NEW ORLEANS — If ever there were a crushing game, this could’ve been it. Not only did the Bears fail to engineer a game-winning drive in the dying embers of their 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints, but they were given a lifeline to tie the game and couldn’t do that, either.
And on top of it, Zach Miller suffered a brutal injury — the initial diagnosis is a dislocated knee — on a play that was initially ruled a touchdown but was confusingly overturned to an incomplete pass. But while the mood in the Bears’ locker room was dour about Miller, it was also optimistic about where this team is going as they enter their bye week at 3-5. At the least, this team still has plenty of self-belief.
“In this locker room, we know who we are, so when it comes to effort, we’re not surprised about anything that we do,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “We know what we’re capable of and we know, mainly, it’s ourselves that are in our way and when we cut down on our mistakes it’s going to be a lot different.”
There were a few glaring mistakes, like Kyle Fuller being caught offside on a field goal attempt and Connor Barth missing his fourth field goal in 11 tries (both being on special teams continues a trend of errors from that unit). Mitchell Trubisky made some plays — like his 46-yard run that sparked the ultimately-futile comeback — but missed a few throws, like his incompletion on fourth-and-one late in the fourth quarter that sailed high toward Kendall Wright.
“We had what we wanted, it was a good call, I missed a little bit,” Trubisky said. “I’ve made that throw hundreds of times.”
The Bears expect Trubisky to grow and be better than his line in his first game where he was forced to air it out: 14/32, 164 yards, no touchdowns (though he could’ve had one had Miller’s catch not been overturned) and one interception. He’s still very much a work in progress with a group of pass-catchers that was already struggling to find consistency before losing, perhaps, its most consistent player in Miller.
Dontrelle Inman shouldn’t be counted on to be the fix the Bears’ receiving corps needs; more likely, if that fix exists, it’ll be a collective effort between him, Tre McBride (three catches, 92 yards), Wright (two catches, 23 yards) and Markus Wheaton (when he’s able to return from a groin injury). But as long as the Bears’ defense continues playing at a high level, these offensive fixes can be sought out in close games.
Sunday was another stout defensive showing considering the following: New Orleans got its first touchdown because of Fuller’s penalty; without it, the Saints would’ve been held to three field goals and 16 points. Vic Fangio made some adjustments at halftime that kept a lid on Drew Brees and that explosive offense, which only managed six points in the final 30 minutes — three of which came on a field goal after Trubisky turned the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Bullard and Adrian Amos came up with critical strips of Mark Ingram, which afforded more opportunities back to the offense.
“Play dominant, be us,” linebacker Pernell McPhee said of the defensive effort in the third and fourth quarters. “Be the Chicago Bears defense and I think we did a great job of doing that in the second half.”
What’s clear is that as long as the Bears’ defense continues playing like it did in October, Trubisky and the offense will have opportunities to win as they grow. And that’s buoying the feeling that this team isn’t all that far off from rattling off some more wins in the second half of the season.
The Bears have 14 days until they play again; that’s a lot of time to figure out some solutions and prove this positivity right in the second half of the season.
“The defense continues to play tremendously and keep us in these games,” Trubisky said. “We’re getting closer as an offense. We just need to become more consistent. I thought we communicated great in a hostile environment. We are getting close.
“Nobody has their head down, nobody is pouting. We just continue to lean on each other and know we have each other’s back. We’re going got keep working, keep getting better and get back to winning football.”