The inescapable feeling after 30 minutes of football Sunday night was that the game was over, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And really, the season, too, for that matter.
It wasn’t just that the Bears were down 10-0 to the Los Angeles Rams, or that they had been 0-4 this season when trailing at halftime. Not surprising when a team that was averaging 18 points per game (now 17), fails to gain 300 yards in nine of its 10 games, and had failed to score more than 16 in five of their first nine games, now six times in 10 games.
Sadly predictably, the Bears (4-6) could not seize a moment that the Los Angeles Rams (6-4) left lying around for them, falling 17-7 in a game in which the Bears pulled a clearly demoralized quarterback Mitch Trubisky late in the fourth quarter, reportedly because of a hip injury, and which represented a genuine chance to rejoin the NFC playoff discussion. The loss was the fifth in the Bears’ last six games.
But besides the quantitative/scoreboard heights that have lain beyond the Bears’ reach most of this season and much of the last half of 2018, “qualitative” issues were also beyond the Bears yet again.
A team that displayed a crisis of confidence over recent weeks now faces questions of character, certainly of winning character.
“I have ultimate trust in our guys,” Nagy stated. “They’re fighters… We’re just going through one of those tough deals… . I don’t ever want to question their effort.”
Sometimes it isn’t so much about effort, just not having that certain factor, that “it” factor, doing the right thing with that effort. Whether the Bears lack the talent or competitive character to win with a season on the line is difficult to determine from the outside.
But something is deeply wrong when this was the best the Bears can produce when the prize is right there in front of them.
That was disturbingly evident in the wake of last week’s win over the Detroit Lions, when coach Matt Nagy explained a risky decision to go for a fourth-down conversion as, “We needed a spark.”
That a team on the brink of a lost season “needed a spark” was concerning then. But even more so on Sunday: With the league leaving the playoff door ajar if the Bears could defeat a very beatable Los Angeles Rams team, the Bears showed nothing and delivered less.
“It’s been challenging,” Nagy said. “These close games we want to come out on top and we just haven’t done that.”
No spark. More to the point, why? Even as the Rams tried repeatedly to hand the game to the Bears with turnovers and brainless penalties; even with an impressive 80-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the second half; even with the Rams gaining just 30 yards in the third quarter and going three-and-out on three of their first four second-half possessions...
No Bears spark enough to light a fire. All of which leaves unresolved whether the Bears actually do have that fire, and the answer has been increasingly evident over the last six games, five of which produced losses.
This game was an opportunity to draw even at 5-5, irrespective of tiebreakers, with, not one, not two, but three teams that had been ahead of them in the quest for a wild-card berth. Philadelphia came up just short against New England. Carolina was improbably crushed at home by the Atlanta Falcons. And the wobbling Rams were right there in front of the Bears for the taking.
Where there were as many as 10 teams ahead of them two weeks ago, suddenly the league was coming back to the Bears and effectively inviting them to join the party. Seattle and Minnesota still have a couple games in hand over the 5-5 crowd but the Bears, on the cusp of playoff oblivion just two weeks ago, held a large measure of their destiny in their own hands.
(And feet – the game began ominously with Eddy Pineiro missing a 48-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first Chicago possession, his fifth missed kick in 10 games. To prove that it wasn’t a fluke, Pineiro missed again later in the first quarter, from 47 yards).
The Rams did nothing less than all but hand the game to the Bears, turning the football over on a Todd Gurley fumble and Jared Goff interception, then handed the Bears a new set of downs by being offsides on a punt – all in barely the first 12 minutes.
But Piniero’s misses and a failed fourth-down conversion meant that a shaky Bears offense netted zero points out of possessions going nine, seven and 12 plays. Eventually the offense wilted, from 105 yards in the first quarter to a three-and-out and turnover in the first two possessions of the second.
What the Rams didn’t take out of the defense with a run-based offense, the offensive and special-teams failures took care of the rest. By the time Bears defenders made half-hearted efforts to stop Rams running back Malcolm Brown on a clinching five-yard TD run in the closing minutes, it was difficult to blame them.
“I thought the defense played well tonight,” Nagy said, after the defense held the Rams to 283 total yards and 3-of-10 on third downs. “We just gotta score more than seven points.”
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