Willie Young chose his words deliberately, with purpose, in the aftermath of the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers on a final-second field goal Sunday.
“Right now it’s all about building, figuring out what we have, figuring out the kind of guys… ,” Young paused on “the kind of guys.”
“Right now I’ll roll with everybody we’ve got next year,” he said emphatically. “Finishing this year with all the adversity we’ve dealt with, is going to make us a stronger team. We’re going to know how to deal with every possible situation you could think of. At the end of the day, this team can plug away, and the fight that I see in this team is amazing.”
“We could’ve gone in the tank a couple weeks ago once we knew we weren’t going to the playoffs. That’s not what we did.”
A mantra of coach John Fox is that the NFL is a performance-based business, and performance is defined as wins. Most of the time, anyway.
So at this point of a 3-11 season, what exactly do you take away from another try-hard game that the Bears again fell just short of winning?
Actually, quite a bit.
For the fourth time in as many Matt Barkley starts, the Bears have been either pulling away (vs. San Francisco) or playing their way back into position to win a game with a play in the fourth quarter of a game. (Jay Cutler once got a $126 million contract from a Bears general manager on the strength of one late-2013 comeback against the Cleveland Browns. Wonder what three of these comebacks, the latest against a Packers team now 7-4 and in position to win the NFC North, will be worth? But that’s an offseason talking point between the Bears and Barkley’s agent.)
This time it was the defense that dropped the ball, figuratively this time, rather than a Bears receiver doing it. But the result was the same.
Sunday’s loss, which ties the all-time Bears-Packers series at 94-94-6, the first time it’s been tied since 1933, was the Bears’ sixth in their last seven, as usual with enough blame to give just about every phase two helpings. The offense turned the ball over on the first three possessions of the second half, leading to 17 points and a 27-10 Green Bay lead. The defense, with abysmal tackling and big plays allowed that were their own nightmare negatives, allowed a season-high 451 yards.
But Aaron Rodgers has done that to far loftier defenses, including the final dagger of the 60-yards heave over cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc to Jordy Nelson to set up that field goal.
Coaches are hired or fired based on wins and losses, and another story, later retracted, surfaced last week that Fox was likely gone after this season. Considering what the Bears are doing with a lot of spare parts (nine starters were missing from Sunday’s game) and taking playoff-grade teams (Detroit, Green Bay, Tennessee, New York Giants, all in the span of the last five weeks) to final-play brinks, Fox clearly has built something that isn’t covered in just the win-loss record.
"We're not about moral victories and stuff, but it was a good finish and a good character fight for our team,” said rookie center Cody Whitehair. “Obviously we wanted to win, but it's good to show that fight and character."
Fodder for second-guessing
The easy second-guesses are of Fox’s decisions, first, to opt for a tying field goal instead of a possible go-ahead touchdown at the Green Bay 4 and 1:23 remaining, and second, to decline the 10-second clock runoff the Bears could have taken because of the Packers needing a fourth timeout due to an injury on their final possession.
Fox went for the tie on the premise that his defense had stopped the Packers on consecutive three-and-outs earlier in the fourth quarter, allowing a combined five yards net. Taking the three points then gave his team the shot at a win with another stop and then a field goal.
As for the option of going for the touchdown and a 31-27 lead, “that’s one of those decisions,” Fox said. “We tied the game, had an opportunity to go to overtime, didn’t quite get there. I’m sure we’d have questions if we had gone for it on fourth down and didn’t get that, either.
“It comes with the territory and we managed not to win the game.”
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Taking the 10 seconds by rule would’ve given Rodgers 10 fewer seconds to perpetrate whatever mischief he could. As it turned out, the Packers stopped the clock with four seconds left after Rodgers’ 60-yard completion to Nelson to set up Green Bay’s winner.
But Fox wanted those 10 seconds, not for Rodgers, but for his own offense, which was suddenly unstoppable on fourth-quarter drives of 75, 69 and 80 yards. If his defense makes a stop – and it had the Packers exactly where it wanted: third-and-11 at the Green Bay 26 – the Bears have the football back with perhaps time for a move into position for the win.
“We didn’t really forecast a 60-yard play down the middle there, actually letting the clock run,” Fox said. “It would be aggressive… .It’s third-and-, we have to make a play. That wasn’t exactly a play we were looking for.”
Ironically, it was a play that the defensive players specifically cautioned against in their final huddle.
But second-guessing and hindsight are always easy. Playing to win when there’s really nothing to win isn’t.
“It’s never all for nothing,” said wide receiver Cameron Meredith, who led the Bears with 9 receptions for 104 yards, 4 of the receptions in the Bears’ 17-point fourth quarter. “It’s all about the little things, the details.”