By Adam Hoge-
ST. LOUIS (CBS) — There were three areas of concern Marc Trestman wanted his team to improve on this week: Poor starts, penalties and red zone offense.
It’s safe to say all three were problems again for the Bears Sunday as they lost 42-21 to the St. Louis Rams.
The Bears were down 14-0 before they had even run more than one offensive play. That’s because that one offensive play was a Matt Forte fumble, recovered by Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis at the Bears’ 7 yard line.
The Rams had already gone up 7-0 on a 65-yard touchdown run by Tavon Austin three plays into the game. And the reason why the Bears were backed up so far when Forte fumbled was because of a Khaseem Greene holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
But that was just the start of it. The Bears finished the game with a total of 10 penalties for 84 yards.
- Bernstein: Defensive Meltdown Hard To Watch
- Durkin’s Rapid Reaction: Bears Run Over By Rams
- Kyle Long: ‘I Lost My Cool’
- Bears Routed By Rams 42-21
- Photo Gallery
Safety Chris Conte committed a pass interference penalty three plays later on 3rd-and-goal from the 4 yard line. The call was questionable because the pass was overthrown, but it was poor coverage from Conte nonetheless.
One play later, Zac Stacy ran in from the 1 yard line to make it a 14-0 lead for the Rams.
In just two minutes and twenty seconds, the Bears were down two scores and had committed two big penalties.
Then came the red zone struggles.
At first, it appeared the Bears had solved that problem, as on the ensuing drive it only took McCown two plays at the Rams’ 7 yard line to find Martellus Benntt for a touchdown. Later in second, it only took three plays inside the red zone to find Brandon Marshall for another score.
But things never came easy inside the 20 the rest of the day.
On the Bears’ first possession of the first half, they failed to score with 1st-and-goal at the Rams’ 4-yard line. McCown came up short on a dump off to Michael Bush, and Bush never really gave himself a chance to adjust to the football, dropping it. It was a sure touchdown and seven points left of the scoreboard because the Bears ended up getting stuffed at the 1 yard line on fourth down. Trestman gambled by going for it and Bush was tackled four yards behind the line of scrimmage. After the game, right guard Kyle Long took the blame, saying he failed to pull quickly enough, but replays showed left tackle Jermon Bushrod getting pushed straight backward into Long, preventing him from making the key block.
“That one falls on me,” Long said.
From there, it only got uglier. The Bears were guilty of four penalties on their next drive: a Derrick Martin holding penalty on the kickoff, a 12-men in the huddle penalty, a delay of game call and a Matt Slauson hold that was declined, only because the Bears were unsuccessful on 3rd-and-15.
Fortunately, the defense was able to force a punt on the Rams’ next drive — just one of two punts the unit forced all day.
And Hester returned it for a touchdown, until… wait, another penalty.
This time it was Craig Steltz, who was called for holding at the line of scrimmage — not even during the return.
All in all, the Bears had three touchdowns called back because of penalties and allowed another one on defense because of Conte’s pass interference in the first quarter. Fortunately, they managed to score two touchdowns following those penalties, but not without a little help.
The drive following Steltz’s penalty was full of gifts. The first two came from Rams cornerback Brandon McGee, who was guilty of two penalties on the drive. And the next came a play after a Martellus Bennett touchdown was wiped out because of a Jermon Bushrod holding call.
That’s when referee Jerome Boger called a roughing the passer penalty on Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who came clean and took McCown down hard. It appeared to be a good, clean hit, but Boger disagreed.
“From my vantage point, what I ruled was that he led with the helmet into the body of the quarterback and we consider that to be roughing the passer if the defender leads with the helmet as a part of the tackle into the quarterback,” Boger said after the game.
But there didn’t appear to be any contact initiated with the helmet.
So after eight chances inside the Rams’ 13 yard line, including six plays at the 1 yard line, Michael Bush finally found the end zone to make it a 27-21 game. The entire sequence cost the Bears nearly three minutes on the clock.
And yet, somehow, despite the poor start, abundant penalties and poor red zone execution, the Bears were still within six points with 7:15 left in the game.
But then a different problem surfaced again — the biggest problem the Bears have had this season: stopping the run.
The Rams marched right down the field with six runs on seven plays, going 80 yards in 4:03 to effectively end the game. Bennie Cunningham’s 9-yard touchdown run made it a two-possession game.
On the day, the Bears allowed the Rams to rush for 258 yards on 29 carries, an average of 8.9 yards per carry. And if you take three Kellen Clemens kneel-downs out of it, the average was 10.0 yards per carry on runs by Zac Stacy, Bennie Cunningham and Tavon Austin.
“We didn’t stop the run today,” Trestman said, saying it as simple as possible.
That wasn’t all that surprising though, given how the season has played out.
What was surprising was another poor start, another game full of penalties, and continued struggles in the red zone.
“All I know is when my number was called a few times, I felt like I could have maybe done better,” Josh McCown said.
Maybe, but there was more to it than that. After all, McCown put together yet another game with a passer rating above 100, posting a 102.4 despite an interception in garbage time late in the fourth quarter.
Many will question the play calling, including why Bush got so many short yardage carries when Forte has been much more successful in this situations this season.
Meanwhile, no one else in the NFC North won Sunday.
“It was an opportunity to gain ground. And we missed it,” McCown said.
With all the mistakes, you could say they never really gave themselves a chance.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.