Bears

Bears loss to Colts sets a new mark for frustration in 2016

Bears loss to Colts sets a new mark for frustration in 2016

INDIANAPOLIS –  This one stung. Really, really stung, because a game that wound up a 29-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts (2-3) was the Bears’ for the taking.

And they simply couldn’t, and had only themselves to blame.

“We’re close, man, we are so close,” fumed guard Kyle Long. “We should be putting up 30 points a game and it’s hard knowing we’re doing it to ourselves.”

He paused. “But if we continue in this direction, stop pumping rounds into our own feet, we are going to be very tough to stop.”

The Bears (1-4) were very tough to stop when they drove 96 yards in nine plays to take a 23-19 lead before a Lucas Oil Stadium crowd 66,622 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

But then...

A breakdown in coverage that allowed Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to get an inside route for a 35-yard go-ahead touchdown ... a Cameron Meredith fumble one play later at the start of a potential game-winning drive ... and finally, and most painfully, a fourth-down incompletion in the final minute toward Meredith while Alshon Jeffery was open in the end zone and quarterback Brian Hoyer never looked that way.

“Obviously you play the game to win,” said Hoyer, who posted career highs in yardage, attempts and completions. “So it’s disappointing to lose it that close. Go up late and then have one more shot at it at the end, and you’d really like to finish it off and follow through.

“It’s as disappointing as they come when you’re that close.”

Throw in five offensive penalties in the first half, three on the first drive alone, and you have basically the things that losing team do to become losing teams.

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“I feel like we’re doing a lot of great things but just can’t close out some drives,” said guard Josh Sitton, a veteran used to closing out drives from his years as a Green Bay Packer. “It’s really frustrating when you’re in a game you think you should win, and don’t.”

The game did accomplish one thing: cementing Hoyer in place for at least another week as the starting quarterback. This time coach John Fox didn’t appear to be even making any pretense about seeing how Jay Cutler’s injured thumb was during a week of practice before next Sunday’s game with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Hoyer completed 33 of 43 passes for 397 yards, two touchdown passes (to Jordan Howard and Meredith) and threw zero interceptions in his third consecutive outing, a stretch of 140 passes.

“I’m not going to get into speculation,” Fox said. “Jay is not healthy.”

But are the Bears?

Maybe more so in some respects than a 1-4 record might hint at. Howard rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries, following his 111 last Sunday and making him the first Bears back since Matt Forte in Dec. 2013 to register consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Meredith, pressed into the starting lineup after Kevin White went on IR with a broken leg from the Detroit game, caught nine of his 12 passes for 130 yards, 10 more than his yardage total of last season.

Willie Young collected three sacks of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the first time in his career Young has had three sacks in a game and giving him four for the season. Rookie lineman Jonathan Bullard had his first NFL sack. The Bears sacked Luck five times.

All of which should have combined for a dominating win, but none of which mattered because of the breakdowns. Only one stat matters – points – and the Bears allowed the Colts to score some they shouldn’t have, and failed to score ones of their own that they should have.

Connor Barth in the third quarter missed a 49-yard field goal, his third miss in eight tries as a Bear – not an easy kick (the 40-49-yard range was Robbie Gould’s toughest, too) but enough that Fox was not ruling out the Bears looking at kickers this week. That miss left the Bears in the position of needing a touchdown at the end of the game rather than being able to go for a tying field goal.

“I don’t know if [49 yards] is his forte coming in to begin with,” Fox said, “but we look at everything every week. I don’t think that’s on one guy by any stretch.”

It will not fall on one guy. No game ever turns on just one guy or one play; some at the end are just more noticeable than others sometimes.

But if the Bears were in search of an identity not all that long ago this season, they may not like the one that’s emerging from a defeat in which any one of any number of players could have made a play to win it.

And didn’t.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is the Robbie Gould Bears reunion realistic?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is the Robbie Gould Bears reunion realistic?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and JJ Stankevitz join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Robbie Gould wants the 49ers to trade him. Will the dream of Bears fans come true? David Haugh thinks his departure three years ago might make a reunion difficult.

12:30- Tony Andracki joins Kap from Wrigley to preview the Cubs-Dodgers series opener. They discuss Jose Quintana's recent success, the need to keep Jason Heyward in the every day lineup and talk about Kris Bryant's struggles.

17:30- The panel discusses the Cubs' lineup for Game 1 with the Dodgers and if Pedro Strop is one of the three greatest relievers in Cubs history.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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As NFL Draft looms, anything is possible for Ryan Pace and the Bears

As NFL Draft looms, anything is possible for Ryan Pace and the Bears

Ryan Pace’s pre-draft press conference began with the Bears’ general manager dryly referring to it as “always fun,” which elicited a round of chuckles from the assembled media at Halas Hall. Two days before the NFL Draft commences in Nashville, there’s no chance Pace is going to publicly tip his hand for what he’s planning to do later in the week. Fun, right?

Pace did tip one thing, though: When the 24th pick comes around — the first of the two first-round picks the Bears shipped to the Raiders last Labor Day weekend — he’ll pull up highlights of Khalil Mack in Halas Hall’s high-tech new draft room. Consider it a welcome reminder of why Pace doesn't have a first-round pick and might as well hook a Nintendo 64 up to the digital draft board and challenge anyone in the building to MarioKart on Thursday night (if this is possible, Toad on Koopa Troopa Beach is always a winner). 

While the Bears won’t be on the clock until pick No. 87 in the third round (last year’s trade to move back into the second round to draft Anthony Miller is also why), Pace said the pressure on him remains the same as it was the last four years, when he made four selections in the first nine picks of those drafts. So that’s one aspect of this year’s draft that won’t change. 

Another: The Bears aren’t going to switch their philosophy to drafting for the few needs a 12-4 team coming off a division title has. For Pace, the reasoning is twofold: First, he’s always been a best-player-available guy; second, he doesn’t see any truly glaring needs on his roster. 

“We feel fortunate with our roster right now,” Pace said. “This press conference feels a little different in that there's no pressing, huge needs. We can honestly select the best players. That's a great spot to be in.”

That’s not to say the Bears don’t have any needs. Another running back, a reserve receiver, a backup tight end, cornerbacks and safeties for the future — those are all needs. Teams can never have too many offensive linemen, defensive linemen and edge rushers. 

Of those, though, the only position with a path to a starting/prominent role on offense or defense may be running back. Even then, Pace said Mike Davis — who the Bears signed in March — is “built to handle a lot of carries,” so if a running back is drafted the expectation will be for him to be part of a rotation, not necessarily a true No. 1 starter-type. 

“Right now, I know running back's been talked about a lot, but we feel good about that position,” Pace said. “We feel good about Tarik (Cohen), we feel really good about Mike Davis, we feel good about Ryan Nall and we feel good about Cordarrelle Patterson and the things he can do out of the backfield.

“… I think there's probably always a storyline with every draft. I understand why it's that way, but I don't feel like we go into this draft saying, 'Man, we have to take this position or we're in trouble.' We're in good shape.”

So consider this another intentionally-murky statement by Pace in this pre-draft press conference. The Bears probably need to take a running back, but he’s not going to say that and tip his hand or paint himself into a corner three days before he actually gets to make a pick. 

(That Pace mentioned Nall, a 2018 undrafted free agent who spent last year on the practice squad, by name was at least interest-piquing.)

So as Pace took questions on Tuesday, most of the answers were some variation of “sure, it’s possible.” Trading down? Sure, it’s possible. Trading up? Sure, it’s possible — though not into the first round. Drafting a quarterback? Sure, it’s possible. A kicker? Sure, it’s possible. Not drafting a running back? Sure, it’s possible. 

We’ll have a complete picture of what Pace was actually thinking come Saturday evening. But while he didn’t reveal much on Tuesday, and doesn’t have much draft capital with which to work, this draft is important. The Bears can find players for the present and future — when their roster will be more expensive — starting on Friday night. And hitting on a few of these picks will be critical for keeping the Bears’ window to win open as long as possible. 

“If we take a player where we happen to have a lot of depth right now, but it’s a good player, that’s okay,” Pace said. “I think it’s short-sighted to say, ‘well, this guy might be able to play a little bit quicker so let’s take him.’ Let’s just take the best player. If that means it takes a little bit longer for him to play, let’s just make sure we take the best guy.”