Hoge: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back For Sluggish Bears

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Jay Cutler hangs his head in Tampa. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Jay Cutler hangs his head in Tampa. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

TAMPA — The Bears don’t care about your game-week storylines.

The healthiest they’ve been all season? Finally coming together after a big win over the Vikings? Fresh off a bye week with two weeks to prepare?

As Jay Cutler might say, “Don’t care…”

So as it goes, the Bears delivered a stinker in Tampa, turning the ball over five times while losing 36-10 to the Buccaneers.

Podcast —  Intentional Grounding, Episode 63: Bears-Bucs Postgame Show

“Really, our whole team was off today,” head coach John Fox said, stating the obvious.

Let’s call it what it was: an embarrassing, inexcusable performance coming off a bye week. That goes for the entire team, but especially applies to Cutler, whose biggest victory in the last week was Donald Trump winning the election.

Cutler’s teammates and coaches praised Cutler for “inspiring” them two weeks ago against the Vikings, so it wasn’t a surprise the Bears played as poorly as they did Sunday after the quarterback turned the ball over four times — even throwing a pick-six to former Bears safety Chris Conte.

“We didn’t play well. I didn’t play well,” Cutler said. “Too many turnovers. If you have that many turnovers, it’s going to be hard to win.”

Call it a reality check for the Bears, who evidently got a little too confident after beating a Vikings team that has now lost four games in a row. Remember when Eddie Royal asked this week, “Why not win out?” Well,  Royal answered his own question by fielding a punt at the 5-yard-line before running backwards, nearly resulting in a safety.

Not to worry, as Cutler took care of the safety box on your Bears Bingo card by fumbling in the end zone in the final minute of the third quarter. Both of Cutler’s lost fumbles came on plays where he was scrambling and failed to sense pressure from the backside. The quarterback’s internal clock was apparently stuck in the Central time zone as he showed very little awareness to get rid of the football.

“Uh, didn’t see him, so he stripped it,” Cutler said.

It was the first time in a long time the quarterback was somewhat terse with the media, but the frustration was to be expected. Just how bad was the Bears’ offensive performance in Tampa? Their only touchdown came on a Hail Mary as time expired in the first half — a Cutler prayer that bounced off a gaggle of leaping players and into the arms of Cameron Meredith in the back of the end zone.

“We basically held them to three points,” Conte said. “That Hail Mary, it was kind of a freak play.”

Running back Jordan Howard was the lone offensive bright spot, but he was nowhere to be seen in the second half because he suffered what John Fox called an “Achilles/ankle” injury.

“We’re not sure exactly — the exact injury yet,” Fox said.

Howard’s performance — 100 yards rushing on 15 carries — was enough for Fox to say, “Our run offense was pretty solid,” but that’s really all the positivity the Bears could muster.

Shame on me for thinking the Bears could win in a place the Bucs had failed to do so all season. In fact, Tampa had lost 17 of their previous 20 games at Raymond James Stadium, including one to the Bears last season.

But again, the Bears don’t seem to care for those narratives, instead writing their own incomprehensible script that, in 2016, has resulted in two resounding thumbs down.

Take for instance Jameis Winston’s 11-second scramble backwards into in his own end zone that resulted in a 39-yard completion to Mike Evans. Leonard Floyd and Co. had at least three opportunities to sack Winston and Tracy Porter appeared to have a decent shot of intercepting the pass. Instead, Evans came down with the ball and Winston hit someone named Freddie Martino in the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown on the very next play.

That sequence occurred at the start of the second half — right after the Bears stole the momentum going into halftime with the Hail Mary — and instead of cutting the Buccaneers’ lead to 17-12, Tampa went up 24-10, essentially icing the game.

“Boys gotta be on their job, man. That’s just what it is,” frustrated linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “I mean, the coaches could have went home at 3 or 4 o’clock after practice. They put up 37 points on us man. All that game planning, watching film, we gotta go out there and do what we’re supposed to do as a squad.”

Freeman and others echoed a sentiment that the coaching was not the problem.

“(They’re) making some great calls out there,” he said. “I get the call in my ear, I’m like, yeah, that’s going to work. Them boys gotta go out there and execute, man. To a man, everybody gotta go out there and do their thing, man. That’s just what it is.”

Asked bluntly if the players are still hearing Fox’s message, defensive captain Pernell McPhee said: “Yes, of course. Coach is a great coach. We just gotta spend more time, you know, being professionals. We got a lot of young guys, and that ain’t no excuse, but I just think we gotta be more professional, taking care of our body, studying film and studying our playbook.”

And if Sunday wasn’t hard enough to stomach, the Bears also lost right guard Kyle Long to an ankle injury that was bad enough Long had to be carted off the field. Long’s father, Howie, revealed on the FOX halftime show that the diagnosis was better than originally feared, but Kyle would still be out “a while.”

At this point, the Bears would be foolish not to shut Long down for the year. He’s already playing with a torn labrum and the silver lining from Sunday’s injury is that he can get the labrum fixed sooner and get ready for 2017.

Because as John Fox said during the bye week, the Bears “could either be 10-6 or 2-14,” and, well, they aren’t going to be 10-6.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.