One yard. Less than one, really. That’s all that separated the Bears and the New England Patriots on Sunday, after Kevin White’s efforts to tug a Hail Mary into the Patriots end zone came up just that short in a 38-31 loss to the NFL’s greatest team over the better part of the past two decades.
And normally, a team under a first-time head coach (the Bears’ fifth coach since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started their run in 2001) would feel good about nearly overcoming giving up two special-teams scores and two turnovers of their own, all against one of the NFL’s elites.
But feel-good was hard to find after a second straight loss of a winnable game to a good team.
“’Close’ doesn’t cut it,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who set career highs in pass attempts (50) and rushing yards (81) on his way to two passing touchdowns and one rushing. However, Trubisky had his lowest passer rating (69.8) of the season after throwing two interceptions.
“There’s a new standard here, and coming up one yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore.”
Perspective isn’t particularly easy with a young team that dropped to 3-3, still its best scorecard after six games since 2014. The Bears are now back behind Minnesota and idle Green Bay (both at 3-2-1) in the NFC North and are tied with Detroit (3-3).
Still, with their best individual player (Khalil Mack) hobbled with an injured ankle and a pass rush that got virtually no pressure on Brady, the Bears did find themselves at the Chicago 45 with a chance to tie with two seconds to play.
Maybe the marvel was that they were even that close to the Patriots, after special teams allowed a punt-block return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“We were right there. I think our offense is growing and I like where we are right now, I really do,” Nagy said.
More than that, as he told the players in the locker room afterwards, “With everything that happened to us and we were a yard away from tying the game. Take that and think about that a little bit.”
The ebbs and flows of the game notwithstanding – the Bears led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and were down 38-24 midway through the fourth – the game was arguably another small indicator that the Bears are the cliché’d “for real.”
Whatever that actually means.
The defense, which failed to protect leads in the fourth quarter in two of the Bears’ first four games, was unable to deliver a stop in the final minutes Sunday, allowing New England to drive 96 yards for score to go up 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter.
They “held” Brady and the New England offense to 24 points without Mack, the linchpin of their defense. But the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end and favorite target of Brady.
"I think it just comes down to knowing that if you are going against a good team, your room for error is slim, so you have to be on point the whole game," said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who intercepted his third pass in the past two games, “
And after some shaky handlings of in-game situations this season, Nagy was not out-coached by Belichick, who routinely takes an opponent’s strength away and who effectively took leading receiver Taylor Gabriel out of the offense. Nagy and Trubisky turned to tight end Trey Burton for nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Trubisky hurt himself and the offense with a handful of bad misses of open receivers, including Anthony Miller in the end zone in the first half. New England forced him into quick-react decisions with an array of blitzes alternating with eight-man zones, and Trubisky was able to make the Patriots pay with short and mid-range targets of Burton.
Accuracy cost Trubisky when he underthrew wideout Josh Bellamy, who was two steps behind cornerback Stephon Gilmore, in the third quarter for another missed touchdown opportunity. A subsequent sloppy throw on the run to Bellamy was intercepted when the ball was thrown to the defender’s side of Bellamy instead of toward the sideline, costing the Bears a chance at at least a field goal. A misplaced fourth-quarter pass toward Miller later in the fourth quarter was intercepted at the New England four-yard line.
But Trubisky’s 333 yards marked the third straight time he has passed for 300 or more yards, and Nagy cited a number of throws that Trubisky didn’t make as evidence of improved decision-making.
“I came away pleased with how he played,” Nagy said.
Added Gabriel: "He's a playmaker, man. A guy that wanted to win. You can see that out of him. He's the leader of this team and I would go to battle with Mitch any day."