For the second time in the last three Sundays, the Bears gave his bosses a reason to fire coach John Fox. Certainly not by design, and not without some level of culpability on the part of Fox and a coaching staff of a team that was outplayed in every phase and for effectively an entire 60 minutes.
But at some point, management will demand accountability for what Sunday’s embarrassment implies.
“The game was not competitive from early on,” Fox said in the sort of statement that indicts effort, preparation, motivation and just about every aspect of what went into the game all week.
The Bears’ 31-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, matching the worst losing margin of the Fox era, set last year in Minnesota, was the Bears’ fourth straight after sniffing within a game of .500 not all that long ago.
It was more than a day with the worst single half of football in the Fox era, or the third straight game in which the Eagles (10-1) outscored their victim by 28 points and the fifth time in 11 games that Philadelphia has prevailed by a winning margin of 23 or more points. The Bears (3-8) trailed 24-0 at halftime after zero first downs and 33 total yards (vs. 36 lost to penalties), underscoring Fox’s assessment that the game was never competitive.
This was a game that had the whiff of a culture change for the worse, something difficult to understand given the climate of respect the locker room has for Fox. Indeed, Fox has labored to undo the culture of losing left behind by the Marc Trestman Experience, and appeared to be making some progress even through the loss to New Orleans just before the off-week.
Last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions fell heaviest on the right foot of (former) kicker Connor Barth. But the sloppy loss to the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers coupled with Sunday’s humiliation left a hollow feeling that visits by San Francisco and Cleveland over the next three weeks won’t eradicate, regardless of outcome.
Fox declared, “We’ve got five games remaining and that’ll define our season, those five games.” But the inescapable sense was that the season has been defined the last four games, a stretch that suggested few signs of the progress Bears Chairman George McCaskey set as the minimum for retaining Fox for the fourth year of the latter’s four-year contract.
Coaches and quarterbacks typically get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses. That fits Sunday. Fox will pay for players’ failures, with Sunday’s debacle dropping Fox’s Chicago record to 12-31. And it was the worst outing for rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky – 17 for 33 passing, 147 yards, 2 interceptions, a 38.3 rating – at a point where the Bears needed something special against what guard Kyle Long called the best defense he’d ever seen.
“I didn’t play the game I set out to play or I’m capable of playing,” Trubisky said in a critique the organization will be hoping is more accurate than too many of Trubisky’s passes. Against a very good Eagles defense, Trubisky did not execute in a manner conducive to building teammates’ confidence in him.
Through his first six starts Trubisky fell short of finishing with a success but at least showed progress developing as a closer, in getting the Bears nearer to a final-minutes tie or victory. A disturbing element Sunday was his failures to be a starter.
Trubisky was presented with the football twice in prime position during the first quarter – at the Chicago 40 after a kickoff out of bounds, the second after the defense forced and recovered a LeGarrette Blount fumble at the Philadelphia 42. The latter was followed by a first-down illegal-block penalty on Tre McBride. The offense went three-and-out but made up some of the yardage with a completion to Dontrelle Inman, only to have new kicker Cairo Santos continue in the Connor Barth tradition with a missed field goal from 54 yards.
If there was a specific concerning element in an afternoon rife with them, it was a second straight game in which Trubisky was inaccurate enough to short-sheet the offense at points when it still mattered. The rookie, whose accuracy in his one college season was a selling point for the Bears, was repeatedly inaccurate in the first half, twice on throws to Kendall Wright (one resulting in an interception) and more seriously on a deep toss toward Dontrelle Inman when the wideout had a step and an advantage on the Eagles DB.
The failures resulted in truncated drives that sent the Bears defense back on the field unnecessarily early against one of the premier offenses in the 2017 NFL. Trubisky punctuated his poor day by throwing egregiously behind wide receiver Markus Wheaton late in the fourth quarter resulting in what was first ruled an interception but then overturned.
Three passes later Trubisky badly missed McBride high and behind, with the result that the Eagles picked Trubisky off for the second time, his first two-interception game in seven starts.
Trubisky was visibly irritated with himself afterwards, and “being pissed off can be a good motivator,” he said, “but you’ve got to do your job.”
A 28-point blowout has many authors. The Eagles had seven tackles for loss and allowed the Bears six net rushing yards on 14 carries. The defense allowed 176 rushing yards, the second time in three games giving up 160 or more ground yards.
The first half, in this instance the only meaningful one, was the most nightmarish opening 30 minutes since the 42-0 hole the Bears played themselves into at Green Bay in mid-2014. That game, which was followed by a closed-door meeting of Bears brass complete with yelling audible through that closed door, sealed the fate of coach Marc Trestman both because of its woefulness and because it was against Rodgers and the Packers.
The Bears chose a bad time and opponent to leave discipline out of their game plan. They incurred five penalties in barely the first 22 minutes of football, with all three phases contributing at least one.
Philadelphia converted three fourth downs in the span of less than three quarters. The Bears finally did stop the fourth one but even that came with an asterisk, a gimme interception going right through the hands of rookie safety Eddie Jackson with nothing but yard stripes between himself and the Philadelphia end zone.
The Bears were not competitive at any point. The offense failed to do anything with a positive turnover ratio while the defense failed to snatch other available takeaways. Special teams simply did nothing, which seemed almost like a positive compared to what did and didn’t happen in the other two phases.
Play calling occasionally bordered on the bizarre, with a mess of predictable run-run-pass and unorthodox situational plays (a third-quarter reverse that lost four yards). Execution of orthodox and unorthodox was equally dismal in any case, on offense, defense and special teams.
“I don’t think you can look at one guy, including Mitch,” Fox said. The question coming out of this Sunday, however, is how much the organization will look at one guy.