Coaches will be hit with blame for poor starts (which the Bears have done nearly all season) and sloppy play (everywhere on Sunday). The core problems of the Bears’ 38-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, however, belongs squarely at the feet of players on offense and defense in particular whose failed execution doomed the organization to another year eliminated from the playoffs.
“It’s about individual plays when it’s one on one,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee, “making plays when it’s time to make plays.”
As has been the case through much of this season, players were frequently in positions to make plays and just did not. Plays on offense were blocked and then undone by an individual breakdown or penalty. Defensively, receivers and backs rarely were running wide open (a common sign of schematic breakdowns) but Bears defensive players were consistently slow to react, a step behind breaking on balls and in coverage, with the result that they were constantly chasing Vikings and rarely catching them.
The case of wide receiver Stefon Diggs running by two Bears defenders on the way to getting open on his way to his 33-yard TD reception in the third quarter was a case study. Diggs ran by a linebacker and defensive back to make an uncontested catch and then pick his way through the rest of the defense for the score.
“We did not execute, since one of their leading receivers went unnoticed across the whole field,” said coach John Fox, adding pointedly, “It is not by design.”
The special-teams unit under coordinator Jeff Rodgers was the exception, blocking precisely to spring Deonte Thompson for a 49-yard return on the opening kickoff, executing and recovering an onside kick to start the second half and covering three of Pat O’Donnell’s four punts inside the Minnesota 20.
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The idea of an onside kick, recovered by Sherrick McManis, to start the second half was the sort of bold stroke both worth taking strategically and as a chance to ignite the offense after an abysmal 96 yards in the first half. But the gambit was wasted when the offense gave up the ball on a strip-sack and the Vikings turned the takeaway into seven points.
But the near-constant inability of the Bears to start a game with fire and execution either offensively or defensively has become a chronic condition, which obviously traces to poor jobs by players, but reached the point Sunday of being systemic. It is simply what the Bears do.
“We have not lost three in a row all season long,” Fox said. “It does a little to thwart your confidence. But we are all professionals. We will get this out of our system and get ready for Tampa Bay.”
Moon's Grade: B