Bears Enter Offseason With Numerous Questions After 33-28 Loss To Packers
By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 30, 2013 4:40PM
For some of you the Bears’ 10-6 record in Lovie Smith’s final season last year looks very good right now after the miscues and other mental lapses that exemplified Marc Trestman’s inaugural 8-8 2013 campaign. Those mistakes were on full display in Sunday’s 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers, a win that gave Green Bay another NFC North title and a matchup with San Francisco at Lambeau Field this weekend with most experts predicting a 49ers win.
But there were also numerous indications the Bears could be more than we thought they were, at least on the offensive side of the ball, while the Bears defense that has identified the NFL’s charter franchise for most of its existence (and by extension its fan base) is taking a long hard look in the mirror this morning.
The game at Soldier Field ended up being a thrilling ride that justified why Fox Sports and the NFL pushed the start time back to 3:25. Packers All-World quarterback Aaron Rodgers was back under center after sitting out for weeks with a broken collarbone and looked like Aaron Rodgers after a quick three-and-out by the Bears. Working mainly out of the shotgun, Rodgers engineered a 75-yard drive that ate nearly eight minutes of playing time before Chris Conte intercepted a pass in the endzone intended for Packers receiver Jarrett Boykin for a touchback. It would be the highlight of Conte’s day.
The Bears capitalized on the turnover with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a Jay Cutler 4-yard pass to Matt Forte for a touchdown and a 7-0 Bears lead. The highlights of the drive were a 20-yard run by Forte and a 37-yard pass from Cutler to Brandon Marshall that set up first and goal at the Green Bay 8-yard line.
Green Bay got the ball back and Rodgers moved the ball down the field 58 yards before throwing another interception, this time to Tim Jennings at the Bears 26-yard line. The Bears couldn’t capitalize, however and Adam Podlesh punted the ball after another three-and-out. Green Bay made it a 7-3 game after a 10 play, 24-yard drive ended with a 32-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.
Another Bears three-and-out set the stage for one of the key plays of the game. After Green Bay received the ball at the Bears 41-yard line, Rodgers and the offense moved the ball to the 17-yard line, where Rodgers was sacked by Julius Peppers on first down and fumbled the ball forward. Both teams initially treated the ball like an incomplete pass yet the officials on the field did not whistle the play dead. Urged on by his teammates, Boykin scooped up the ball and ran it into the endzone to the shock of the Bears and Soldier Field faithful.
The score was upheld on review and suddenly the Packers held a 10-7 lead. If Twitter reaction was an indication, Chicago lost its collective shit and pointed fingers at Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for not coaching the Bears defense to fall on top of loose balls in practice. (The Greek chorus was right in this case; that play never would have happened under Lovie Smith.)
A 27-yard field goal by Crosby with two seconds left on the clock allowed the Packers to enter halftime with a 13-7 lead.
The Packers began the third quarter with a stalled drive and punted the ball to the Bears. Devin Hester returned the ball 49 yards to set up amazing field position at the Green Bay 30-yard line. From there Cutler simply handed the ball to Forte who ended the drive bursting off left tackle five yards for the touchdown. Robbie Gould’s PAT made the score Bears 14, Packers 13.
Green Bay immediately answered with a 7 play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb. The key play in the drive was a 41-yard run from James Starks to the Bears 13-yard line. Crosby’s extra point gave the Pack a 20-14 lead.
The Bears got the ball back at their 26-yard line and marched 74 yards in four plays for another score, this one a 1-yard run by Forte set up by a 67-yard highlight reel pass from Cutler to Alshon Jeffery.
With 3:27 left in the third quarter the Cutler engineered another drive starting at the Bears 32-yard line that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall five seconds into the fourth quarter. Forte was the workhorse back again, with a 16-yard run and receiving a short pass from Cutler he turned into a 33-yard gain. Gould’s extra point made the score 28-20, Bears.
Green Bay would respond with a 6 play, 77-yard drive ending with a 6-yard touchdown run from Eddie Lacy. Crosby’s PAT made the score 28-27. A 21-yard kickoff return from Hester set the Bears up at their own 26-yard line. Working primarily out of the shotgun the Bears managed to move the ball 20 yards in nine plays before punting the ball back to the Packers with 6:24 remaining. With Rodgers under center, anything could happen.
Anything did. Green Bay kept their game-winning drive alive by converting three fourth-down plays, the dagger being his 48-yard touchdown pass to Cobb, who simply ran past an oblivious Chris Conte.
The Bears received the ball at their 40-yard line with 38 seconds left in regulation. Cutler, who at one point sported a 132 QB rating in the game, was playing as well as we’ve ever seen. But it was all for naught. A 15-yard pass to Martellus Bennett set up a deep route to Jeffery that was incomplete. Marshall bobbled a ball in the middle of the field, forcing Cutler to go deep with a Hail Mary pass that was intercepted as time expired.
The Cutler boo birds cannot blame their whipping boy for this loss. Cutler ended the day completing 15-of-24 passes (62.5 percent) for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 103.8 passer rating. Forte was a stud with 110 rushing yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns along with four receptions for 47 yards and a score. Forte ended the 2013 season with career highs in rushing yardage (1,339) and rushing touchdowns (nine). The nine TDs are the most by a Bears running back since Thomas Jones in 2005. Brandon Marshall had six receptions for 74 yards and a score. Marshall finished the season with 100 receptions for 1,295 yards and a career-high 12 touchdown receptions. Jeffery had three catches for 80 yards and ended the year with 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. The yardage numbers are the second-most in Bears history behind Marshall’s 1,5008 last year. Along with another offensive threat in Martellus Bennett and a completely re-tooled offensive line and suddenly the Bears have an offense that proved it can compete with most anyone this season.
Most of the major questions heading into the offseason center on the defense, which went from bend but don’t break in Lovie Smith’s final season to a Superfund site under Trestman and Tucker. This was easily one of the worst Bears’ defenses in our lifetime. This squad, for the first time in franchise history, allowed at least 20 points in every game. The 35 games lost to injury by Week 1 starters was the most in the NFL and those starters that played regularly looked old (Peppers, Charles Tillman) or out of their depth (Conte, Shea McClellin). Players like Conte, Major Wright and even Peppers may have played their final games in orange and blue. (Former Bears great Ed O’Bradovitch seemed ready to run Conte out of town on a rail, in stocks, during his WSCR-AM postgame show with Doug Buffone.)
The defensive line needs a complete overhaul and fans are calling for Mel Tucker’s head after this game. Whether Trestman will fire Tucker is still up for discussion but if he does it would be equivalent to Lovie Smith firing Terry Shea after his rookie season as head coach. For that matter, special teams coach Joe DeCamillas and punter Adam Podlesh could also seek employment elsewhere next season.
The $64,000 question is will Jay Cutler return? An unrestricted free agent after the season, the Bears can either negotiate a new deal with him or apply the franchise tag to him. Cutler knows he has the leverage in negotiations and seemed to indicate after the game he could be re-signed by the end of the week. Even if the Bears re-up Cutler they have plenty of salary cap space with a slew of expiring contracts to re-build the defense. Will they identify core players and continue with the Tampa 2 or will they jump on the 3-4 bandwagon that’s all the rage in the NFL these days?
All we know is there will be plenty of hot stove talk between now and the first OTAs in spring.