The Bears thought perhaps they had put the wheels back on at least a small part of their lost 2017 season last week in Cincinnati. It was illusory.
In the latest game that justifiably falls under the heading of “embarrassing,” the wheels were completely off in a 20-10 loss to the Detroit Lions (8-6) that said that the Bears (4-10) are not even within hailing distance of their NFC North cousins at the end of a third straight, and presumably last, season of double-digit losses under coach John Fox.
The Bears have had worse losses under Fox. They have had few worse games, top to bottom.
Any faint chance of Fox surviving for a fourth season as Bears coach depended on a run of solid performances to finish out the season. This was anything but and was yet another game marked and marred by inept performances in all three phases, four if coaching counts as a separate one.
The loss was the sixth in the seven games since the Bears held their destiny in their own hands at 3-4, only to deteriorate rather than improve as the season went along. And it was a game that at different points, in particular during a collapsing second half, the sense reached the point of “you couldn’t make this up.” The Cincinnati game now stands as a clear outlier; the Green Bay and San Francisco games and this Detroit game have become the hood ornaments of the 2017 Bears.
As for specific bewilderings: The NFL’s No. 32 rushing team (Detroit) finished with more than double the rushing yards of the Bears, 91-43, one game after the Bears rushed for more than 200 yards for the fourth time this season — including 222 the last time they saw the Lions on Nov. 19. Against the No. 20 rushing defense (Detroit) the Bears threw the football 43 times and ran it 15, including two by quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Much more on that shortly, because it gets at deeper problems.
Jordan Howard was handed the football exactly 10 times, just three in the second half. The stated reason for it will be that the Bears were playing from behind, but the Bears didn’t fall behind by three scores until midway through the third quarter.
“Lack of rhythm on offense, penalty, and I need to take care of the football,” Trubisky said by way of summarizing a day of yards (349 vs. 293 for Detroit) but too many of the plays that epitomize what bad football teams do, or don’t do. Trubisky finished with 314 passing yards, his first 300-yard day, but turnovers and a handful of poor decisions overshadowed any positives for his 10th NFL start.
Franchise-quarterback-in-progress Trubisky went from the best game of his career a week ago against the Bengals to arguably his poorest, based on three second-half interceptions when the game was still within reach, at least emotionally.
One, on the second play of the second half from the Bears 22, was turned into a Detroit touchdown. The second was thrown into double coverage in the Detroit end zone and cost the Bears at least three points. The third ended the final Bears possession at the Detroit 16.
“Sometimes quarterbacks have those days,” Fox said. “He’ll have better days.”
Fox has had better ones, too.
In a return of another issue reflecting very poorly on Fox’s coaching staff, the number and kinds of penalties became a statement in themselves. Special teams lost a 90-yard kickoff return by Tarik Cohen because of a holding penalty against DeAndre Houston-Carson.
Later, with the football at the Bears' eight-yard line: a holding penalty on fill-in offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu, followed a snap later by a holding flag on wide receiver Josh Bellamy, capped off by a delay of game call, which falls on Trubisky. With five minutes still to play in the fourth quarter the Bears had had 13 penalties walked off.
A Detroit team that came into Saturday giving up at least 100 rushing yards in the past five games — including more than 130 in four of those — "held" the Bears to 43. Those last five teams ran the football 28, 27, 41, 30 and 33 times; the Bears on Saturday ran it a total of 15. Late in a season with a 4-9 record the Bears were ordered to punt on a fourth-and-one situation in the second quarter from their own 41 — doubtless the safe play intended to set up field position. But the Bears ran the football football four more times in the half, gaining four, two, four and five yards on those. And three of the Bears’ previous four run plays before that situation had gained at least one yard.
As for the field position resulting from the punt, the Lions took the ball 92 yards for a touchdown, the third time in four possessions that the Bears defense had allowed a drive of at least eight plays and for points.
In one of those moments that sparks a “what are they teaching these guys?” question, safety Eddie Jackson was inexplicably passive waiting on a third-and-18 pass from Stafford to wide receiver Marvin Jones, who took the ball that was made for Jackson. Instead of an interception, the Lions had a 58-yard completion and the Bears had one of those plays that turned a small spotlight toward secondary coaching. Two years ago it was veteran Antrel Rolle failing to attack a looping, wobbling third-down heave by the Minnesota Vikings that resulted in a completion that cost the Bears that game.
Saturday marked the 10th time in 14 games in which the Bears have allowed 20 or more points. That encapsulates the decline and fall of defensive hopes under coordinator Vic Fangio, while the fact that the Bears have lost nine of those games says it all as far as the offensive ineptness under coordinator Dowell Loggains.
For his part, Loggains earned another question mark at the end of the first half when, after a takeaway gave the offense the ball at the Detroit 27 with 12 seconds on the clock and two timeouts in hand, Trubisky settled for a four-yard flip underneath to tight end Daniel Brown. Nothing in the middle of the field, nothing challenging the Detroit end zone down 13-0. The Bears settled for a field goal, probably not the kind of “drive” that general manager Ryan Pace had in mind when he made sure the Bears landed Trubisky on draft day.
To the point of the overall, however, which transcends any specific bad or good coming out of Fox’s fifth loss in six Bears games vs. Detroit, former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, linebacker Lance Briggs and quarterback Jim Miller voiced identical sentiments on NBC Sports Chicago’s “Bears Postgame Live” show:
“It’s been going on like this all year.”