We were this close to witnessing the “Matt Barkley game” for the Chicago Bears. Another quarterback controversy in town (at least on sports radio). Yet another beloved back-up quarterback.
Actually, we still might see some try to drive that point home. But in Barkley’s first ever career start while filling in for the “day-to-day” Jay Cutler against the Tennessee Titans, he eventually settled in and gave the depleted Bears a chance to win.
Before Sunday, Barkley had an oh-so overall career “sparkling” stat-line as follows:
- 36-65 (55.4 completion percentage)
- 386 yards
- Zero touchdowns, six interceptions
- 34.2 quarterback rating
That’s, well, not good.
In my best Troy McClure voice, you might remember Barkley from the Packers game earlier this season.
Barkley was putrid filling in for Brian Hoyer - going 6/15 for 81 yards to go with two interceptions. If anyone wasn’t experiencing pre-game existential dread with Barkley, they were probably rationalizing.
It’s funny what a 28th overall defense in Tennessee will do for a guy.
First, we had the good, as he led an early 13-play 84-yard drive capped off by a touchdown to tight end, Daniel Brown (“Who?”). It was all sparked by Jordan Howard turning a screen on third and long from Bears territory into a 23-yard gain.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota - a light of the NFL’s new life - would lead the Titans right back down the field. Tennessee’s exotic smash-mouth offense that’s pushed everyone around is mostly unstoppable, and that didn’t change against the Bears. Their first touchdown drive exemplified their dominance. They seamless transitioned from a deep 38-yard bomb to Pro-Bowl caliber tight end, Delanie Walker, to steady doses of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry - who finished the drive with an 11-yard score.
Without Leonard Floyd in tow against a great offensive line, Chicago had zero sacks of Mariota and pressured him just six times. That allowed Tennessee to maintain quality balance. 226 net yards passing and 149 net yards rushing tells the story of a team holding all the cards. Mariota is the key as he’s arguably worthy of a Pro Bowl berth this season.
But, he’s not all there yet and it’s partly what let the Bears back in this game. What this offense will be once Mariota fully grows up will truly be frightening.
Barkley’s bad made it seem like the almost-legend birth would never happen. Two dreadful red zone interceptions that I still can’t fathom, in conjunction with a bad snap from Cody Whitehair, seemingly sunk the Bears offense (We’ll get to the drops, don’t worry). Tennessee would book-end the last two mistakes with two field goals and have a seemingly insurmountable 27-7 lead to start the final stanza.
I’ll never understand NFL coaches. They will never make sense to me.
Offensive guys become conservative late, sit on the ball, and get tense. While the defensive minds play basic coverages and sit back. You lose what had you arrive to your big lead in the first place, and boy did Titans head coach Mike Mularkey almost get his lesson.
In turn, a guy like Barkley gets comfortable. He works through his receivers dropping passes consistently, and gets the Bears back in the game with two late long touchdown drives. The complete lack of pressure or confusion thrown at Barkley here was a spectacle of incompetence on Tennessee’s part, but all the more credit to Barkley for making them pay to make it a one score game at 27-21.
With the Bears defense churning out another gutty performance, Barkley would even get a final chance to win the game. Would the new “Mr. Fourth Quarter” give the Bears life with a win?
Because his receivers just wouldn’t stop dropping passes. Joshua Bellamy’s drop was the most egregious as he was wide open on what would have been the go-ahead touchdown from the Titans seven-yard line with 47 seconds left. The Bears would stall on three consecutive incompletions to turn it over on downs, as they shelved the Barkley legend, for now.
- *Takes a deep breath* Barkley deserved better. When your backup throws for 316 yards and three touchdowns and has you in position to win the game with a first and goal, you have to come through for him.
- Even the most heady of receivers will sometimes drop a ball. If you look at the Bears’ last 10 years, according to the Athletic, Chicago averaged around one-two drops a game. On Sunday alone, they had 10 drops.
- I cannot understate how much Bears receivers looked like Clifford Franklin from ‘The Replacements’ on Sunday. Can outrun anyone, but almost literally catch nothing. Here’s your bottom of the receiving depth chart.
- Not to keep harping on this, but the drops obviously heavily factored in the outcome. Seven were in the fourth quarter, when Barkley was at his best. Three were in the red zone. Finally, 10 of Barkley’s 26 incompletions were drops.
- Oddly enough, the Bears have had a lead in nine of 11 games this season.
- Dowell Loggains again forgot Howard existed as he had just 18 carries for 84 yards. It makes sense to work away from the running game after you fall behind so much, but where the game was initially separated was in the second quarter. Howard had just four carries then. You can see the attempted coordinator scapegoating from here.
- Even with a few drops, Marquess Wilson had himself a day. A career day. Eight receptions for 125 yards to go with a touchdown should be commended for a still-young player. He made contested catches in traffic, ran sharp routes, and was a quality number one option. Build on it.
- Speaking of, this game was the perfect demonstrator of just how much the Bears need Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White to be healthy and playing well long-term.
- Cre’Von LeBlanc also had a fine game. He was active in run support on several occasions and wasn’t lost in coverage either. A positive development for a recently decimated secondary.
- On the other hand, Adrian Amos was quite bad and has continued a recent trend of disturbing play. Walker burned him badly twice on the Titan’s first touchdown drive, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s fair to start considering whether Amos is really the foundational piece people once thought he was unless he picks it up.
- Good to see a healthy Eddie Goldman making splash plays in the run game. Most notably, a snuffed out option tackling Mariota on third and short before the final two-minute warning. Goldman is a definite building block, he has just to be on the field.
- Danny Trevathan’s late injury is a big blow and makes me wish the Bears would almost forfeit the rest of the season if it meant no more serious injuries. Health of guys like Trevathan are much important than any wins or losses for a 2-9 team. That’s now 15 Bears to be placed on injured reserve at some point. It’s likely an ACL for Trevathan, according to various reports. Here’s hoping he can make it back to full strength for training camp and that it doesn’t linger into the 2017 season.
- It’s the time of year where we acknowledge that this fan base will eat itself debating “tanking” or winning in these late games. However, tanking is defined as actively trying to lose. Even with injuries, you can be sure Bears players and coaches aren’t trying to lose. They don’t think like fans hoping for a high draft spot and a shot at a generational talent. They’re fighting for jobs and roster spots. Both segments of fans still have a point.
- While I’m not advocating tanking since that takes away competitive spirit, in my mind, there’s really no benefit for the Bears to win at all down the stretch save for morale under John Fox. Individual players that are still healthy can flash, make it close, and push forward. Your culture doesn’t change as long as you compete, while adding superb talent. Given injuries, the Bears only “might” win at maximum, one more game anyway.
- I know I’m not the only one who was gleeful at the audio cutting out of the CBS broadcast for a few minutes.
That should just about do it for this game. Apologies to those expecting Steven. Don’t worry, he’ll return.
Down the stretch, the only hope should be to get young guys like Floyd back on the field, so they don’t miss out on valuable experience. Oh, and maybe just once the Bears could get out of a game without injuries. Anything that hurts 2017 and beyond only makes this masochistic roller coaster worse.
Next week is the “Loser-Bowl” with San Francisco. Get your popcorn ready.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @Robert Zeglinski.