By Greg Gabriel-
(CBS) My assignment, if I so choose to accept, is to write a column on the positives and negatives of New England’s 51-23 victory against Chicago on Sunday afternoon. After watching that game, I don’t know if I can fully accept the assignment, as the game wasn’t as close as the final score even indicated. Let’s face it, this game was over after the Patriots’ first drive. The Bears opened the game with a six-play drive that was stalled by a holding penalty on tight end Martellus Bennett.
After the punt, the Patriots went 55 yards in five plays for a touchdown. It was a drive in which New England made everything look easy. Easy it was, as before the first half was over, New England had a 38-7 lead. There was no fight in Chicago, which dropped to 3-5.
Let’s splice through this one anyway.
Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett
Really looking hard, I can find two positives: the play of both Forte and Bennett.
Forte finished the game with 114 rushing yards on 19 attempts. He also had six receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. The one thing you can say about Forte is that he will never quit. He is the ultimate competitor and plays hard on every play.
While Bennett had a costly holding penalty on the Bears’ opening drive, he also played a competitive game. His touchdown catch on a 20-yard pass from Jay Cutler is one of the better catches I have ever seen. The concentration he showed to stay with the ball with a defender all over him was unreal.
For the game, Bennett had six receptions for 95 yards and the lone touchdown. Like Forte, Bennett was all out on every play. He obviously has pride in his play, as he tried to make something happen on each and every touch he had in the game.
Pretty much everything/everyone else
Where do I begin? On the Bears’ opening drive, a holding call on a nine-yard Forte run stalled the drive, and just about everything went downhill from there.
The defense was horrendous. I don’t know if I can come up with a better word to describe a unit that gave up 487 yards and 44 points (the New England defense scored one touchdown).
On the 670 the Score pregame show, I said one of the keys for the Bears defense would be stopping the Patriots’ tight ends. Having worked with New England coach Bill Belichick for six years early in my career, I knew he always looks for an opponent’s weakness to exploit. Based on previous games, the weakness was the Bears’ inconsistent safety play.
I mentioned that Rob Gronkowski was the healthiest he has been in a couple of years and that new tight end Tim Wright gave New England a similar player to Aaron Hernandez. Well, Gronkowski had just about a career day with nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Wright finished with seven catches for 61 yards and a score. That’s a combined 16 catches for 210 yards and four touchdowns. It’s safe to say Belichick exploited the Bears’ main weakness.
Not only did the Bears defense struggle covering the tight ends, they gave up 122 yards on the ground. Jonas Gray looked like an All-Pro with 17 carries for 86 yards. Going into the game, Gray had carried the ball a total of three times in the entire 2014 season.
Patriots’ wide receiver Brandon LaFell — who has been the model of inconsistency for his entire career — also had the game of his life. He finished the day with 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. In short, the Bears defense gave two average NFL players a new lease on life in their careers.
Yes, there are plenty of things that went wrong with the Bears offense, which struggled to get a drive going until midway through the second quarter and had two turnovers. With the Bears falling behind by a large amount early in the game, they had to abandon the game plan of running the ball earlier than they wanted to. Still, it was the defense that put the offense in a hole they couldn’t get out of.
In 2013, the Bears may have had their most productive offense in the last 20 years. The problem was the defense. They couldn’t get off the field and gave up far too many easy scores.
The Bears set out to solve that problem during the offseason. They spent a huge amount of money on free agent acquisitions Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Jared Allen and Ryan Mundy. They also brought in two experienced position coaches in defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebacker coach Reggie Herring. Both are highly respected around the league.
I had done tape work on Houston, Allen and Young. These were/are solid NFL players who should be performing at a higher level. Bringing in these players to help the defense was sound thinking, and it’s not like the Bears were the only team going after these guys. They were highly thought of around the league.
With the new talent, much was expected from the defense. It obviously hasn’t happened. Sure, there have been injuries to the linebacker corps, but every team has to overcome injuries during the course of the season. Let’s face it: This defense and the whole team in general aren’t playing with any enthusiasm or intensity. And you simply can’t win in the NFL without intensity.
Is it a lack of leadership from among the players or the coaches? Could it be both? Right now, I don’t have the answer, but during this bye week there has to be some serious soul-searching done.
This Bears team is as talented a group as there is in the NFL, and they are vastly underachieving. If the 2014 season is to be saved, something has to be done — and done right now. If they need to make schematic changes, then make them. It seems obvious the players aren’t buying in, for it shows in their play.
The Bears front office and coaching staff have this week to find out and resolve what the problems are. When the players come back to work a week from today, everyone has to be on the same page to attack the rest of the season. The players have to have confidence in their coaches and the coaches have to have confidence in their players.
Is it too late to save the season? No, but the Bears can’t afford to lose more than one more game. If they don’t get it together, I think we all know it will be back to the drawing board.
Does anyone really want that?
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who has been an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.