John Fox’s message to his team after Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers was familiar: We’re competitive enough to keep games close, but we have to win when we get a chance.
Losses to the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and now Green Bay Packers have all been by eight points or fewer. The Bears do have overtime wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, but too often this year, the Bears have stayed within striking distance only to never strike.
Sloppy play has been a common thread in those losses, be it in the form of turnovers, pre-snap penalties, negative offensive plays or anything else that fits the bill of a self-inflicted mistake. This team knows they don’t have much margin for error, yet those errors continue to happen.
“That’s just been the theme this year,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said “When we’ve had enough, it’ll stop. But we have to make a decision.”
But even if the Bears make a decision and figure out how to stop making those self-inflicted mistakes, it likely will be too late to make a difference in the outcome of the 2017 season.
This is a 3-6 team that’s lost every game it’s played against a divisional opponent and just lost to a Packers team that, in the first 15 minutes of Sunday’s game, fielded a punt in the end zone (!) and took a mystifying timeout when the game clock could’ve ticked down to the end of the first quarter (!!). But the Packers were able to clean things up as the game went on, and despite their deficiencies on offense and defense, were a late missed 35-yard field goal away from a comfortable two-score win.
Meanwhile, the Bears were officially penalized eight times, but had four other flags declined. Negative plays and sacks continued to mar the offense, and the Bears’ defense couldn’t come up with the kind of impact plays it so consistently made in October. That this kind of game happened after an off week of self-scouting and physical/mental rest seems disappointing.
“Lack of focus,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said of the Bears’ penalties and mistakes. “It seemed uncharacteristic for us because we were locked in and ready to go. I guess were weren’t focused at that moment. We’re going to analyze that, because we know it’s one of (our) weaknesses. We’re only hurting ourselves. It’s nothing they’re doing schematically, it’s just everyone has to lock in, do our jobs and get better.”
The Bears are a better team than they were in 2016 and may win a close game or two in these final seven games. They’re better than the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom come to Soldier Field in December. But this was a team that, at 3-5 coming out of its bye week, had a chance to be competitive in a parity-stricken NFL landscape.
That chance — no matter how good or slim you may have thought it was — is probably gone.
“Everyone has their own interpretation, but we had an opportunity to win that game,” Fox said. “Like some of the games before, not necessarily coming out of or into a bye, we just came up short.”