CHICAGO — For a team that wasn’t supposed to be able to compete this year, the Bears sure have played their fair share of games down to the wire.
They won three of those games (Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers) and lost three of those games, falling to the Lions, the Vikings and now a 17-15 loss to the Denver Broncos. And while all of those games could’ve gone either way, the Bears feel like they let a big opportunity slip away Sunday at Soldier Field.
“They are a good team but we let it get away from us,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “There have been a few games where we lost the fourth quarter and we have felt like have been right there. We put this game in the same box as those. Our margin for error isn’t that great.”
No, it isn’t. Not when you have an uphill battle against a better team. And let’s not lose that perspective: Even without Peyton Manning, the 8-2 Broncos were the more talented football team Sunday. That said, the Bears are used to being the underdog by now and they’ve come together as a team to still give themselves a chance to beat better teams, even when they take the field without Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Antrel Rolle, like they did against the Broncos.
And when it was over, one crucial decision and one poorly executed play cost the Bears a chance to be 5-5.
“Anytime you don’t get it done, there is going to be second-guessing,” Cutler said.
The second-guessing starts with head coach John Fox’s decision to go for the touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 4-yard-line with 10:10 left in the game. Trailing 17-9 at the time, the Bears were going to need to go for the two-point conversion anyway, so why not take the easy three points instead of trying two more difficult plays against the league’s top defense?
“We felt that was going to maybe be our last opportunity,” Fox said.
That doesn’t show much faith in his offense, which is somewhat understandable considering they hadn’t scored a touchdown all day at that point. But it also didn’t show much faith in his defense to get the ball back even though the defense had played well all day.
And again — there were still 10 minutes left in the game.
As it was, the Bears did get back down to the goal line and Jeremy Langford ran it in for a two-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left. Since they didn’t have the earlier field goal, they had to go for two to tie the game.
And that’s where poor execution let the Bears down.
“It was one of those deals where we had a pass checked to a run,” left guard Matt Slauson said. “Jay felt like we had the right look and he wants to put it on us to put it in. And we just have to get it done.”
The Bears didn’t get it done as Langford was stopped short by Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who got into the backfield unblocked.
At first glance, it looked like tight end Martellus Bennett didn’t get the check because he was lined up against Ward and ran a route to the outside. This is what it looked like:
But let’s rewind a couple weeks ago to San Diego, where the Bears had a similar two-point conversion at the end of the game to secure a 22-19 lead on the Chargers. The Bears were in the exact same formation, and Bennett ran the exact same route even though Cutler checked to a Langford run:
The big difference here is how the Chargers are lined up compared to the Broncos. The Chargers have two safeties back, while the Broncos brought all 11 players up to the line, with Ward lined up over Bennett.
So did Bennett get the check and do what he was supposed to? Or is there something built into the play where he’s supposed to abandon his route and block the safety? No one wanted to talk about specifics about the play after the game, but the look the Broncos showed makes you wonder if Cutler should’ve made the check in the first place. Denver just saw the Bears run this play two weeks ago in almost the exact same situation and it certainly seemed like they were ready for it.
Bennett wasn’t made available to the media after the game, so it’s unclear if he heard the check. Either way, it’s pretty clear not everyone on the Bears got it, as rookie center Hroniss Grasu dropped back to pass block:
On a run up the middle, it’s not good when your center is dropping back.
“There was an unblocked safety coming free on that, but we still believe we can get it done and we just didn’t today,” Slauson said.
It’s worth noting that Grasu didn’t play in that game against the Chargers two weeks ago, so he wasn’t on the field the first time the Bears ran it. Slauson was the center that night.
Unfortunately, poor execution at a crucial time cost the Bears a chance at overtime, but the Broncos also deserve credit for being ready for the play and stopping it.
Of course, had the Bears kicked the field goal with 10 minutes to go, it may not have come down to the two point conversion.