Another week, another heartbreaking Bears loss. Sure, the way they lost was different– the team took a 28-7 lead with just over four minutes left in the third quarter and watched it evaporate– but the feelings in the locker room were the same. Despondency, befuddlement and frustration.
Over the course of a losing streak, usually there are one or two things a team can point to in order to turn things around. Things like getting off the field on third downs or limiting explosives on defense, or staying ahead of the sticks and capitalizing in the red zone on offense. For the Bears it’s been a little bit of everything. So when you ask the guys what went wrong, and what needs to change for the Bears to get their first win in nearly a year, you get a lot of different answers.
“It’s just about keeping our head down and staying resilient,” said Tremaine Edmunds. “Continue to be adamant about getting that ball out, taking the football away. I think that’s a big thing. We preach about it week in and week out but we’ve got to figure out a way to take the ball away for sure.”
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Takeaways are a pillar of Matt Eberflus’ program, yet the Bears have struggled to create those opportunities or capitalize when the opportunities do present themselves. The Bears have two interceptions on the year and no fumble recoveries. That averages to just 0.5 takeaways per game. The Bears use a bend-don’t-break defense, and the success of that defense is often predicated on forcing mistakes to get off the field. That in turn gives the offense extra opportunities to score. When it works it’s complementary football at its finest. When it doesn’t, opposing offenses can put together long scoring drives that wear out defenders and keep playmakers like Justin Fields off the field.
“Russ (Wilson) was getting the ball out quicker in the second half,” said DeMarcus Walker. “He really was. We had a few stunts inside, we had guys right in his face. He was just getting the ball out.
“Hats off to those guys.”
Sometimes tipping your hat is all you can do. Wilson did step up his game right as the Bears defense started to run out of gas. On the Fields strip sack that led to a Broncos scoop-and-score, Denver defensive coordinator Vance Joseph happened to dial up a great blitz on a play that stood no chance against a blitz like that. Not much the Bears could’ve done, Broncos just got ‘em on that play and they managed to make the most of it. Tip your cap.
“Energy,” said Terell Smith. “We’ve gotta keep the energy up, keep playing fast and physical like we did in the first half and we would’ve liked the outcome.”
The Bears have repeatedly said execution will breed energy. For over 40 minutes of game clock they executed extremely well, and sure enough the energy followed. But once the wheels started to come off there was a palpable “Here we go again,” energy that permeated Soldier Field. Doubt started to set in and the Bears lost their groove.
The Bears have also repeatedly said they need to learn how to win. But how do they do that when they can’t get the first one out of the way?
“Gotta learn how not to lose,” Walker said simply.
When asked if there’s anything more to it, Walker at first said, “No, not at all.” But after giving it a bit more thought pointed to another pillar of Eberflus’ program.
“We just need a few more guys to play smart football.”
The Bears seem to flounder in the biggest situations. The failed 4th-and-1 conversion late in the fourth quarter, with an opportunity to win will draw the most attention. Other moments loomed just as large in the big picture. On the team’s last two offensive drives, they committed three penalties which cost them 31 yards and a timeout to avoid a 10-second runoff. That type of undisciplined play put them behind the sticks when they needed to regain momentum the most. They failed to score points on each of those drives, including the failed fourth down.
“Finish,” said Edmunds. “We’ve just got to finish. Obviously things were going our way. We’ve just gotta keep our head down, stay hungry, stay greedy and finish the ball game out.”
That’s the bottom line. Over their 14-game losing streak the Bears have had their fair share of chances to win. They’ve obviously fallen short each time. At a certain point they just need to make a play near the end of a game to seal a win.
“It comes down to the execution, doesn’t it?” said Eberflus. “It does. The execution piece of it, we’ve just got to do a great job of that in the moment. It’s one play at a time doing your alignment, assignment and executing those plays. Offense and defense.”
Execution and energy. Takeaways and tipping your hat. Finding reasons why the Bears keep losing, and possible solutions for how they can turn things around has started to feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure Story for the Bears. Problem is, no matter what you choose it seems like you always get the bad ending.