By Greg Gabriel-
(CBS) Of the Bears’ three loses to date this season, the loss yesterday to Carolina has to be the most disappointing. Carolina didn’t win the game as much as Chicago lost it. This game was ripe for the taking, a game that could and should have been put away by halftime but wasn’t.
In this column of the positives and negatives on the Bears’ play, I usually start with the positives. But today, I’m going to switch it around and begin with the negatives, as these far outnumbered the positives.
The turning point of this game actually wasn’t a single play but rather a few plays within the same series.
Late in the first half, the Bears had a third-and-13 from their own 20-yard line. The Bears called a screen pass to Matt Forte. Forte eluded the first defender and was free to run down the sideline for a touchdown. He had Martellus Bennett escorting him all the way. Bennett is usually a good open field blocker, but on this play he failed to see Carolina safety Roman Harper in pursuit. Harper was the only person who could prevent Forte from scoring on the play, and he did make the play. Yes, it was a 56-yard gain and a big play, but if Bennett had just nudged Harper, it was an 80-yard touchdown. The touchdown would have given the Bears a 21-point lead, which may have been too hard to overcome.
The Bears only totaled seven more yards in that series, which ended with Robbie Gould missing a chip shot 35-yard field goal. The Harper tackle and the missed field goal gave Carolina life. The Panthers promptly went downfield and scored in seven plays to make it a 21-14 game at halftime.
In the span of a few plays, the Bears went from having a potential 21-point lead to a seven-point lead going into the half. From that point on, the game was all Carolina.
We are five weeks into the season, and the Bears’ special teams are still making blunders that are turning into costly plays.
The Panthers opened the game by going three-and-out. On the ensuing punt, Santonio Holmes returns it 27 yards, giving the Bears great field position to open the game. However, Chicago was called for a personal foul on the play, negating the return. The penalty forced the Bears to start the drive at their 8-yard line instead of the 35.
The change of field position changed the Bears’ play-calling, and they promptly went three-and-out on the drive. On the following punt, newly signed Teddy Williams tackled Carolina returner Philly Brown before he had an opportunity to catch the punt. With flags down, the Bears punt unit quit on the play, and Brown pick up the loose ball and returned it 79 yards for an easy Carolina touchdown.
The other big blunder, of course, was Gould’s missed 35-yard field goal. In today’s NFL, 35-yard field goal attempts are seldom missed, especially by kickers as accurate as Gould.
In fairness, until Carolina’s touchdown drive late in the second quarter, the Chicago defense was playing good football. It was stopping the run and getting quality pressure with the pass rush.
Starting with that drive and continuing through the second half, the Bears defense looked totally different. The defensive backs were soft in coverage and giving up too many big plays. Twice, safety Danny McCray was easily beaten by Panthers tight end Greg Olsen for touchdowns.
The pass rush was basically non-existent in the second half, giving Cam Newton plenty of time to throw. The Bears used some nice blitzes in the first half to create pressure, but where was the pressure in the second half?
You can’t win games in the NFL if you turn the ball over. Once again, questionable throws by Jay Cutler turned into interceptions. Both interceptions killed drives in which the Bears were having success moving the ball.
On three straight fourth-quarter drives, the Bears turned the ball over. On the first, Cutler overthrew Holmes and the deep safety Thomas DeCoud made the interception. On the second, the normally reliable Forte fumbled on a first-down carry, giving the Panthers the ball at the Bears’ 23-yard line. A few plays later they scored the winning touchdown.
The third turnover came when Cutler was sacked and fumbled as Chicago was trying to drive for the tying score.
In a defeat like yesterday’s it’s difficult to find positives, but there were a few.
The Bears usually do a good job forcing opponent’s turnovers, and yesterday they forced three. The first two were fumbles, followed by an interception.
On the first forced fumble, cornerback Isaiah Frey stripped Kelvin Benjamin after a short pass reception. The fumble gave Chicago the ball at the Carolina 28-yard line. The Bears scored three played later on a center screen to Forte.
On the next Carolina series, defensive end Willie Young sacked Cam Newton and stripped the ball. The fumble was recovered by the Bears at the Panthers’ 13, and once again Chicago scored in three plays. The first two turnovers led to 14 Bears points.
Midway through the second quarter, Lance Briggs intercepted a pass in zone coverage, giving the Bears the ball at their own 22-yard line. They failed to turn that drive into any points.
I felt the Bears moved the ball exceptionally well in the first half. Forte was an obvious part of that game plan, as he had numerous touches in the first half. The center screen that was called on third down that resulted in a 10-yard Forte touchdown catch was a great call.
Yes, Chicago had short fields in which to score after creating Carolina turnovers, but it was able to score quickly with the help of good play-calling by Marc Trestman. In the second quarter, the Bears scored on a 68-yard drive that showcased a quality combination of run and pass plays. The touchdown came on a 25-yard screen pass to Alson Jeffery as the Panthers blitzed.
Each week defensive tackle Ferguson seems to get a bit more play time. He has shown steady improvement all season and is beginning to make big plays.
While Ferguson was only credited with two tackles yesterday, he did an excellent job getting a center push with his pass rush. He batted down two pass attempts by getting the push and getting his hands up just as the ball was thrown. If Ferguson keeps showing this weekly improvement, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the season.
Next week, the Bears face another NFC South squad, traveling to Atlanta for a Sunday game with the Falcons. Like the Bears, the Falcons are coming off two straight defeats. All of Atlanta’s losses have come on the road, but it plays much better football when in the Georgia Dome.
If the Bears are to have a chance, they have to play mistake-free football, something they haven’t done in their last two games.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who has been an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.