CHICAGO – For once, the Bears’ defense deserved the bulk of the blame for a loss.
But in a role reversal that was every bit as rare as a sun-splashed, 60-degree afternoon in December, it was the Bears’ offensive players who came to their teammates’ defense.
“We win as a team and lose as a team,” running back Matt Forte said as his teammates dressed and departed from a quiet locker room. “So, that ‘blame game’ stuff, I don’t even listen to it.”
Forte might want to cover his ears today.
The Bears (8-4) blew a fourth-quarter lead and squandered a last-second, game-tying field goal in a 23-17 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks (7-5). The defeat dropped the Bears into a tie with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North with four games remaining in the regular season.
Bears coach Lovie Smith said the responsibility for the loss started with him. He watched from the sideline as the Seahawks gashed the Bears’ defense for a 97-yard touchdown drive on their final series of regulation and an 80-yard touchdown drive on their first series in overtime.
The final blow came in the form of a 13-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice. Wilson scrambled to his left to buy time while the Bears’ defensive line failed to keep pace, and Rice crossed the goal line as safety Major Wright delivered a vicious hit.
A sellout crowd of 62,264 headed for the exits after replays confirmed Rice’s touchdown.
“That hasn’t happened to us very often around here,” said Smith, whose team has lost three of four games after a 7-1 start to the season. “Terrible job I did getting our football team ready.”
Few would argue, although the Bears’ problems go beyond preparedness.
Hard losses elicit hard questions, and the Bears face plenty of those as they prepare for a final four-pack of games that include one meeting apiece against each of their NFC North rivals.
Why did Smith bypass a 32-yard field-goal attempt for a failed play on fourth-and-1 with the Bears leading by a touchdown in the second quarter? The no-frills play call – a run up the middle by Michael Bush – resulted in no gain and a turnover on downs.
What about the lack of defensive adjustments by the Bears as Wilson and the Seahawks moved the chains late in the game with a repetitive read-option play that typically is used in college?
And as injuries affected three more starters on defense – Tim Jennings (shoulder), Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and Chris Conte (illness) – how much stamina do the Bears have left?
As for his call on fourth down, Smith said, he regretted the move.
“We should have taken the field goal,” Smith said. “It felt like we had momentum. [I] wanted to really try to knock them out and get them on their heels a little bit.”
Bears center Roberto Garza said he and his teammates needed a better push at the line.
“That fourth-and-short is on the offensive line,” Garza said. “We have to be able to convert that. That falls squarely on our shoulders, and [it’s] unacceptable.”
Unacceptable is a good way to describe the Bears’ late-game lapses on defense. As it turned out, a 56-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall and a 46-yard field goal by Robbie Gould as time expired in regulation served only as a brief buffer between Seahawks’ scoring drives.
Bears defensive end Shea McClellin struggled to determine how Wilson made plays with ease against a defense that entered the day ranked No. 3 in the NFL.
“I really don’t know,” McClellin said. “We’ll just have to go look at film.”
Fifth-year veteran Craig Steltz echoed his rookie teammate’s confusion.
“I’m not sure,” Steltz said. “He just did a good job of creating plays with his feet.”
It was enough to anger defensive tackle Henry Melton, who had to stop himself and take a deep breath while discussing the Seahawks’ 12-play, game-winning drive in overtime.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” Melton said. “Some of those third downs, we definitely should have gotten off the field and put it back in our offense’s hands to win the game for us. We just couldn’t do it.”
As far as making the playoffs, the Bears still can do it.
So much changes every week in the NFL. Who knows? A win by the Bears next week in Minnesota could create an opportunity for another winning streak heading into the postseason.
Count Marshall among the believers.
“This is a tough time,” Marshall said. “This is the time where it’s easy to point fingers at people. The one thing about this organization, this team, this coaching staff, the players, we are going to come together through adversity.
“Through training camp and OTAs, little things that happen, I’ve been able to witness that. So, that’s the promising thing for this moment right now. Very disappointed, but not discouraged.”