By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Bears squandered a major opportunity against the short-handed Packers, losing 23-16 at Soldier Field on Sunday. And for all their mishaps in a disappointing loss, there was one more egregious than the rest.
Coach John Fox was left regretting a challenge that backfired horribly. The play occurred with 8:09 left in the second quarter, with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky connecting with running back Benny Cunningham on a screen pass. After navigating down the right sideline, Cunningham reached for the pylon by diving from the 3-yard line but was initially ruled to have stepped out of bounds before the goal line.
Fox elected to challenge the call, believing that Cunningham hadn’t stepped out of bounds and had scored the touchdown. An official review conducted at NFL headquarters determined that Cunningham actually lost the football, which then hit the pylon. The play was therefore ruled a fumble and touchback to give possession back to the Packers, something Fox said the team never considered when making the decision to challenge.
Had Fox not challenged, the Bears would’ve had first-and-goal from about the 2-yard line while trailing 10-3.
“Every indication that we had was that he scored,” Fox said of the play. “If anything, you’d be at the one (yard line) or inside the one. I think they spotted it at the three. Obviously, after replay and much time under — one of the officials thought he heard it was a touchdown. He had no idea that they were ruling it was a touchback during the deciphering. Obviously, that’s a play you’d like to have back, but that’s not how this game works.”
Fox had the help of Bears coaches in the booth with access to video replay. They were positioned to make the proper decision on the challenge, making it baffling that they didn’t consider it could be ruled a touchback.
Though there were multiple voices making the call, Fox shouldered the blame for a pivotal play in his 29th loss with the Bears (3-6) in the third year of his tenure.
“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.”
Cunningham was initially just as shocked as Fox. At first, he believed that his knee hadn’t touched the ground in diving for the pylon, and he didn’t even ponder the idea of a touchback. Later, he admitted in the postgame interview that the replay officials did make the right call.
“I’m just thinking they’re going to review and overturn it, because I’m feeling like I got in,” Cunningham said. “I’m ready to celebrate and run down and cover a kickoff. But it was unfortunate how it went.”
Ironically, Fox and the Bears did officially win the challenge, because Cunningham was ruled not to be out of bounds.
“Looking at the review, he did not step out of bounds and started lunging toward the goal line (with both hands on the ball),” referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter after the game. “As he was lunging toward the goal line, he lost the ball in his right hand first, probably, I’m going to guess, two feet maybe short of the pylon. As he got even closer, the left hand came off. We had to put together two different angles in order to see both hands losing the football. After he lost it the second time, it went right into the pylon. Which creates a touchback.”
The Bears defense was opportunistic after the Packers took over at their own 20-yard line. Green Bay did convert a first down, but cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc sacked quarterback Brett Hundley for a 10-yard loss two plays later. The Packers were forced to punt, but the Bears then went three-and-out on their series.
There were many other regrets for the Bears, including five first-half penalties. Their offense struggled to find a rhythm during the game, with Trubisky getting sacked five times.
Once again, the Bears came up short and were left wishing for the seven points they could’ve had.