Some bad things happened to the Bears Saturday afternoon in their 41-21 pasting in Soldier Field at the hands of the Washington Redskins, which shouldn’t be altogether surprising for a 3-12 football team.
(Theoretically some good things happened, too, if you count losing this game as holding steady on course for a top-five draft pick, for which the Bears remain in contention, if that’s the right word for it).
But the Bears, who had taken some positive steps forward at the quarterback position and in their cultural reformation, staggered backwards in both areas against Washington (8-6-1).
Quantitatively the Bears were done in by the two things that have defined their on-field problems and the reasons they are 3-12: failure of the defense to take footballs away from opponents, and failure to generate sufficient firepower out of the quarterback position, a problem of some long standing, far beyond just this season.
The Bears lost the football five times on interceptions to a Washington defense that have only eight total picks in the previous 14 games. As they have in five of the last six and six of the last eight games, the Bears did not have a single takeaway, and are now a minus-16 in turnover ratio for the year.
Couple that with Matt Barkley’s five interceptions, including ones on each of the Bears’ first four possessions of the second half, and the outcome was inevitable, only the matter of score to be arrived at.
But for the first time in quite a few games the Bears appeared to be going through motions, something out of what had been taking shape as the Bears’ football character. Coach John Fox took issue with any notion that the Bears lacked effort.
“I thought they were just as competitive as we’ve always been,” Fox said. “The kind of game we kind of saw was [Washington is] a very high-octane offense, and we were going to try to keep them off the field.
“Five giveaways to none, kind of spoiled that plan. I think it had nothing to do with effort for those kinds of things.”
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Maybe. But even when a late first-half score on a Barkley-to-Cam Meredith set the halftime margin at 24-14, any sense that the Bears were going to stage the kind of closing effort they had against Tennessee, Detroit and Green Bay was illusory. The fire was missing early and never appeared as Barkley’s interceptions killed.
A 61-yard touchdown run for the final Washington points, with running back Mack Brown being virtually untouched by any member of the dispirited defense somehow was an appropriate summary statement in a game that saw the No. 3 sack-percentage team never take down quarterback Kirk Cousins and only even hit him three times on 29 dropbacks – none of the hits credited to the Bears’ supposed sack threats Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee or Willie Young.
The game in one respect set up as something of a matchup of fourth-round draft picks, the Bears behind Barkley, Washington led by Cousins. The similarities largely began and ended there.
Cousins took advantage of the non-existent Bears pass rush to pile up 31 points and 377 yards in three quarters, while Barkley threw into coverage and was intercepted continuously, three times in Washington’s end to squelch scoring chances, once inside his own 30, and never ignited any of the late-game spark.
The results fueled Cousins’ case for a long-term contract coming out of his franchise tag. Barkley’s performance cooled some of the buzz for what he might offer in the way of a future in Chicago, which had been spiraling upward into notions that he was on pace to move in as Bears starter.
With his four turnovers against Green Bay, Barkley turned the football over nine times in 16 possessions over his last seven quarters of football.
“On some plays I just tried to win the game on that play,” Barkley said Saturday. “I just tried to do too much.”
Notably, it was not only the quantity of Barkley’s interceptions, but also the quality.
The disturbing aspect of the plays, besides the obvious loss of possession, was where Barkley’s mistakes occurred. There is never a good place for an interception but some are worse than others, and Barkley’s were in areas where better quarterbacks exercise more, not less, care with the football.
Four of Barkley’s interceptions occurred with the Bears moving in Washington’s end, effectively taking potential points off the scoreboard. The fifth involved underthrowing Alshon Jeffery at the goal line in the fourth quarter, denying Jeffery a chance to compete for the football in the kind of one-on-one battle that favors the Bears’ receiver.
Barkley this week had allowed as nothing was really holding him back from becoming perhaps what he was once regard as, which was a No. 1 NFL quarterback. This day there was one thing, one big thing.
“I think I was standing in my way today,” Barkley said, inadvertently speaking for more than just the quarterback position this time.