Everything seemed right for the Chicago Bears this afternoon. With Chicago leading 20-17 coming out of the final two-minute warning, the Bears had the Minnesota Vikings pinned at their own 8-yard line on a 4th and 11 play. Vikings QB Matt Cassel dropped back, had time to throw, and found Jerome Simpson on a deep crossing route for 26 yards and a first down.
Four plays later, Minnesota had 1st and 10 at the Chicago 12-yard line, allowing the Vikings to eventually kick the game-tying field goal.
Not long after, things again looked rosy for the Monsters of the Midway. Robbie Gould, who needed to convert one field goal to become the NFL's all-time leader in FG percentage, lined up for a 47 yarder to win the game in overtime. Gould – whose wife delivered the couple's first child, a son, at 1:30 a.m. this morning – pushed the kick a yard wide of the right upright. Seven plays later, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh won the game with a 34-yard kick.
"It's all my fault," an emotional Gould said after the game.
But that's far from the truth, as everyone deserves a piece of the blame for today's untimely 23-20 defeat, one that puts the Bears a game back in the NFC North – two back when you consider the tiebreaker with the Detroit Lions – with just four games to play.
Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson ran 35 times for 211 yards and the defense also gave up a 27-yard touchdown run to WR Cordarrelle Patterson. Chicago's tackling was embarrassing for most of the contest, the linebackers repeatedly ran themselves out of their gaps and the defensive line couldn't hold up at the point of attack.
After limiting QB Christian Ponder to three completions for 40 yards in the first half, the secondary gave up 243 passing yards in the second half to Matt Cassel, whom the Vikings benched earlier this year. Minnesota's receivers, one of the least productive units in the league, repeatedly beat Chicago's corners and safeties in man coverage.
The Bears were in man coverage for most of the second half because coordinator Mel Tucker is now entirely dependant on the blitz to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The defensive line responded well early on, particularly Julius Peppers, and they finished the contest with five sacks. But when the game was on the line, the pass rush disappeared.
Jon Bostic, who has had a rough go of it the past six games as a starter, struggled in his run fits again and made a big rookie mistake late in the game. After the Bears turned the ball over, giving the Vikings the ball at the Chicago 18-yard line, the defense stopped Minnesota three straight plays. On the third, Bostic made the tackle in the flat six yards short of the marker. After bringing down the ball carrier, he got on his feet and stood over the receiver, which is an immediate taunting penalty in today's NFL. The infraction gave the Vikings a first down at the Bears' 6-yard line.
On the offensive side of the ball, Roberto Garza had his worst game of the year. He had a handful of low snaps, which disrupted the rhythm of the passing game, and he wasn't able to corral Kevin Williams in the run game.
After the Vikings tied the game up with 20 seconds to play, Devin Hester returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield. With 12 seconds to play, the Bears needed just 15 yards to get into field goal range. On the first play, RT Jordan Mills missed his block, resulting in a sack. Two plays later, Gould was unable to convert a 66-yard FG attempt, sending the game to OT.
In OT, the offense had a 1st and 15 at the 49-yard line. McCown found Brandon Marshall on a 20-yard curl route and put the ball on the numbers. Yet Marshall couldn't hang onto the pass, one that would have immediately put the Bears in field goal range.
And then there was head coach Marc Trestman's decision to attempt the game-winning 47 yarder on 2nd down, instead of taking two downs to move the ball closer. Gould missed by a yard, meaning even a 46-yard kick might have gone through. In explaining his decision to kick on 2nd down, Trestman said after the game he didn't want to get pushed out of field goal range with a penalty, which is a statement to how undisciplined the team has been the past three weeks.
Gould's missed field goal was a killer. Had it been good, Bears fans would be celebrating the team's seventh win of the season, instead of looking at a mountainous uphill climb to the playoffs. Yet Chicago had numerous other chances to win this game going away in regular time. Instead, everyone played his part in a late-game collapse that likely cost this team the postseason.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.