By Dan Durkin
(CBS) There’s a thin line between winning and losing in the NFL. Games typically come down to a handful of plays and today was no exception. The Bears had a handful of costly miscues – both physical and mental – on both sides of the ball as they dropped their second straight.
Here’s my rapid reaction to the Bears 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
The Bears offense sputtered out of the gates. Their first play from scrimmage was indicative of their first half performance. Jay Cutler’s toss bounced off of Matt Forte’s hands for a 10-yard loss. Negative plays on early downs put the Bears in unfavorable third-and-long situations which the Bears failed to convert. Three of the Bears first four third-down situations were 13+ yards. Those are low-percentage downs that prevented the Bears from sustaining drives.
Why was it such a struggle for the Bears to find a rhythm on offense?
Communication issues along their offense line led to assignment breakdowns and sacks. The Saints defense was flooding the B-gap and bringing two safeties off the edge. Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod – previously with the Saints – was twice caught helping inside, leaving a man unblocked in the C-gap with a free run at Cutler. The first sack of the game was a strip-sack by Malcolm Jenkins, which led to a field goal. In five games, the Bears have had three strip-sacks, compounding already negative plays.
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The Bears start was so slow that they didn’t run their first play in Saints territory until there was 4:44 seconds left in the first half. On that drive, Cutler (24/33, 358, 2 touchdowns, 1 fumble, 128.1 quarterback rating) rebounded nicely, orchestrating a 7-play 80-yard drive, capped off by a three-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery (10 receptions, 218 yards, 1 touchdown). Jeffery’s performance set a franchise single-game record for receiving yards.
Clearly, there’s a trust and comfort level developing between he and Cutler. As defenses roll coverage to neutralize Brandon Marshall (4 receptions, 30 yards, 1 touchdown), single-coverage opportunities are created, and Jeffery – team-high 13 targets – is making the most of these opportunities.
Trailing 23-7, Cutler and Jeffery connected on a 42-yard strike, setting the Bears up first-and-10 from the Saints 16-yard line. However, the Bears stalled after having the ball first-and-goal, settling for a Robbie Gould field goal, to cut the lead to 23-10. The Bears must find a way to convert golden opportunities like this into touchdowns, especially against a team as talented offensively as the Saints.