HOUSTON – One member of the Bears’ offense told CSNChicago.com this week that the Bears would be “a lot better than people think,” and that he considered four games to be swing games in this season.
One of those games he named came Sunday against the Houston Texans. And it was indeed there for the Bears, leading a division champion going into the fourth quarter on the road. It’s only one game but don’t try selling patience around Halas Hall.
“We don’t have time,” said guard Kyle Long. “Our house is on fire and we’ve got to put it out.”
Lots of fires, actually.
Enough mistakes were made, early and late, in all phases, to let a game slip away into a 23-14 loss to the Texans, the fourth in four games against the one-time expansion franchise. Teams that lose fourth-quarter leads rarely play more than 16 games in a season. There was no feel-good from getting close, and the frustration was palpable afterwards, particularly from new Bears not accustomed to losing.
“We know how dominant we can be,” said former New England defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, shaking his head. “We expect better of ourselves.”
Said linebacker Danny Trevathan, not accustomed to coming up short from his years with the Denver Broncos: “We’ve got to a better job of finishing. I know we are so much better than that.”
But until they are better than that, they aren’t. And until they show they’re finishers, they’re not. The Bears were 2-3 last season when leading or tied after three quarters, so this was a disturbing flashback. And the season clock is ticking.
The Bears answered some questions and created others. And in a bit of troubling irony, even some of the apparent positives revealed negatives lurking beneath.
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The offense managed two first-half touchdown drives totaling 150 yards. They amassed just 108 in their other 10 possessions and crossed midfield just once in the second half in Dowell Loggains’ first game as offensive coordinator.
Listed among the supposed high points will be Alshon Jeffery’s 105 receiving yards. But that now makes the Bears 4-9 in games in which the franchise wideout goes for a century, meaning that few if any others are taking advantage of Jeffery, who had those 105 through three quarters. None in the fourth, when with the game on the line, the Bears netted just 41 yards.
Houston ran just three plays longer than 20 yards. Normally good, limiting big plays. The defense that was built to stand up to elite offenses was pushed around for 131 rushing yards and 231 passing by a Houston offense that was in the NFL’s lower half last year, and which converted 12 of 20 third downs.
The Bears bled to death.
“We just couldn’t stop the ‘leaking’ yardage,” said nose tackle Eddie Goldman.
Arrows up? Or down?
The Bears started nine players with zero or one year of NFL experience. So this was more than a casual referendum on the young foundation of the Bears, the players who will determine the outlook for the organization beyond this week and even this season.
Some was good; if you didn’t know Cody Whitehair was a second-round rookie playing his first game at center, it was far from evident in his play against one of the NFL’s best fronts.
Whitehair failed to get a fourth-and-one direct snap into Jay Cutler’s hands, resulting in a fumble and missed fourth-down conversion. “That’s on me,” Whitehair said. “It’s up to me to get the ball up higher for him.”
Some was bad; if you didn’t know Kevin White was a No. 1 pick, the guess might have been a practice-squad call-up. White back-slid from an optimistic finish to his preseason, with drops, a pre-snap penalty and a costly route-running mistake that ended in an interception.
Cutler swung his arm in apparent frustration in the direction he expected White to run on the pattern. “We’ve just got to watch it on film and move on to the next play,” said White, who caught just one of four Cutler targets through three quarters and three of seven for the game for 34 total yards.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd shared a sack with Goldman, but Floyd was impact-lite overall and too often failed to get close to Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler often, and that against a second-tier left tackle in backup Chris Clark. Floyd did share a sack with Goldman.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” said Floyd, initially credited with six tackles (two solo). “But I think this is going to be a great defense.”
Maybe. And while mistakes are expected from youth, successful teams are the ones where young players make impact early. The Bears did not get enough from theirs on Sunday.
Some outsiders expressed surprise when Jeffery and not Kyle Long was voted by teammates as the other offensive co-captain along Jay Cutler. But inside the locker room the lack of surprise was telling, and reflected very well on Jeffery, a man of few words but who has quietly this training camp and preseason won over any doubters among teammates.
On Sunday, Jeffery played and acted like a team captain.
“The guy is a stud, and all the guys really look up to him,” one offensive player said privately. “He’s a leader on this team for a lot of guys, and not just the receivers.”
Jeffery led by example, putting 105 receiving yards on the Texans in the first half. He did drop a key third-down throw in the third quarter and put the responsibility squarely on himself.
“I think I should’ve caught that with my hands instead of my body,” Jeffery said. “I feel like that was a turning point right there.”
But one of Jeffery’s biggest contributions may be to the psyche of Kevin White after the latter struggled mightily in his first NFL game. As far as White's catastrophic wrong route that led to an interception, “that’s going to happen,” Jeffery said. “[I told him] ‘Next play,’ gotta always be ‘next play.’”