Ah, the timeless Aaron Rodgers-led Packers heartbreak victory. We’ve seen this before in the current era.
When Rodgers connected with his favorite target in Jordy Nelson on the prettiest of 60-yard bombs, flashbacks of Chris Conte in 2013 and Kevin Payne in 2009 were abound.
Would it have happened with more aggressiveness on the Bears’ part? Could they have deployed some of their stars in better fashion? Should there have been more safety help on Nelson’s reception?
But let’s not forget that if not for dropped touchdowns by Nelson and Davante Adams, the Bears aren’t in position to make these mistakes.
Alas, they did. And it opened the door, as the Bears refused to step though the opening.
Even while the Packers were laughing in the end, this was a story of self-inflicted wounds from a prideful Chicago team. It’s a shame that it came with the Bears’ all-time series lead against the Packers on the line.
That all-time record between the two teams is now 94-94-6 - as Green Bay has painfully closed the gap. If the Bears had come back from 17 down, it would’ve been the largest deficit overcome in the entire rivalries’ history. Until the Bears learn to stop shooting themselves in the foot, maybe the Packers widen that gap for the first time.
Still, there are investments to be made.
As always, since we’re discussing the Bears, I’m reversing typical definitions from the stock market. Bearish here, will characterize rising stocks for guys. Those I’ll be bullish on, are people that I believe should have their stock fall.
The Week 15 stock report following the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the Packers.
Bears wide receivers: Alshon Jeffery’s return from suspension actually had the receiving core come through for once.
It’s not enough to highlight one, as every member of the core impressed. With coverage rolled over to Jeffery’s side most of the game - and the Bears ignoring his existence - the less than heralded pass catchers that have brought about angry mobs in Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, and yes, even Josh Bellamy - had their stiff-arm moments.
Joshua Bellamy stiff arm and TD. pic.twitter.com/EO0luu6ThH— ⓂarcusD2.0 (@_MarcusD2_) December 18, 2016
Thompson and Meredith each enjoyed at minimum, eight receptions and 100-yards. Matt Barkley consistently matriculated down the field with either.
Meredith in particular, showed off with yards after the catch as he made defenders miss. His strength has been plays where he gets the ball in the open field with space, and the Bears fed him aplenty to pay dividends. A short first down pass early in the second quarter turned into an 11-yard gain, highlighting Meredith’s elusiveness.
Criticize Jeffery’s disappearance through most of the game - as it’s warranted - but he came alive when the Bears needed him. Or, when Chicago recognized they needed to feed their best receiver.
A quick few acrobatic catches, and six receptions and 89 yards along with a touchdown, and we were reminded of what Jeffery could do. Question his game-breaking ability all you like as a true superstar - because he hasn’t been that player for awhile - but he has value in this offense. And he showed it on Sunday against a suspect secondary.
Alshon Jeffery with his 2nd touchdown of the season. pic.twitter.com/TMzsbZqIUV— ⓂarcusD2.0 (@_MarcusD2_) December 18, 2016
If anyone finds Packers cornerbacks Quinten Rollens and Damarious Randall, they’re still busy being turned around like a top by Jeffery and company. The two biggest reasons for the Bears’ comeback.
Matt Barkley: It’s still too early to anoint Barkley as this team’s answer, and rightfully so. A four-game sample size is nowhere enough to determine the future. But he’s surpassed expectations and continued to pleasantly surprise.
Point to his four turnovers, but diagnose each play.
One, was an end-of-half Hail Mary that I vote we eliminate from box scores. The other was a blind side strip-sack by a middle-aged (NFL-wise) Julius Peppers who somehow beat Charles Leno Jr. like a drum on a speed rush.
The only plays to blame Barkley on were when he forced intercepted passes to tight end Daniel Brown in triple coverage, and receiver Daniel Braverman on another. Each decision shouldn’t have been made. However on Brown’s play, he was interfered with. Such is the nature of human error in officiating.
All according to expectations otherwise, Barkley impressed.
He's not a starter but he should be a primary backup for someone. pic.twitter.com/vQSp1rh76U— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 19, 2016
There have been a lot of plays like above, where Barkley is forced to go through his progressions. These aren’t one read quick-outs to protect the quarterback. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains opened up the playbook for Barkley, and he didn’t disappoint.
He moved well in the pocket, squared his shoulders when making throws on the run, and played within himself. Barkley even paid homage to other number 12 on the opposing sideline, when he spun out of a sack on a third-and-medium to heave a deep pass to Bellamy that he should have caught.
Matt Barkley deserves a lot of credit for how he's played this year. Way better than I thought he'd be. pic.twitter.com/JkUM69n6hn— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 19, 2016
That’s not a play a reserve quarterback makes.
I had questions about how Barkley would respond against Green Bay after his putrid spot duty against the Packers earlier this year, and two turnovers aside, he passed with flying colors.
For now, it’s best to “R-E-L-A-X”, on Barkley. Josh McCown rings a bell. But this is no longer a fluke.
John Fox: On one hand, Chicago shouldn’t have hung with Green Bay. It’s a testament to the coaching staff they had a chance to pull it out. On another, the coaching wasn’t perfect either.
For one: Why not go for it on fourth down at game’s end?
It’s not the easiest decision to make from the four-yard line, but your team is 3-10 with nothing to play for. Fox preferred the tie and trusted his defense that had hemmed in Rodgers well, to send it to overtime. Under most circumstances you don’t give the ball back to the NFL’s best passers only needing a field goal. The Bears don’t have that dominant of a defense - yet.
Most NFL coaches would have made the same decision, but it’s not a good look for a notoriously conservative Fox, especially with nothing to lose. This is a flawed old school way of thinking.
Further but less so on Fox, why decline the 10-second run-off on a Packers’ injury right before their fateful deep pass?
Fox had the understanding to give his offense time to get the ball back should Green Bay have punted, but then maybe the Packers don’t have enough time to reset for a field goal after Nelson’s reception.
The heat of the moment will get to you.
Dowell Loggains: The eternal Loggains question: Why did Jordan Howard only receive significant churn once the Bears were down 17 points?
That train of a man should never be forgotten.
Howard had just 17 carries on Sunday. Seven of those carries happened after the Bears went down by three scores. And he only received 21 touches overall. Howard has by far been the Bears’ best offensive player, yet Loggains refuses to feed his star tailback game after game. The offensive catalyst washed away.
This is the kind of powerful runner that should wear on a defense the more opportunities he gets, yet Howard’s only received more than 20 carries in three of 11 starts.
With 180 yards in the last two games, Howard can break the Bears rookie rushing record of 1,238 yards set by Matt Forte in 2008.
For perspective: through 11 starts that season, Forte received 226 carries. Through 11 starts (did not start until Week 4), Howard currently sits at just 211.
Through 14 games played overall: Forte had 280 rushing attempts, while again, Howard sits at 211.
Finally, Forte received an astonishing 316 carries, while only averaging 3.9 yards per carry.
While Howard, has maintained a healthy five yards per rush to get to a current 1,059 yards. Sure, it’s impossible to figure he would stay at that mark with the same number of attempts as Forte, as football isn’t played in a vacuum. But one could say Howard has a higher quality offensive line, so it should be considered. I’d say to get excited for Howard reaching that rookie mark, but don’t hold your breath unless he explodes with limited carries.
The lone bright spot in this under-usage of Howard is that it preserves him. In a lost season, maybe it’s best not to over exert your best young offensive asset.
I guarantee that’s not what Loggains is thinking, though.
Vic Fangio: Fangio has made chicken salad out of well, you know, of a defense ravaged by injuries. Sunday, he wasn’t at his best.
I won’t blame the Cre’Von LeBlanc blown coverage on Fangio. There should be a safety over the top, and someone missed their assignment. Maybe Chicago would’ve been better served to play a preventive look, but it’s more aggressive to play quarters, especially as the Packers only needed a field goal. I blame the play on a lack of awareness to adjust from non-NFL caliber safeties that were drawn away.
The major knock for Fangio is asking why Leonard Floyd was primarily in quarterback spy duty.
Yes, Rodgers is the most dangerous quarterback outside of the pocket in football. But Floyd is a freak in his own right. When he’s at his best is when he’s coming after the passer.
When the Bears finally unleashed Floyd in that pass rushing fashion, after uncomfortably deploying him in coverage duty through much of September - you saw his talent and Defensive Rookie of the Year potential flash. He’s become the Bears’ most dynamic defender. This isn’t to say that Floyd wasn’t neutralized when actually rushing by the Packers offensive line, as he was. But, he had a significant number of opportunities taken away.
Neutering your best defensive playmaker’s primary skill set isn’t ideal, and it shouldn’t happen on third-and-long with the game on the line too.
I can confidently tell you number 94 wasn’t going to make a play with his back turned around. That’s not his game. In turn, Floyd put up zilch on the stat sheet. Not even one tackle.
A classic case of an NFL coach over thinking instead of simplifying.
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 @RobertZeglinski.