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.
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.