On the third play of the Rams’ 42-21 victory over the Bears on Sunday in St. Louis, the Rams had second-and-5 at their own 35-yard line and called a play that clearly had been scripted to take advantage of backup defensive tackles, rookie linebackers and bad safeties.
Tavon Austin took a pitch from Kellen Clemens and made three hard steps left to get the entire Bears defense going the wrong way and then reversed his field and went 65 yards untouched and basically unthreatened to make it 7-0 Rams with less than two minutes gone. For the most part, the game was over.
Yes, Josh McCown played well enough to win again – in fact, he was playing his best game until the final seven minutes – and the offense did hang 424 yards on the board and earn a better than 12-minute advantage in time of possession.
But show me a team that allows 258 yards of rushing to the opponent and I’ll show you a club that’s going to lose nine times out of 10.
Unfortunately, it got a lot worse than that. After being one of the most disciplined clubs in the league through 10 games, veteran and rookie Bears alike committed one costly penalty after another, making any effort to overcome the complete lack of a run defense basically impossible.
The Bears’ 10 penalties for 84 yards don’t include the intentional grounding call on McCown and a 15-yard facemask on Tony Fiammetta that were declined so the Rams could accept a 15-yard roughness call on Kyle Long for trying to kick defensive end William Hayes in a scrum that erupted early in the second quarter.
The Bears eventually did score a touchdown on that drive, and they also eventually scored a touchdown after a holding call on Craig Steltz wiped out a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the penalty forced the Bears to use over seven minutes to get back to the end zone and wiped out valuable momentum.
The biggest momentum killer of all, though, had to be Marc Trestman’s ill-fated decision to push the envelope again on fourth down, electing to go on fourth-and-goal from the Rams’ 1 after the Bears had driven 79 yards on 13 plays with the opening kickoff of the second half.
Michael Bush was blown up for a 4-yard loss on a play that looked like the failed two-point attempt against the Lions at the end of the game two weeks ago.
A chip shot field goal would have made it a 24-17 game and kept most of the momentum with the Bears. Coming away empty took all the air out of the balloon until the Bears finally scored again, on another long drive after the lost Hester touchdown with just over seven minutes left.
The Rams beat the Bears in the only way they could, with some of their remarkable young athletes making one big play after another, even though the Bears were clearly the more efficient and organized team – on offense.
Watching the Bears’ defense in this one, it’s fair to speculate whether they’ll win another game this year.
One week after playing one of the best games of his career, defensive end Julius Peppers disappeared again. But in all fairness, Rams offensive tackle Jake Long made that happen, and he does that to a lot of great players.
Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are just not ready to be on the field together playing run defense in the NFL, and it’s hard not to imagine the Bears looking for two new safeties next year.
Let’s be fair, how many NFL teams could lose their No. 1 and No. 2 three-technique tackles, starting anchor tackle, middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker to injuries and not be expected to struggle?
This disaster has been coming, and Sunday in St. Louis it all came crashing down.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at email@example.com.