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Game Notes: Bears fall to Chargers in heartbreaking fashion, playoff hopes take major hit

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At 3-4, the Bears face extremely steep odds to make the playoffs this year.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago Bears
Mitchell Trubisky failed to iron out the inconsistencies in his game on Sunday.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Just as a missed field goal eliminated the Bears from the playoffs last year, a missed field goal may have ended the team’s playoff hopes this season.

Much more went into the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Chargers than Eddy Piñeiro’s miss from 41 yards out at the last second—even more than his 33-yard miss in the first quarter. Offensive ineptitude and questionable playcalling played a big role in their inability to put Los Angeles away. Still, it’s only fitting that an error at the kicking position may be what delivers a powerful punch to Chicago’s chances of returning to the postseason.

With 12 teams sitting ahead of them in the NFC and seven of their next eight matchups being against team with records currently at .500 or better, the Bears now have as uphill of a battle as any team for the rest of the year. Here are some notes from Sunday’s action.

Offense

The Bears’ offense experienced what should have been a wakeup call last week with their loss to the Saints at home. Though there were slight improvements, they maintained their rather dismal level of output.

To Matt Nagy’s credit, he did a good job of finally involving David Montgomery in their offense. The third-round rookie ran the ball 27 times for 135 yards—including an impressive 55-yard run—and picked up his third touchdown of the season.

Montgomery is still adjusting to the speed of the NFL game, but he has shown that he can be a bell-cow running back for Chicago’s offense. With the state of their passing attack currently, they would be wise to continue utilizing their dynamic rookie in their gameplan.

Kudos should also go to the Bears’ offensive line for improving their run blocking in this game. They weren’t perfect, but they looked a lot better than they did last week against New Orleans. Bobby Massie got beat repeatedly by Joey Bosa—who had 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss and 3 quarterback hits—and Rashaad Coward also was penalized three times, so there’s still room for improvement. However, any form of improvement out of their hog mollies up front is certainly a welcome sight for the Bears.

Chicago’s receivers also did a pretty good job of getting open. Allen Robinson was his usual, consistent self, catching 5 passes for 62 yards. Anthony Miller was able to create separation on a pretty regular basis, and he finished the game with 3 receptions for 67 yards. Taylor Gabriel finished with 4 catches for 53 yards and was able to get open well throughout the day. Even Tarik Cohen, who has been underwhelming this season to the point that Madden took his superstar ability away, had an impressive 31-yard catch.

However, Chicago’s offense faltered due largely in part to Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles under center. He made a few impressive throws and flashed the ability to throw the deep ball, completing five deep passes and showing off great touch on those completions.

Despite those flashes of competence, Trubisky still struggled with the same things that have haunted him all season. His footwork was poor, as he unnecessary threw off of his back foot at times and panicked repeatedly under pressure. He failed to make good decisions on a consistent basis, forcing throws, relying too heavily on his checkdown option and flat out missing receivers down the field. Had he identified open targets like Miller and Gabriel down the field, those receivers could have put together even better production.

Trubisky was also sacked four times, failed to maneuver the pocket well and fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter, allowing the Chargers to take over possession at Chicago’s 26-yard line and score a go-ahead touchdown. His performance indicated that he still struggles with confidence and overthinks too much when he drops back.

The Bears have a lot of talent on their roster, but the NFL is a pass-driven league. A team can only do so much without reliability at the quarterback position. This year, it’s become clear that they doesn’t have that.

Defense

The Chargers put together a poor offensive performance, and the Bears made sure to take advantage of it.

The Bears forced Los Angeles to punt on five of their 10 possessions and forced a turnover with Kyle Fuller’s third interception of the season. They admittedly lucked out when Chargers kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 42-yard field goal, but for the most part the Bears did a good job of neutralizing their opponent’s offense.

Los Angeles only ran the ball 12 times, but the Bears did a very good job of shutting their ground game down, allowing just 36 yards. Melvin Gordon was quiet throughout the game, and outside of his fourth quarter touchdown, Austin Ekeler did next to nothing all day. Much of that was due to part to Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, who combined for 11 tackles and served as very reliable run stoppers. This marks especially encouraging for the latter player, who had undergone a bit of a cold streak in recent weeks.

Chicago did a good job defending on the boundary, as the Chargers’ wide receivers put together few big plays. Outside of Mike Williams’ 43-yard catch past Kyle Fuller, no Chargers wide receiver had a catch go for more than 17 yards. Keenan Allen caught 7 passes but was neutralized to just 53 yards while nursing a hamstring injury. Los Angeles were able to attack the middle of the field well through the air, though, attacking the Bears’ relatively soft zone coverage.

Khalil Mack broke his sack-less streak of two games this week, bringing Philip Rivers down late in the fourth quarter to help force the Chargers to punt. He also had 1.5 tackles for a loss, a quarterback hit and two pass deflections. He now sits at 5.5 sacks on the year, putting him on track to finish with roughly 12.5 sacks this season. Though he has been slightly more quiet than normal rushing the passer in recent weeks, he is still, obviously, a force of nature whom other teams should plan around.

The Bears didn’t perform poorly on defense; in fact, all things considered, they were pretty good. They could have been a bit more aggressive in zone coverage, but they did their job and only allowed two lengthy drives all game. The unit benefitted from their offense’s ability to stay on the field for a considerable amount of time, allowing them to be more fresh than they have been in recent weeks.

However, their defense can only carry them for so long. The Bears will need put some more points on the board if they want to maximize their defense’s performance.

Three and out

3. The Bears had 43 seconds after Trubisky miraculously scrambled on his way to an 11-yard run. The Chargers had just used their final timeout, and Chicago had one timeout left in their pocket.

So why did they not decide to run the ball one more time to put Piñeiro in a better situation to make the field goal?

Montgomery had been great for much of the day, and their offensive line put together one of their best—if not the best—run-blocking performance of the year. What could you possibly have to risk in expecting Montgomery to pick up a few extra yards? The extremely slim chance that he fumbles the ball?

Sure, Piñeiro should have been able to hit a 41-yard field goal. But why not attempt to make his job a little bit easier by attempting to advance the ball a few more yards? That call was unnecessarily conservative and did not make sense in the moment, nor does it make sense now.

This play was just one of many confusing decisions the Bears’ coaching staff made this week. Most of them came in red zone territory, as the team made five appearances inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line but only scored a touchdown once. That’s unacceptable.

Their refusal to use Montgomery in the red zone in power formations—particularly their I-formation, which worked wonders for their ground game—overcomplicated what should have been a relatively simple thought process.

Matt Nagy impressed last season, and his ability to take the Bears to the playoffs in his first year was admirable. However, to borrow a headline from The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain, Nagy’s honeymoon period is beyond over. He is going to need to turn things around if he wants to lead his team out of the basement of the NFC North.

2. Disregard everything mentioned about why the Bears lost this week. I take personal responsibility for their downfall, and I promise never to attend a game in-person for the rest of my life.

1. The Bears are currently a team without a sense of direction.

On paper, their roster indicates that they can take on any team in the NFL. Their continuous struggles at the quarterback position and coaching mishaps have them below .500 halfway through the season.

They have far too many pieces in place to undergo a rebuild, but it has become clear that with Trubisky at quarterback, any dreams of winning a Super Bowl are exactly that. The decisions that Ryan Pace makes this offseason will reflect what path the team will go down for the next few years.