DETROIT – The NFL does not grade on a curve, counting only final scores, not how they came to be. So in the Bears’ 20-17 loss Sunday to the Detroit Lions, the record will show only the “L” and not how close the Bears offense was to bringing about a second comeback win in as many weeks.
The record also won’t show how many mistakes the Bears committed to sabotage themselves. And they committed them in bunches. The offense was guilty of a total self-destruct on a promising opening drive, with consecutive pre-snap penalties on first down at the Detroit 11-yard line. Guard Ted Larsen false-start’ed, followed by a delay of game, forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal.
Holding calls on Larsen and left tackle Charles Leno on consecutive plays with the Bears driving deep into the Lions’ end. From a first-and-10 at the Detroit 43, quarterback Matt Barkley’s 27-yard completion to Cameron Meredith was nullified by Leno’s hold. At first-and-20, rookie Daniel Braverman’s first NFL catch, for 23 yards and what would again have been a first down, was called back for Larsen’s indiscretion.
Ironically, it was close to the kind of offensive game the Bears absolutely seek in John Fox’s concept of “complimentary football.” Barkley threw no interceptions, the Bears lost no fumbles and the team was in position to win with either a late scoring drive or defensive stop. Neither happened.
“I’ve said this kind of over the last three games and I think it still stands,” Barkley said. “Just the resilience that these guys have and the fight. There’s no issue of effort or wanting to win. You can really see the fire and the drive is there. I’ve seen progression in our offense and just moving the ball and putting points on the board, but still got to hone in on the little things that can cost you games in the NFL.”
For the third straight game (since the early interception problems vs. Tennessee), Barkley was efficient and ran the offense under control, without turnovers. He had a couple of near-miss throws that could have been picked off but the overall was workmanlike.
Barkley finished with 212 yards on 20-for-32 passing and had more than 50 yards of completions called back because of penalties. His 31-yard throw to Cam Meredith for a third-quarter touchdown was arguably his finest throw as a Bear and netted the Bears a score desperately needed by both offense and defense, as well as special teams.
“He throws the ball with a lot of confidence, a lot of touch, you know, so they’re easy, catchable balls,” Meredith said. “We’ve just got to do a good job of getting open and being in the right place.”
Barkley had to work through problems with his helmet headset in the first quarter but still managed to complete 4 of 6 passes on the Bears opening drive when momentum was needed.
Barkley was late recognizing wideout Josh Bellamy breaking open on a third-down in the second quarter, put too much loft on the throw and cost the Bears a significant first-down pickup.
But in general, “he’s doing pretty well,” said running back Jordan Howard. “We definitely have faith in him. He stands in the pocket. He keeps his composure. He doesn’t let anything get him rattled.”
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Running back: B+
Against a stout Detroit front clearly geared to stop a Bears run game early, Jordan Howard was again the workhorse of the offense. He finished with 86 yards on 13 carries (6.6 ypc) and caught 2 passes for an additional 24.
Howard broke a 28-yard run in the first quarter to help set up the Bears’ first points on a Connor Barth field goal. His 31-yard run on the opening possession of the third quarter restored some juice to a flagging offense, which was able to sustain the drive for a much-needed touchdown.
Jeremy Langford carried three times and Ka’Deem Carey once in spot duty, for just 6 total yards.
Howard was generally workmanlike in pass protection against a Detroit front that brought frequent blitz pressure on Barkley.
Cam Meredith caught a team-high 6 passes for 72 yards, including a 31-yard TD grab in the third quarter. Meredith also made difficult and crucial catches in the Bears’ final drive, the best being a 27-yard catch-and-run that was called back for a holding penalty.
“Anytime you get momentum and you get a flag it’s disappointing,” Meredith said. “But you know, we were able to still get something going after we came back, but those are things that win or lose games. Today’s an example of that, so we’ve got to do a better job of technique and fundamentals and stuff like that.”
Tight end Daniel Brown was a factor, catching all six of the passes thrown to him by Matt Barkley for 42 yards, including solid yards after the catch as well as yards after contact.
Josh Bellamy continued his streaky ways, juggling a third-down conversion pass and then failing to ensure he got his feet together in bounds. Bellamy, whose habit of jumping unnecessarily for balls has needed curbing, was able to make to leaping catches on third-quarter catches. His failure to come up with the Bears’ final throw on fourth down in the fourth quarter was debatable, with tight coverage but on a ball that ultimately went off his shoulder pads.
“I think again, until you look at it slowed down and what not, there’s drops in every game,” said coach John Fox. “There’s good throws in every game and of course some poor throws sometimes. We’ll evaluate that, but all in all I think the guy gave us a chance to win.”
Offensive line: D
A difficult critique because of some very good and some very bad. The overall was solid – protection for Matt Barkley (one sack, 3 hits) and run blocking for Jordan Howard (6.6 yards per carry). “[The run] was there and we hit it when we could and we left some meat on the bone,” said guard Ted Larsen. “Kind of like always, you know, you’re always close to breaking a few big ones and that’s kind of been the theme. Just maintaining a block and maintaining a little longer and making sure everybody’s on the same page.”
But the penalties were catastrophic, with three of the five linemen drawing walk-off’s, and maybe somewhat ironic because of ones on Larsen, who was selected as a co-captain this week. The holds consecutive holds by Larsen and Leno were death-blows to the final push.
“It didn’t feel a grab or a hold or a restriction,” Larsen said. “I mean, they called it, so there’s nothing you can do about that. But you can’t really recover from two holding penalties back-to-back.”
The Bears took the game to the Lions early with aggressive game plans on both offense and defense. The defense forced the Lions offense into six penalty flags in the first half, and while the offense stayed generally balanced until Barkley was forced to throw on 11 of the last 12 plays.
“We’re always going to be confident in our game plan,” said running back Jordan Howard. “The [opposing] defense, they might know what’s coming, but they still have to stop it. So we’re always going to be confident in whatever we do.”