After the Bears lost to the San Francisco 49ers and fell to 5-7, Jarvis Jenkins termed the final four games of this season a “test of character.” If Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins was a test of character, then the 24-21 loss speaks volumes about something in the makeup of a Bears team that has gone from resembling a good team with fits of bad, to a bad team with spurts of good — from a team that had won three of its last four leaving Green Bay, to a team that now has lost three out of its last four.
John Fox specifically noted the importance of the last quarter of the season in evaluations of players. A second straight loss with playoff implications at stake, at home, against two teams that hadn’t previously won on the road all year, will be a very, very poor start for more than a few evaluations.
And few answers were forthcoming, even to the obvious question of what a team does to pull out of the freefall.
“You know, I don’t know if you do,” Fox acknowledged. "All I know is you have to work harder and get better. It’s not a lack of effort; it’s not a lack of want-to.”
Or was it?
A lack of urgency was almost palpable in Soldier Field when a team that prided itself on being fighters and finishers was neither, twice now, with the season on the line. That perhaps was the most disturbing aspect of the Washington game, and really the San Francisco game as well. That the Bears weren’t “starters,” effectively spotting mediocre opponents advantages and then and only then deciding they’d better get going.
“The bottom line is that we have to come out and match their intensity,” said rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, one of the few Bears who played anything close to a consistently solid game. “Usually we do that. In practice we do that. I can’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong, but we’ve got to start fast and finish.”
The Bears knew the stakes, even had extra time to prepare for the 49ers, and played like a team with its playoff status already determined. Which now it is, in a manner almost hard to fathom after the spark that was present at Green Bay in what is now relegated to the status of “fluke.”
The defense that held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 13 points on Thanksgiving allowed a below-average Washington offense 14 in less than the first 16 minutes, then allowed four drives 50 yards or longer in the second half. The finger of blame will again point toward kicker Robbie Gould for his wide-right attempt from 50 yards in the closing minutes Sunday. But, like the San Francisco game, it should never have reached that point but for an offense that managed just one score on three second-quarter possessions on which the Bears drove the ball into Washington territory.
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Three times in the span of eight weeks the Bears have been in positions to win games and ascend to .500. Three times they failed, with bad games against Detroit, Denver and San Francisco. Two of those losses were to teams (Detroit, San Francisco) with losing records, as was Sunday’s to Washington (6-7).
And the Denver, San Francisco and Washington losses were all in Soldier Field, where the Bears now stand a woeful 1-6.
What was concerning, too, is that the Bears seem bewildered by their own lack of urgency that has seen opponents more than double their point total in 2015 first quarters. Including Sunday, the Bears have scored 41 first-quarter points, to opponents’ 89. The Bears were shut out for the first 15 minutes Sunday.
“I don’t have any idea or reason why it was,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said of another poor start to a winnable game.
Maybe that is the most ominous assessment of all.