(670 The Score) Some losses define NFL seasons.
Some end eras.
What happened Sunday at Soldier Field, for all intents and purposes, accomplished both.
The Bears suffered their sixth straight defeat, this one at the hands of the Lions, a 34-30 Christmas giveaway of a game that confirmed the holidays will be anything but happy at Halas Hall. Not since 2002 have the Bears lost six games in a row – not even during the head-scratching, logic-defying tenures of John Fox or Marc Trestman. Not at any point in the past 18 years has the futility been this consistent or predictable – a point that’s hard to believe but can’t be lost on Bears chairman George McCaskey. Your move, George.
A week after presumably hitting rock bottom against the arch rival Packers, the Bears sunk even deeper as a franchise by losing the kind of game that gets players and coaches cut and fired.
Talk about freaking embarrassing, Matt Nagy.
At least the Packers, one of the best teams in the NFL, dominated the Bears to create last week's disgrace. This time, the Bears beat themselves. They shot themselves in the foot without missing a toe. The Bears out-Lionsed the Lions. In a game that was preceded by Nagy challenging his team's pride and character, the Lions played like they wanted it more.
What a tough year to be a Bears fan. Heck, what a tough 21st century it has been, right?
How did we get here, Chicago? How did this happen? A longer explanation will continue to unfold during the ongoing civic discussion but, in terms of Sunday, the biggest source of frustration was a well the woebegone Bears go to often.
Forget about the overrated Bears defense responding to Nagy’s public challenge like a group that has tuned out its head coach, giving up 460 yards to a Lions offense without its best wide receiver.
Overlook how that once-mighty defense, despite getting a terrific takeaway on defensive tackle Bilal Nichols’ interception, gave up so many big plays and blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against a Lions team that hadn’t rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to win a game in six years.
For the time being, even ignore how the Bears wasted so many millions on pass rusher Robert Quinn and Khalil Mack and Co. couldn’t close the deal or get to the quarterback on the Lions' drive that began with 4:33 left when everybody knew Stafford had to pass.
It came down to this: The offense still blew it in the final 2 minutes, 13 seconds. How fitting that the offensive approach that brought Nagy to town will be what likely hastens his departure. From coaching to playing, from mental to physical, a complete offensive breakdown best explains how the Bears snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory. A couple games ago, Nagy turned over play-calling duties to offensive coodinator Bill Lazor, but the time has come to try somebody or something else. Anyone or anything else.
Remember, the Bears still led 30-27 when their drive started on their own 11. They still had the ball and a chance to limp home to an ugly victory that could've changed everything about the next month. A handoff to David Montgomery gained three yards, and the 2-minute warning stopped the clock. What happened next on second and third downs falls under the category of Fireable Offenses in the NFL.
On second-and-7, the Bears called a passing play that resulted in a three-yard scramble by Trubisky. A more curious and costly call came on third-and-4 from the 17 with 1:54 left. Calling yet another pass, Trubisky stood in the pocket as it collapsed when Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara beat offensive tackle Germain Ifedi. Trubisky eyed Anthony Miller downfield and never sensed the closing of Okwara, who stripped the ball from his hand. Lions defensive tackle John Penisini recovered at the 7-yard line.
“The coaching point is two hands on the ball in the pocket,’’ Trubisky said. “I’ve just got to take care of the football … Sometimes, players make plays and you have to give him credit for that.’’
Two plays later, Adrian Peterson scored on a five-yard run that gave the Lions a 34-30 lead and dropped the jaws of everyone in Chicago wondering the same thing. What. Just. Happened. Sorry, coach Nagy, being aggressive doesn’t excuse being reckless.
For yet another Sunday, questions outnumbered answers in the aftermath of an awful loss — but this time an avoidable one.
Why call two straight passing plays when facing second-and-7 when running out the clock matters as much, if not more when protecting a lead in the final two minutes, than moving the chains? Even if Nagy insisted on calling a pass on third-and-4, why call a straight dropback that hinges on the backup right offensive tackle winning his one-on-one block instead of something that moves the pocket? And how can Trubisky – one week after struggling with ball protection – allow a lost fumble when that ranks near the top of things he can't let happen under those circumstances? Had Okwara been attacking the quarterback from his blind side, perhaps Trubisky could've been excused for having the ball knocked from his grip. But he plowed over the right tackle, in Trubisky’s line of sight, creating a dilemma most savvy quarterbacks with vision learn to avoid by their fourth season.
Yet even after that unacceptable, inexplicable sequence of events, the Bears got the ball back at their own 25-yard line with 97 seconds left and a chance to save the day. Once again, they responded like one of the dumbest teams in football.
A 16-yard completion to Montgomery on first down and a 15-yard personal-foul penalty on the Lions raised hopes. Another 14-yard pass to Montgomery moved the ball to the Lions' 29-yard line. But then, two plays later on third-and-5, Allen Robinson stepped out of bounds to stop the clock one yard shy of the first-down marker with 16 seconds left. The indefensible decision likely cost the Bears at least one shot at a game-winning pass play, forcing a fourth-and-1 run by Montgomery that the Lions stuffed.
“I was in shock because I felt like we were going to win that one,’’ Trubisky said, speaking for everyone in Chicago and Detroit.
Added Montgomery on the fourth-down fail: “That’s on me.’’
It’s really not. It’s on Nagy and Lazor and Robinson and Trubisky and others before the list even comes close to Montgomery, who ran hard. Montgomery carried 17 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns, a bright spot on a dark day. The running game functioned well enough in the first half behind Montgomery and Cordarelle Patterson that the Bears scored three rushing touchdowns, the first time they had done so in the first 30 minutes of a game in 30 years.
Yet somehow on the first drive of the third quarter – when the Bears typically struggle – Montgomery never touched the ball. Later in the second half, on third-and-7, Robinson was on the sidelines. Why does the play-calling still lack common sense?
Nagy will face tougher questions when he wakes up Monday morning, if he even can sleep after this one. Nobody will be talking about slim NFC playoff possibilities this week regardless of the schedule, and everybody will be discussing the uncertain future of the Bears. Speculation about major changes the Bears need, from the front office to the sidelines, will dominate the thoughts of fans and media – especially as Deshaun Watson and the Texans appear next on the schedule to remind everyone about general manager Ryan Pace’s greatest mistake.
The fourth quarter of the Bears’ season will begin amid distractions they brought on themselves. The beginning of the end often does.
“I don’t get into any speculation on any of that,’’ Nagy said. “What my job is to do is make sure that each and every week, I’m giving everything I can as a coach and a leader for these guys.’’
After Sunday, nobody should be surprised if the Bears conclude that it’s not enough. It feels as if everyone from Nagy to Pace to team president Ted Phillips should worry about the bold moves McCaskey must consider now more than ever. It feels as if losing to the Lions, in this manner, changed the context of how we discuss the Bears making major changes.
Stop saying if. Start saying when.
It looks like the only option.