By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – Apathy had long set in amid the crowd when rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky led the Bears out for one final chance to avoid an eighth consecutive loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Bears trailed 23-16 with just more than a minute remaining, but two-thirds of the stadium had already left. The team announced that 5,624 tickets were unused – 5,624 people deciding they would rather watch from a couch, a bar or just be anywhere else other than Soldier Field.
They didn’t miss anything on that final drive, which stalled like so many before it. The Bears would fell to 3-6 on the season and squandered a tremendous opportunity against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers.
“Obviously, this was a very disappointing loss here at home,” Bears coach John Fox said after the game, which dropped him to 12-29 in his three-year tenure in Chicago.
The Bears were 5.5-point favorites over the Packers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. It marked the first time all season that they were favored. There was a sense of hope around Halas Hall that this team could finally beat the Packers in Chicago and climb back into contention in the NFC North. Fox was even asked during the week if he was worried the Bears would be overconfident.
Perhaps the cold November rain dampened the spirits at Soldier Field, but it was clear the fan base wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid just yet. The Bears needed to prevail over the Packers to warrant some faith. Sunday marked the most important game of Fox’s tenure in Chicago, and it could serve as the accelerant of his end with the team.
Fox’s decision to challenge a play in which running back Benny Cunningham dove for the pylon and lost the football in the second quarter was disastrous. Fox and the Bears thought Cunningham had reached the end zone before stepping out of bounds. Video review at league headquarters revealed that Cunningham lost the football before it hit the pylon. The play was ruled a touchback, giving the ball back to the Packers and costing the Bears a golden opportunity at seven points. If the Bears hadn’t challenged, they would’ve had first-and-goal from about the 2-yard line.
The idea that it could be ruled a touchback was never considered by the Bears when deciding to challenge.
“I’m not going to point fingers,” Fox said. “It stops here. Obviously, hindsight, I wish that it was something we did differently. But that wasn’t part of what we thought was going to be the result.
“I don’t think anybody saw that. I think maybe (replayed) 50 times, like some people get to look at it, I think maybe you can see that. But on our look during the game, that wasn’t really even discussed.”
That was just a single play among four quarters of indictment of Fox and his coaching staff. Fresh off the bye week, the Bears looked largely unprepared for such an important game. The offense struggled to sustain drives once again, with the play-calling of coordinator Dowell Loggains proving to be too predictable. The unit committed four first-half penalties, which proved to be costly.
Running back Jordan Howard was contained by the Dom Capers-directed Packers defense, rushing 15 times for just 54 yards. Tarik Cohen rushed once for a yard. Loggains failed to adjust his offense against a Packers defense loading the box. On several occasions, the Bears ran the football against a nine-man box. Trubisky had his best performance in five starts, going 21-of-35 for 297 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough.
“We’re killing ourselves in critical situations, like third downs and red zones,” Trubisky said. “So I just got to be more efficient. I’m eager to watch the film and see what else I can learn and get better from. I got to watch the film.”
The Bears defense was disappointing against a Packers offense featuring a backup quarterback and, by late in the first half, its third-string running back because of injuries. Green Bay rushed 37 times for 160 yards, and quarterback Brett Hundley was efficient in going 18-of-25 for 212 yards and a touchdown.
Top tackler Danny Trevathan was terribly missed by the Bears, especially as Ty Montgomery broke a 37-yard touchdown run through a busted defensive front. For the first time in five games, the Bears defense failed to force a turnover.
Even cornerback Kyle Fuller—who has been one of the Bears’ top performers on defense this season – struggled mightily, with Hundley posting a passer rating of 152.1 on 10 targets against him, according to Pro Football Focus. Packers receiver Davante Adams beat Fuller for the fourth-quarter touchdown that proved to be the difference-maker.
Now 0-3 coming off a bye in the Fox era, the Bears will return to work at Halas Hall on Monday with a different feeling from before the weekend. They remain alone in last place of the NFC North and have to be a lot better to finally stack some victories.
It seems the Bears botched the golden opportunity to make this season different. They may not be 3-13 again like 2016, but will they win enough games in the final seven to save Fox’s job? Would that even matter after 29 losses in 41 games?
“I’ve been doing this too long,” said Fox, in the third season of a four-year deal. “I never worry about my job security and won’t start any minute going forward.”
The McCaskey family puts great value into these rivalry games with the Packers. Under Fox’s watch, the Bears have won just once against Green Bay, that coming in a Thanksgiving upset at Lambeau Field two seasons ago. Sunday at Soldier Field could’ve been different.
It wasn’t. Once again, the Bears lost to the Packers with a sloppy, sluggish effort, and few cared to see it finish.