Laurence W. Holmes-
(CBS) Time offers the opportunity for perspective, so I thought it would be a good idea to wait each week to give my thoughts on the Bears game. The idea being that 24 hours allows for me to watch the game over and talk to a few more people. Hence, “The 24 Blog.”
WHAT I SAW:
This game was wacky. In the first half, it felt like the Bears had control. That’s not something you ordinarily say in the Jay Cutler era versus the Packers. The first quarter saw the Bears put together an 80-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. They showed flashes of the old days by bending, but not breaking.
Chris Conte got an interception in the endzone on a third down play. It was only the fourth time Aaron Rodgers has thrown an interception in the red zone in his entire career. The Bears even held Green Bay scoreless in the first quarter and took advantage of “Rusty Rodgers.”
In the last four minutes of the half the game changed. With the Packers in the red zone again, Rodgers was sacked by Julius Peppers. The ball came loose. I saw Clete Blakeman throw the bean bag immediately, indicating a fumble. Everyone froze. James Anderson looked like he was gonna scoop it up, but didn’t. Lance Briggs had his hands on his hips. Shea McClellin actually went for the ball, but then stopped. There was no whistle.
I’ve been watching Bears practices for 10 years and 11 seasons. Most of those practices have had a common theme: Any time the ball is on the ground, defensive players pick it up and run the other way until they hear the whistle. It should be instinctual, especially for the the veteran players. It was an infuriating lack of awareness. While the Bears sideline was screaming at the players, Rodgers implored Jarrett Boykin to get to the endzone. After all of the good that the Bears had done, they found themselves down 10-7 and Soldier Field was in shock.
“From the officiating side of things, we were still playing it as a live ball. Even though some of the players kinda didn’t react the same way, it’s still a live ball rolling around and ultimately Green Bay picks it up and they can advance it,” Blakeman said.
You can be mad at the officials if you want (who did miss calls and it’s a crew that has been scrutinized), but your anger should be at Bears players who have been drilled for years on what to do in that situation and ignored all of their training.
Before we talk about the debacle at the end of the game, let’s talk about Cutler.
You may disagree with me, I know Brandon Marshall did, but this was one of Cutler’s best games. Here’s my case. The situation was obviously pressure-packed. The moment wasn’t too big for it. What I love about the performance was that less was more. Cutler only threw the ball 24 times, but he played a patient game and had command of the offense. There were no silly throws. You saw him check it down often and being rewarded for it. It’s a small thing, but the 33-yard toss to Forte is a maturation throw for Cutler. He went through every progression and made the right decision.
He also showed off the arm talent with great throws to Alshon Jeffery for his 67-yard reception and touch on Marshall’s TD. He finished with a 103.8 rating, but forget about the stats for a minute. Trust your eyes. Did he looked rattled? No. Did he make OMG throws? No. Did he go “Full-Cutler?” No. He played what some would call a “Josh McCown” game, but with superior talent.
Here’s a couple more things I saw:
– Solemn, quiet players walking to the locker room when it was over. There was some shock and disbelief as the Bears packed up their gear for the last time this year.
– Mel Tucker made a point to try and console Chris Conte in the locker room. Conte was still visibly upset after the last minute gaffe. His eyes were red. Tucker gave him a hug, Conte packed up his stuff and left the locker room without talking about what happened. That’s disappointing. The rest of his DB teammates had to answer for him and that’s not fair. Part of being a professional is answering the questions and it’s never as bad as players think it is.
– Phil Emery went by every players stall in the locker room to thank them for the season. With almost 30 free agents on this team, he was seeing some of those players for the last time. I’m looking forward to see how he allocates the $40 million of cap space the Bears have.
WHAT I HEARD
“…I saw the safety was flat-footed, so I just threw my hands up and stayed on the move and Aaron (Rodgers) was able to find me.” – Randall Cobb on his 48-yard TD.
“It was Man Coverage.” – Marc Trestman on the same play
It reminded me of the Bears Superbowl loss to Indy. Ten of the guys were in one coverage and Danieal Manning was in another. Reggie Wayne scores. There was clearly a communication breakdown. Zack Bowman, Tim Jennings and Major Wright were playing “Man” while Conte released Cobb as if he was playing Zone and expecting someone to be behind him. What I can’t figure out is who he thought was behind him. Wright was lined up next to him and the Bears had seven guys on line of scrimmage.
If you watch the play again, Cobb puts his hands up 2-yards before he gets near Conte. He read Conte perfectly and found himself wide open. John Kuhn helped make that play. He came across the formation and put a cut block on Peppers that extended the play for Rodgers.
The swing of emotions in the crowd was fascinating. I’ve never heard Soldier Field so loud, as it was before the snap, and then so quiet after Cobb scored.
“We had everything lined up and couldn’t come through. We have nobody to blame, except ourselves.” -Matt Forte on not making the playoffs.
It should’ve never come down to the last game. I still go back to the Bears not being prepared for the Philly game. The Lions handed the Bears the division and they couldn’t capitalize.
It’s a shame that in a year when the offense finally clicks, the defense was historically bad. In the eight-game run before Sunday the Bears gave up 1,602 yards on the ground. That has NEVER happened in ANY eight-game stretch in NFL history. For half a season, the Bears defense gave up an average of 200 yards a game on the ground. Another nugget: When you add in the Packers game, it’s the first time in Bears history that they’ve held NO opponent under 20 pts.
WHAT I WAS TOLD
“My mentality was that I was gonna come out here and leave it all on the line…” – Devin Hester
I asked Hester how he wanted Bears fans to remember him. As he talked to us, the reality of his situation started to set in. He wants to return to the team. In fact, he wants to retire a Bear. He sees it as part of his identity. I can see a scenario where he does come back, but it will be for the league minimum. He still has value as a kickoff returner, but we saw him put the ball on the ground too often and at the worst time (Philly game). He needs to make better decisions in the punt game too. I find myself wondering what could’ve been if the Bears didn’t entertain the folly of making him a WR.
“I think we’ll deal with that later in the week. Right now kinda living in this moment…” – Jay Cutler
With a lingering contract situation, I was curious if this is an exciting time or a nervous time for Cutler. Too soon? Maybe, but we aren’t gonna get access to him again for awhile and I wanted to get a feel for what he was thinking.
Brandon Marshall says that Cutler will be back, but this is Jay’s best chance for BIG money. The idea of the “hometown discount” is a myth. Look around the NFL, there aren’t 32 quality starters. If Cutler hits the open market he will have suitors. I don’t know Jay well enough to know what motivates him. One would think he’s comfortable here and now has an offensive mind in the building that can get the most out of his talent. He has the best WR duo in the NFL and a pro-bowl RB in Forte (who finished with almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage) and an offensive line who kept him fairly clean.
I don’t begrudge Cutler wanting every dollar he thinks he’s owed. It’s a brutal game and his time to strike is now, but the Bears have to keep in mind his history of injuries and uneven play. Just because Cutler might be worth $15 million – $17 million per year to other teams, doesn’t mean that’s what the Bears should pay. If they trust Trestman’s ability to develop quarterbacks, perhaps there’s another way, but making that decision carries risk. It should make for an interesting negotiation.