Too often this season the Bears lament is that they failed to finish, whether plays or games. Losing Sunday to the Green Bay Packers traced more to not starting, at least not soon enough.
The Bears rang up 27 points, their highest point total of the season, and 449 yards, second to the 522 at Indianapolis, on a Green Bay defense that was allowing 347 yards per game. They dominated the Packers in the fourth quarter, but the yards and points were anything but garbage-time stats, with the Bears tying the game in the final minutes before watching the Packers close out the game with a field goal at the expense of the defense.
The problem offensively was that the Bears took so long to really assert themselves offensively, tied 10-10 at halftime but being shut out in the third quarter before quarterback Matt Barkley redeemed himself from four turnovers (leading to 17 third-quarter Packers points) to engineer the near-comeback.
“Obviously we dug ourselves a hole,” said coach John Fox. “But [Barkley] responded, our team responded. That’s the good news. [The bad news is we didn’t do the things necessary to win the game. We’d like to avoid those picks and hopefully at some point we will.”
A difficult critique to do, because of the mixture of excellence and egg-laying. A revealing measure of a player is typically how he responds to a problem, and Barkley revealed a resilience that will only enhance his appeal next offseason when he becomes a free agent.
After a largely turnover-free run of games as the starter, Barkley played alternately like Aaron Rodgers and then Jay Cutler. He turned the football over on four straight possessions, albeit with the first coming on an interception of a Hail Mary into the end zone, resulting only in a touchback on the final play of the half. But the Packers continued to profit by his mistakes in the third quarter, with 17 points off turnovers.
He failed to be aware of where he was vulnerable to pressure, suffering a strip-sack by Julius Peppers when Peppers was against Charles Leno with no backside help. Barkley, who continues to throw a very catchable ball, was not helped (again) by drops of catchable balls by wide receivers in the first half but put passes generally where his receivers or no one could make the catches.
But he badly overthrew tight end Daniel Brown for one interception and was undone when rookie wideout Daniel Braverman appeared to run a route too deep and the ball was intercepted.
But Barkley’s performance in the fourth quarter, again putting his team in position for a win on a final possession, was exemplary (15 for 20, 166 yards, TD, zero INT).
“He just sat back in the pocket and did what he did,” said center Cody Whitehair. “Matt’s a great player and it doesn’t surprise us. . . We never got the feeling that he was down [after the interceptions]. He never lost confidence in himself. He just kept doing what he was doing. He did a nice job today.”
Running back: A-
Jordan Howard ignited Soldier Field with a physical nine-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to bring the Bears to within a stop and a score of tying or taking the lead on the Packers. He finished with 90 yards to give him 1,059 for the season, and six TD’s. He also caught all four passes thrown to him for an additional 23 yards.
Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey each carried once and Langford caught one pass. The backs collectively contributed to pass protection in isolated situations.
Failure to run the football more than 19 times limited what Bears backs could do.
[MORE GRADES: Defensive breakdowns sink Bears in loss to Packers]
Josh Bellamy shook off an earlier pass drop to take a flanker screen at the Green Bay 10 in the second quarter and take cornerback Demarious Randall one-on-one into the end zone.
Cam Meredith had gainers of 34 and 17 yards on conservative calls, Meredith breaking tackles for significant yards after catch and after contact. Meredith led the Bears with nine catches for 109 yards, and Deonte Thompson caught eight for 110 yards.
Alshon Jeffery marked his return with a third-down drop to end the Bears’ first possession. Bellamy, whose drops in game-changing situations two of the past three weeks, was unable to hold onto a third-down heave from Barkley after the quarterback had managed to elude a Green Bay blitz. Bellamy also let a third-quarter sideline throw go through his hands.
Braverman got on the field in the third quarter but appeared to run a crossing route too deep, resulting in Barkley’s pass to him to be intercepted.
Offensive line: B+
The zone blocking of left guard Josh Sitton and tackle Charles Leno was textbook, with center Cody Whitehair getting to the second level with interference, all combining for Howard’s nine-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Leno was beaten to the outside by Peppers for a strip-sack on the Bears’ first possession of the third quarter, giving the Packers possession at the Chicago 17. Ted Larsen, who had false start and holding penalties in the loss to Detroit, committed a first-down false start in the third quarter.
But the Bears averaged 5.0 yards per carry with no run longer than 13 yards. And Barkley was sacked just once in 44 dropbacks.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The Bears played with effort and intensity, if not always with NFL ability, for the better part of 60 minutes, which counts for something when a team is 3-10 and then falls behind 27-10 after three quarters. So Bears coaches score well on attitude prep. After that… .
The “quarters” coverage that the Bears were in on the Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson completion to set up the winning field goal was a tipping-point call. The Packers clearly had a sense of what defense they would find the Bears in, and the Bears were in something that could have a rookie cornerback covering a Pro Bowl wide receiver. The down-and-distance were ideal (third-and-long) and players were aware of possibilities, but coaches did not put players in the best positions to be successful.
Against one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks the Bears were able to survive some coverage and pass-rush shortcomings, but not many. The glaring issues were tackling failures on runs of 61 and 37 yards by Ty Montgomery, although the defensive staff was working without linchpin nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) as well as the two starting inside linebackers. The rush scheme was controlled and did not generate enough pressure to help the secondary, which was having its own problems in run support.
The play calling on offense remains simply difficult to understand, with the Bears, despite a 10-10 halftime score, throwing 16 passes in the half and running just eight times, combining to be part of converting none of the three third-down opportunities in the half. Midway through the third quarter the Bears had thrown seven passes to Thompson and only handed off to Howard eight times, plus two passes to Howard.
The game saw 24 touches by Bears backs (19 carries, five receptions), vs. 39 other pass plays despite the Bears averaging 5.0 yards per carry for the game. Barkley turned the ball over three times in the third quarter, and why the game plans so consistently place the principal load on a third-string quarterback when a 1,000-yard rookie rusher is standing within handoff range of him.