EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The pattern was familiar, and painful. A halftime lead in a winnable game, a defensive wobble followed by an inability of the Bears offense to mount much of anything in a second half while an opponent scores double-digits in the final two quarters.
On Sunday it was the New York Giants (7-3) becoming the third team to shut out the Bears (2-8) in a second half (the seventh out of 10 opponents to allow them 7 or fewer points in a second half), closing with an interception of Jay Cutler to end a potential winning drive in a 22-16 game that was the Giants’ fifth straight victory.
The result marked the third time (2000, 2002) since 1999 that the Bears have started 2-8 and the worst start for John Fox team since his 2010 (and last) Carolina Panthers team stood 1-9 at this point in a season. For the Bears, though, the slide comes in a season that they themselves thought would be far, far better than it has turned out.
“I think it’s a bigger deal because of where we are in the season and the struggles we’ve had,” Cutler said. “This one’s going to be a hard one to swallow.”
The present has been rendered more and more meaningless as the losses have piled up. The future becomes more and more the focus now.
Bigger picture, this season is a virtual certainty not to be Fox’s last in Chicago, for presumably two reasons: One, his making the best of a quarterback situation sometimes akin to saddling him with Tim Tebow for a second season in Denver. (Too harsh on Cutler? Tebow’s passer rating that season was 72.9, with 12 touchdown passes vs. six interceptions; after Sunday Cutler unofficially is at 78.1, with four touchdown passes and five interceptions.) With a chance to lead the Bears to a comeback win Sunday, the ball at the New York 30 with 2 minutes to play, Cutler was sacked, then two plays later had his foot slip as he threw toward wide receiver Marquess Wilson but into the hands of Giants safety Landon Collins.
And two, an injury list that has the Bears down to and through the bottom of depth charts at multiple positions. “It’s up there [among worst injury years in Fox’s career],” Fox said. “I’ve been doing this a little bit so it’s hard to remember 27 years ago, but this is up in the top five for sure.”
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The outcome vs. the Giants was perhaps even surprisingly good given another spate of injuries that had the Bears functioning without three starting offensive linemen, two starting wide receivers and myriad defensive starters.
The most concerning of them all was rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who went helmet-first into the thigh of teammate Akiem Hicks and left MetLife Stadium in an ambulance after medical staff placed him on a back-board as a precaution with what was believed to be a neck injury. But Floyd left on what teammates hoped was a positive note.
“He even shook my hand and everything,” said linebacker Willie Young. “And that’s what eased my mind… .I know he’ll be OK.”
The 2016 Bears, however, maybe not be so OK.
For the fifth time this season the Bears held a lead at halftime. For the third time they failed to hold that lead and lost.
If only the offense or defense were responsible, that would be bad enough. But in the pattern set in debacles against Houston, Jacksonville and most recently Tampa Bay, the collapse was team-wide, collectively and individually. No group seized control of the moment, and no individual was able to make a play when one play, any play, might’ve changed the fortunes of the day.
One overarching point of the game really lay in the performances of young Bears, which included Deon Bush making his first start at safety. He joined linebacker Floyd, running back Jordan Howard and center Cody Whitehair starting from the 2016 Bears draft, plus heavy play for Jonathan Bullard in the defensive line rotation.
If the Bears were being blown out with their young players on the field, then the problem is at a far deeper level. But “we’ve got a good group of men here,” Whitehair said. “A group that’ll keep fighting.”