Lovie Smith on Monday admitted he made a mistake by not challenging the ruling on the field that Jay Cutler had not crossed the goal line before he lost a fumble Sunday on a quarterback sneak from the Redskins' 1-yard line.
It was the first time the regulars at Halas Hall could remember Smith admitting a mistake, and replays clearly showed that Cutler had extended the ball across the goal line before he fumbled. But now that we know Smith is capable of acknowledging mistakes, the Bears coach must, during the bye week, address the other glaring mistakes that have caused his 4-3 team to lose three of its last four games.
"You guys want to know about whether I should have thrown the red [challenge] flag on the fumble down by the end zone," Smith said during his opening monologue at Monday's postmortem. "Yes, I should have, looking at it in hindsight. Normally, if there's a critical situation, I throw it whether I have a good look or not on it. I didn't have a great look on it. That was a critical play in the game. I need to be able to make that call."
On the previous play, Smith burned a timeout by challenging the ruling that Earl Bennett had not crossed the goal line before his knee hit the ground after a 48-yard pass from Cutler. That call was upheld. Smith said he was hesitant to challenge a second straight play which, if not reversed, would have left the Bears just one timeout with just under 27 minutes left in the game.
"[I] would have liked to have had a better view of it at the time," Smith said. "But I'm just going to go with I wish I had challenged it. I didn't. [It was] early in the [second half], we had control and we were going to have a lot more opportunities to win the football game, which we didn't. That's one play. I'd like to have that one back. There were so many opportunities that we had to still win the football game.
"I thought we were in control of the game, and we've given the opponent the ball at the 1-yard line before and forced them to punt it. I felt like we would get the ball back right away, which we did. We failed to get it back down."
The Bears did get the ball right back. The defense, which played more than well enough to win, forced three plays and a punt, and the offense took over at the Redskins' 47-yard line. But that's precisely when Cutler began throwing interceptions to Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall with mind-boggling frequency – four times in 21 minutes and 44 seconds.
The Bears' play-calling after Cutler's first interception can best be described as bizarre, and it has been the worst of all the mistakes the Bears have made in their current slump.
Even though Smith felt the Bears "were in control of the game," they threw the ball 18 times while running just eight times on their final five possessions. Those eight running plays picked up 56 yards, an average of 7.0 yards per carry. But the Bears didn't run one time on their final three possessions, even though they trailed by just three points.
That's a mistake that needs to be addressed and remedied. Because until the Bears can develop a running game that they have confidence in and can execute effectively, they will never be in control of a game that they lead by four points.
After that, they can work on their third-down offense (they're 5-for-53 in the last four-plus games), their 1-yard offense (they're now 0-for-10 from their opponent's 1-yard line, including a fumble and an interception) and their third-quarter offense (zero points).
NOTES AND QUOTES
"No, not at all," Cutler said. "I've played against him before, and there's no reason to shy away from him. It's hard for me to say [after] throwing four picks to a guy, but if we had to play him tomorrow, we'd go at him every time if we could." ...
After playing hurt for three weeks and then undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to remove torn cartilage and missing the past two games, 10-year veteran guard Roberto Garza is expected back for the next game, against the Bills on Nov. 7 in Toronto.
But Smith wouldn't say whether the five-year starter would get his job back at left guard when he returns to an offensive line desperate for some cohesion.
"Having another veteran guy in the mix, of course, will help our football team," Smith said. "When Roberto gets back healthy, then we'll put him into the mix. Against Buffalo, the group we think gives us the best chance to win, that's the group that will be out there."
Former left tackle Chris Williams has started in Garza's spot the past two games, and he could move back to left tackle, which would allow Frank Omiyale to move back to right tackle, where J'Marcus Webb has started the past three games. Edwin Williams, who has started the past three games at right guard, left Sunday's game with back stiffness and was replaced by Lance Louis, who started the first four games at right guard before a knee injury sidelined him. Edwin Williams is expected to be fine by the Bills game. ...
Is Cutler in danger of losing the team after he turned the ball over five times in the second half against the Redskins?
Smith doesn't think so.
"I can understand why you would ask that question," Smith said. "You guys had a chance to talk to our team. I don't necessarily have to answer that, but what I would say that they would say is, 'No.' Jay, of course, would like to have some of those throws back. There are so many things that all of us would like to do differently. Our team is just that, a team. We lost as a team. Everybody had a chance to make some plays. Maybe some had more opportunities. But we'll just tighten those things up, and everyone involved will do a little bit more to correct some of those things." ...
Those wondering why the quarterback sneak by Cutler that resulted in his fumble was run at 350-pound Pro Bowl tackle Albert Haynesworth are still wondering.
"We didn't execute the way we needed to on that play," Smith said, "just say that."
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