By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — High atop Soldier Field, nestled in a comfortable booth far from the chaos of game action, Bears general manager Ryan Pace looked on.
Pace has his binoculars in reach, his colleagues to the side, all constantly evaluating. He wants better than the 24-21 loss to Washington that came Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, where the Bears couldn’t get out of their own way for much of the game. But Pace also knows better.
The home locker room at Soldier Field was one filled with disappointment, not only for the outcome of the Bears’ sixth loss at Soldier Field — one that dropped them to 5-8 on the season and left their slim, far-fetched postseason hopes even more slim and far-fetched — but for plenty of personal failures, too. Once again, the Bears fell short.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said.
Watching the Bears’ sixth one-score loss of the season unfold, Pace couldn’t be too surprised by the result. Despite the demeanor instilled by coach John Fox and the positive spirit of a team that’s overachieved relative to low expectations, this team isn’t all that talented. While Chicago is headed in the right direction under the new regime, the 5-8 record is an accurate depiction of this team, as presently built.
Despite the most upbeat comments after another poor performance, the Bears aren’t that good. With all the positive developments of a season that once lacked hope, there are many more concerns to take away.
The Bears’ offense was a mess for the early onset of the game, with Cutler constantly being thrown to the turf. Washington defensive lineman Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton ate the quarterback alive in the first quarter, then Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and more repeated the act.
“That’s what it looks like to get caught with your pants down,” Bears tackle Kyle Long said of the sack by Murphy, one of three Cutler took.
It wasn’t until the second half when the Bears found some rhythm on offense, even scoring their first touchdown of the third quarter this season. Cutler was strong again, going 19-for-31 for 315 yards and two touchdowns — and doing so with mix-and-match personnel. But it didn’t matter.
Vic Fangio’s Bears defense had a tough time, struggling to contain Kirk Cousins and the containable Washington offense. Jordan Reed, a talented tight end, looked like the second coming of Dave Casper against the Bears’ coverage, catching each of the nine targets thrown his way for 120 yards and a score.
In the third quarter, Washington faced thrid-and-goal from the 1-yard line coming out of a timeout, then was somehow called for a delay of game penalty. Pushed back five yards, Cousins found Reed, who split by Shea McClellin and Jonathan Anderson for the pivotal touchdown. This wasn’t “Ghost to the Post” — it was Reed right across the middle of a goal-line defense.
“I could be a lot better, especially today with the things I messed up,” Anderson said.
Self-criticism was widespread throughout the locker room after another gut-wrenching loss.
“I played a (bad) game,” Long said.
Added guard Matt Slauson: “Bad day, poor execution all around. It just wasn’t good.”
After beating the Packers in Green Bay on Thanksgiving night, the Bears have fallen to the hapless 49ers and Washington, which now takes over first place in the NFC East at 6-7.
Pace knows the Bears aren’t good enough. He knew it long before the 0-3 start, the midseason rebound and glimmers of playoff hopes. He came to Chicago for a project, one that’s just beginning.
Now that the Bears aren’t playing for the postseason, players are left fighting for each other — and, more importantly, themselves. The pressure to perform is amped up even greater, without the playoffs in reach, because the end of this regular season brings work toward earning jobs.
“It’s a matter of coming in every day, being a professional and doing our job,” Bears linebacker Willie Young said.
Few jobs are safe in Pace’s plan. Veterans know it, and rookies — for the Bears, many undrafted and working in replacement roles — are about to realize this, too.
The Bears haven’t committed to Cutler as the long-term answer at quarterback, though he’s been good in 2015, and Matt Forte returning at running back seems questionable. They need healthy options at receiver and stability on the offensive line. There are jobs to be won on the defensive line and more to show at outside linebacker. And, frankly, much more talent is needed at inside linebacker and in the secondary.
Even Robbie Gould, the Bears’ longest-tenured player and once the most secure spot on the roster, may be playing out his final games in Chicago, that after missing a 50-yard field goal for the tie Sunday, a week after he missed a simple 36-yarder for the win against San Francisco. Gould’s shot at redemption from the gaffes last week went wide right this time.
“I was excited,” Gould said. “I live for that moment, I enjoy that moment. I was excited to go out there and do what I had done all week in my preparation getting ready to make that field goal. The guys did a great job getting it into range. I just didn’t execute.”
Once again, the Bears collectively accepted the blame that Gould collected to his own. Rightfully so, because the team showed its overall weaknesses once again.
Confidence still looms large for a Bears group that knows better days are ahead — just not this season. Even in defeat, there’s a positive perspective to cherish.
“The coaching staff and management know how to win — you know it’s going to get done,” Cutler said. “It’s just a matter of who is going to be on that team, because they’re going to figure out a way.”
With his eyes focused on the future, Pace and his staff of bright football minds got a glaring look Sunday at how much better the Bears need to be.