“Playing not to lose” is usually a precise recipe for the very thing it is intended to stave off – losing. In the Bears’ case, however, it may in fact be the only way the Bears can turn a slipping season around.
Not becoming conservative; being careful.
Consider: The Chicago offense under Brian Hoyer amassed 522 yards, with Hoyer becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to post three straight games of 300 passing yards, all with zero interceptions. And yet the point totals stay stubbornly low – 23 at Indianapolis – with the 522 ranking as the fifth-highest in team history, yet the only one of the top five with fewer than 47 points scored.
The biggest reason for the Bears’ arrested scoring development lies in the mirror.
In the first half alone at Indianapolis, the Bears committed five penalties and fumbled twice. Touchdown situations were knocked backwards into field goals, and not all of those were made. For the game, the offense was tagged with seven penalties on snaps within the Colts’ end of the field.
The core of the game plan for next Sunday vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars then becomes, first, the avoidance of pain and self-destruction.
“Nobody is going to just go out and beat a team by 21 just on paper and have it happen on the field,” said guard Kyle Long. “So you’ve got to go out and minimize your mistakes and find ways not to lose.
“Essentially you don’t want to play not to lose, you want to play to win. But in order to win you have to limit the things that make you lose and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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The concern is that the self-destruction is coming from so many players. In last Sunday’s first half, four different offensive players drew penalties (tight end Logan Paulsen had two) and two others put the football on the turf. In the second, Hoyer contributed a delay of game and the offensive line committed holding at the Indianapolis 25 on the final drive, turning a third-and-5 into third-and-15, which the Bears failed to convert.
“There’s different things,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “When you have seven penalties inside the 40-yard line – it wasn’t one play that defined you. It’s those seven to eight plays in a game that you don’t know which one is going to be the difference.”
And those seven to eight plays that define a team. The Bears could have won the game had Hoyer read the Indianapolis coverage and gone to Alshon Jeffery rather than Cameron Meredith. But that play did not cost the Bears the game; seven penalties inside the Colts’ 40-yard line and three fumbles did that.
Applying the descriptor “game manager” to a quarterback is damning with faint praise. It is a quarterback who doesn’t turn the football over and takes the percentage play, operating on the time-honored bromide that “you never go broke taking a profit.”
But it is inaccurately used to categorize the quarterback as someone not really possessed of the talents to win games, only to not lose them. The job is all about risk-reward and that has been a hallmark of Hoyer’s play, with the yardage taking care of itself as long as right decisions are made play by play.
“They’re all calculated,” Hoyer said. “It’s something that as the game goes on, you’re contemplating, you’re thinking about that.”