A team that not all that long ago prided itself on forming an identity as fighters and finishers now finds itself fighting to avoid succumbing to a feeling that their season is finished.
Indeed, the toughest part of Sunday’s 26-20 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers (4-8) was “probably not finishing the game, letting them stay around, stay in the game, not finishing,” said linebacker Lamarr Houston. “We didn’t finish quite the way we wanted to but we’re going to be all right. We’re headed in the right direction; we’ll get it together.”
Maybe not this season, however.
The loss, coming after the Bears had won three of their last four, two of them on short weeks, dropped the Bears to 5-7. As concerning, it marked the third time in the span of just seven games that they have failed to deliver a win that would have brought them to the break-even point in a season that started 0-3. This one came with their allowing leads of 6-0, 13-6 and 20-13 to ebb away.
That is not the stuff of “finishers.”
The ignominy was all-encompassing and absolute. “I know we’re not going to like watching the film [Monday],” said quarterback Jay Cutler.
Said coach John Fox: “Like any close loss like today – and we’ve had our share – it comes down to us making plays in every area of the team. We just didn’t make enough.”
The game ended on a breakdown in deep coverage on which San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert threw 71 yards to wide receiver Torrey Smith for the winning score in the overtime, the second OT game (Detroit) that the Bears lost to drop back two games below .500.
“We just had miscommunication,” said safety Adrian Amos, who had Smith off the line but left him to drop into zone coverage, “just miscommunicated.”
The game should have ended on a 36-yard field goal by historically accurate Robbie Gould, who inexplicably yanked the kick wide left for his second miss of the game.
“I didn’t get the job done today,” Gould said. “This falls on me, on my shoulders.”
The game could have effectively ended many times before either of those plays, or before Gabbert’s 44-yard scramble through nearly every Bear on the field with 1:50 to play. The misses and breakdowns will be the most remembered but the game never should have gotten to either of those points.
Eight of 12 Bears possessions in regulation ended in the San Francisco end of the field. But only two of those ended in touchdowns, two ended in settling for field goals, and two ended in field goals that weren’t, Gould missing from 40 and 36 yards.
“We had good field position for most of the day,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who struggled with accuracy and put up his poorest passing game (64.2 rating, 18-for-3 passing, 202 yards, 0 TD’s, 1 INT, returned for a touchdown). “I thought our defense did a heck of a job for us. We’ve got play better offensively. That starts with me.”
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In overtime, after the defense delivered a three-and-out and the Bears could have won the game with any kind of score on their possession, the offense went three-and-out.
The Bears had at least one penalty on six of their final nine possessions. They scored on none of the six.
The loss comes after a franchise-lifting win over the Green Bay Packers and after extra time off that comes after a Thursday night game.
Suddenly, the talk of “playoffs” the past several weeks rings hollow. The defeat doesn’t eliminate them from playoff hope, "we just need a little help,” said linebacker Pernell McPhee.
“We have to handle our business. We just gotta win out. If we win these next four games and we're gonna get whatever help we get."
When it came to handling their business and helping themselves, however, the finishers didn’t.