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.

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Ryan Pace ranked among bottom-third of NFL general managers

Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace is having what many believe is his best offseason since taking the job in 2015, but after three seasons and only 14 wins, he needs a big year in 2018 to justify the confidence ownership has in him. 

According to a recent breakdown of all 32 general managers, Pace ranks among the worst decision-makers in the league.

No. 23: Ryan Pace, Chicago Bears

There’s only so much you can accomplish in one spring. The problem is that Pace let himself accumulate so many needs to begin with. He needs Trubisky and Nagy to springboard a fourth-year turnaround. 

The rankings didn't include six new GM hires, which makes Pace's positioning even more troubling.

Even though the Bears haven't seen wins on the field, Pace has done a solid job through three draft classes and appears to have the right coaching staff in place. His first hire, John Fox, was a calculated move by a rookie general manager to have an experienced football guy to lean on. Now, several offseasons later, the team is starting to take on his identity.

Despite all the talent Pace has added through the draft and the slow but steady transformation of the team's overall culture, it's a win-now business and if his blueprint doesn't start producing more wins than losses, it will be hard to justify more time and patience for his plan to develop.

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

The NFL Draft is a necessary evil if you’re a veteran player, especially if your team just drafted two players at the position you play and your contract doesn’t provide much job security beyond the upcoming season. 

That’s the spot Danny Trevathan is in now. The Bears nabbed Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in April's NFL Draft, then used their fourth-round selection on Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Both players are inside linebackers; the Bears could net $6.4 million in cap savings if they release Trevathan following the 2018 season. 

Trevathan, though, isn’t approaching 2018 like the writing is on the wall for it to be his final year in Chicago. 

“It depends on how you look at it,” Trevathan said. “For me, it is what it is, (Smith’s) a good player and he’s going to help us out on defense. You just want to go ahead and do your job and keep working. He’s a good player, just like we’ve all got some good players out here. But he’s … we got the right guy to fit our defense. He’s working his tail off and he fits in with our linebacker group.”

That Trevathan answered a question about the decision to draft Smith, specifically, in that manner isn’t surprising. The 28-year-old is one of the most respected leaders in the Bears locker room, the kind of guy who sets the tone for the rest of the defense (in other words: Exactly what you want out of a veteran inside linebacker). Trevathan offered plenty of praise for Smith not only as a player, but for how he’s approached his first few practices wearing a Bears helmet. 

“He's quick, instinctive, learns well,” Trevathan said. “He's just out here trying to get better. That's what I like about him. He's calling the call sheets out. He's learning the plays. That's what you want in him. You want him to come out here and be humble. You want him to work hard. I see that in his eyes, coming out here. It's a lot of lights on him. It's a lot of attention on him. But he's finding himself out here, coming out here and trying to make some plays.”

The reality, though, is that Smith may not be the one to take Trevathan’s job, if it comes to that. The best-case outlook for Iyiegbuniwe would appear to be that the Bears found a fourth-round steal who can pair with Smith as Vic Fangio’s long-term inside linebacking tandem. If “Iggy” proves to be that guy, then Trevathan could indeed find his place in Chicago in jeopardy. 

And, too, even if Iyiegbuniwe doesn’t quickly develop into a starting-caliber player, the Bears could still decide to cut ties with Trevathan if Smith proves to be elite. 

The best way for Trevathan to make sure he’s still here in a year, though, is to play a full 16-game season — something he hasn’t done since 2013, and he's missed 11 games since signing a four-year deal in 2016. 

But when Trevathan is on the field, his speed and physicality are a critical component to the Bears’ success. That won't change in 2018, at the least. 

"(He has) that veteran experience," coach Matt Nagy said. "We went against Danny when I was in Kansas City and he was at Denver so we always knew what kind of player he was. He has the demeanor to him, a focus, he's very serious when he's out there on the field and he'll have a great mentorship, he'll be a great mentor for Roquan."