By Chris Emma—
DETROIT, Mich. (670 The Score) – Five years ago this December, the Bears last won a game at Ford Field. They prevailed late for a 26-24 victory over the Lions to mark 10 wins on the season.
One day later, Lovie Smith was fired by a franchise believing it can do better. Since then, the Bears have entirely bottomed out in the seasons that followed, with the latest evidence a 20-10 loss to the Lions on Saturday that was uglier than the final score would indicate.
The Bears (4-10) clinched sole possession of last place in the NFC North for the fourth straight season and moved another game closer to a coaching change that seems inevitable. Inside that losing locker room, there wasn’t the silence of a team disappointed, dejected or downright ticked off. After all, the result was far too familiar.
Coach John Fox isn’t exactly going down fighting in what could’ve been his last games with the Bears. In the second quarter, Fox elected to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Bears’ own 45-yard line. His team trailed 6-0 and has nothing to lose – right?
“You do got something to lose,” Fox said. “It’s called field position.”
Added rookie running back Tarik Cohen: “Everybody feels like we can get one yard every time. But it’s not always like that. Sometimes, punting is the smartest thing to do.”
Punting wasn’t prudent in that situation. The Bears are a team playing for a foundation and coached with little regard for what’s most important. They could’ve come into Ford Field hungry to play spoiler but instead put forth their latest poor performance.
Fox claimed that the punt wasn’t a huge factor, but it proved to be the turning point. From there, the Lions drove 92 yards on 10 plays and grabbed a 13-0 lead. That Fox didn’t realize in the moment – and especially after the game – the ramifications of his decision is an indictment of his coaching style, which doesn’t suit a team building for better days.
The Bears were a mess for much of their afternoon in the Motor City, committing 13 penalties for 97 yards to wear down the throwing arms on Jeff Triplette’s crew. A week after their best showing on offense, the Bears lacked balance as the Lions (8-6) took away the rushing lanes and forced the game on Mitchell Trubisky. Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains hardly adjusted his game plan and didn’t try to beat the Lions deep. It’s worth noting the Bears entered this game 4-9 on the season.
Saturday’s loss should only increase the heat on Fox — and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team lost 33-7 to the Bears a week ago in Cincinnati.
After the Lions marched those 92 yards and danced like the Radio City Rockettes in the end zone, the game was placed on the rookie Trubisky’s right arm. He had his worst day in the NFL, throwing three interceptions while trying to bring his team back. He finished 31-of-46 for 314 yards and one touchdown with those three picks.
Despite their place in the playoff picture, the Lions were plenty sluggish, too. They fumbled with 12 seconds left in the first half, which allowed the Bears to kick a field goal and get on the board. With a 17-point lead barely five minutes into the second half, they failed to bury a bad football team and kept the Bears within an arm’s length.
Trubisky finally got the Bears into the end zone with 2:39 in the fourth quarter on a dump-off to running back Benny Cunningham. Rather than an onside kick, Fox sent the coverage team – not the hands team – out and elected to pooch.
“It’s field position,” Fox said. “There’s time enough left in the game.”
But there wasn’t. The Bears were jammed back to their own 6-yard line after forcing a punt and had the drive end with Trubisky’s third interception of the day.
Trubisky was drafted second overall last April to bring the Bears hope. To his credit, he kept standing tall in the pocket, making throws with confidence, taking shots from blitzing Lions and getting himself back up. There were questions about Trubisky’s decision-making, but he kept an even keel afterward.
“(It’s) never giving up,” Trubisky said. “Next-play mentality. Always believe you can make the next throw.”
With Trubisky, the Bears have their greatest hope since the days that Smith led a dominant defensive identity. There are building blocks in place with players like Jordan Howard, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson and a few more. But the Bears will only go as far as Trubisky takes them.
It’s a a long way back to respectability.