passing Housler, which never came. I'll look forward to Les' season-ending Sackwatch on that particular play.
- So, a couple things I wish I'd seen more of in 2015 - the delayed defensive back blitz (which Jones-Quartey registered a quarterback hit on) and the fake bubble to the deep(er) throw.
- Calvin Johnson almost had more targets (15) than the Bears had completions (17). His only other 100 yard game was against the Bears.
- If Matt Forte is done as a Bear, 110 yards from scrimmage with a receiving touchdown is about as Matt Forte a day as he could have had.
- Of course, the Bears scored their touchdowns outside the red zone, but were greater than 50% on their third downs - and the Lions held the clock for an extra five minutes, but only had 7 more yards than the Bears.
- Tackling, again, proved to be an issue, as again, it seemed like Bears players were bouncing off Detroit ball carriers or ceding extra yards on tackles. Oh, and for some reason, playing off coverage on a late third down past the first down marker sounds like a great way to stop the first down.
Well, that wraps up another season of Bears football well before the date it should end. But, we'll have a whole offseason of coverage - free agency, the draft, minicamps, all that fun stuff, and don't forget, we'll have the WCG Livestream season-ending edition going on tonight, so join us for that as well!
As always, it's been a pleasure writing the day-after recap for y'all; hopefully next year, there's a lot more winning to write about. Bear down.