By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — The sense of panic was palpable. It was a game Chicago couldn’t afford to lose, but it did.
Following a surprising 23-20 overtime loss to the Bills on Sunday at Soldier Field, it seemed to sink in for the Bears. Jay Cutler, he of the bad interception that swung the game, left the locker room by slamming the door. Matt Forte sat by his locker, his head hung, in silence. Chris Conte had the look of dread on his face seeming to realize a long season could be ahead.
No game is more important than the next, the Bears continued to say, but this was one they desperately needed. It was the Buffalo Bills, at home, with five brutal games ahead, four of which are played on the road. A win was needed before embarking on this daunting stretch.
The doom and gloom felt by most in Soldier Field wasn’t reflected in the Bears’ words.
“There are 15 (games) left,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “You want to jump up on a game like this, at home. But hopefully we’ll look back at this as just a game that we lost.”
Added tackle Jordan Mills: “You win some and you lose some. We still have 16 (weeks) left and more with the playoffs.”
With each costly turnover and missed tackle, the playoffs seemed like more of a pipe dream. It should be noted only 12 percent of teams that have started 0-2 since 1990 have made the playoffs. Up next for the Bears is a date with the 49ers in San Francisco.
After the dreaded trip West, the Bears head to New York for a contest with the Jets, briefly return home for the rival Packers, then hit the road again for the Panther and Falcons. Don’t be surprised if the Bears are underdogs in each game.
Sunday brought a weary Bills team to rowdy Soldier Field, setting up what seemed like a sure win. The Bears let one slip away.
“Every week is important, but you can’t panic,” Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The greater problem for the Bears is nothing seemed changed from their tumultuous 2013 season. Chicago’s offense was inconsistent, with three brutal turnovers. Its defense wasn’t good enough, allowing a whopping 193 rushing yards. The lasting image of Buffalo’s Fred Jackson bowling over Conte will remain fresh for those who watched.
This past offseason brought so many headlines on how the Bears have changed, that they improved from the disappointment of last year. But are they really a better team? The Bills made these questions more pressing, and so will the 49ers, the Jets, the Packers and so on.
“The season is going to start clicking off here pretty soon,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, whose two interceptions proved to be devastating. “The games will start rolling up. We’re going to get in a rhythm.”
That rhythm should’ve be set in August, but the Bears were worried with position battles. Their worst problems — depth on offense, securing a run defense, weak special teams — never seemed to be solved.
But this was a game set for the Bears to take. Losing to Buffalo in Chicago didn’t seem in the realm. The challenges will only grow greater ahead.
“(The media) are going to be as negative as possible,” Cutler said. “We understand that. But we have a lot of games left.”
As Cutler left his press conference and exited the locker room, the television showed the 49ers up by three touchdowns on Dallas. The quarterback glanced, then walked away.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but the run is uphill. The Bears wouldn’t say it, but the panic is palpable.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.