Everything was right in the world of the Chicago Bears today with the team up 21-7 late in the second quarter. The defense had forced three turnovers and the offense was clicking on all cylinders, having scored touchdowns on three of its first five possessions, and were driving into Carolina Panthers territory.
Quarterback Jay Cutler threw a screen pass to running back Matt Forte who sliced through the defense and up the right sideline. Tight end Martellus Bennett ran out in front of the play and was in position to finish off the run by taking out the last Panthers defender, safety Roman Harper.
As Forte sprinted up the sideline, Harper cleared across the field and Bennett watched as the safety ran right in front of him to make the tackle at the 24-yard line. Had Bennett just gotten a piece of Harper, Forte strolls into the end zone untouched. Instead, Forte gets knocked out of bounds, the Bears gain just seven yards on their next three plays and kicker Robbie Gould misses a 35-yard field goal.
From that point on, the Bears were outscored 24-3 en route to a 31-24 Carolina victory.
Sound familiar? It should.
Last week against the Packers, the Bears were in position to take a lead heading into halftime. Bennett couldn’t get into the end zone from the 1-yard line and the Bears, who had no timeouts, failed to score even a field goal heading into the half.
They were then outscored 24-0 in the second half.
Bennett has been outstanding this year, single-handedly carrying the passing offense as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery nursed leg and ankle injuries. We’re not blaming him for the recent two-game losing streak but these miscues have been symptomatic of the entire Bears offense this season.
The offense has racked 843 total yards the past two games combined, yet have just 41 points to show for it. Think about that, the Bears have posted nearly 850 yards but are averaging less than 21 points the past two games.
Obviously, the Bears can move the ball, which is promising, but this is an offense that continues to shoot itself in the foot. This is particularly the case in the red zone, where the bears are 3 for 6 scoring touchdowns the last two games combined.
Yet it’s the turnovers that have absolutely decimated the Bears’ chances of winning in all three of their losses this year. Cutler threw two more interceptions today, giving him two picks in each of the three losses. That’s not a coincidence.
“There was many opportunities for us to close this out offensively,” Cutler said after the game. “Offensively, a lot of that is on me."
Cutler also lost a fumble, as did Forte, who hasn’t lost a fumble since Week 12 of last season. In the Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, it was Marshall’s fumble that ultimately led to the defeat.
And there’s the problem, the team’s three biggest playmakers, the guys who make the most money and have the biggest roles in the offense, have each taken turns knocking the wind out of the offense.
Forte has back-to-back games of 150 total yards or more – 177 last week, 166 today – while Cutler has five touchdowns the past two games combined. Marshall and Jeffery are finally healthy, and Bennett has been the best all-around tight end in the league to this point in the season.
Yet despite all their success moving the ball, the offense has not put this team on its shoulders, which is what so many assumed they would do coming into the 2014 campaign.
The defense played well today, forcing three turnovers and holding Carolina to 3.3 yards on the ground. They limited the Panthers to just 321 total yards and just five for 12 (42 percent) on third down.
Considering all the new pieces and a number of injuries, the defense has done enough to give the team a chance to win in all five contests. It’s the offense, and to a lesser extent special teams, that haven’t held up their end of the bargain.
The Bears have more than twice the money invested in the offense as they do in the defense. The team is built to score points, from the head coach all the way through the final man on the roster, yet they came into the game 17th in the NFL in scoring (23.0 per game), a ranking that won’t improve this week.
Many believed the Bears offense this year, with all 11 starters returning in Trestman’s second year at the helm, would develop into a Top 3 unit in the NFL. They’ve been anything such through five games.
Consider this, in the last two games the Bears have zero touchdowns and six turnovers in the second half. An elite NFL offense doesn’t act that way.
"We didn’t get it done in all three phases and that starts with me,” Trestman said. “I’ve got to take accountability for our failure to get it done in the second half.”
The Bears are now under .500 for the first time in Trestman’s tenure in Chicago. The chance this team rebounds and makes the playoffs will be largely based on how much and how quickly the offense improves.
This year’s team goes as far as the offense can take it. The talent and potential are all there but for as long as the big names continue to let the team down in the clutch, the offense will be lucky to backpack the Bears to an 8-8 record.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.
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