The Chicago Bears are not a good football team.
That much is clear.
Yet the reasons for their near-weekly ineptitude are too numerous to count. In Thursday night’s 41-28 loss to the Cowboys – a score that belies Dallas’ complete dominance – every phase of Marc Trestman’s team gave up, even if he’s not willing to admit it.
“This team competes hard every day to get better and they compete hard in the football games,” Trestman said after the game. “It would be totally disrespecting our football team to think that they are not going out and competing as hard as they can.”
Trestman’s coaching style is built on a foundation of mutual respect, so it’s not surprise he won’t throw his team under the bus. Yet anyone paying attention this year knows the 2014 Bears are a team much more talented than their record reflects.
So how does an offense run for just six yards in the first half? How does a defense allow 179 rushing yards to DeMarco Murray? How does Tony Romo complete 21 of 26 passes? How does an offense score just seven points through three quarters against the league’s 22nd-ranked defense, one that was steamrolled by the Philadelphia Eagles the week before? And how can a special teams unit continue to make mental mistake after mental mistake, for an entire season?
“You can certainly see that as a football team, we’re not doing the things in all three phases that we need to do to win on a consistent basis in this league,” said Trestman. “We’re making too many mistakes, too many penalties, in all three phases. This certainly happened tonight and it debilitated us.”
Penalties definitely played a role in Thursday’s loss. The Bears were penalized nine times for 54 yards, with four penalties coming on special teams.
That obviously didn’t help but it was by no means the reason Chicago lost, as the Cowboys had eight penalties for 97 yards and won going away. The issue is the way in which the Bears have responded to adversity, dating all the way back to the first week of the season.
Throughout their 5-8 campaign, this team has consistently shot itself in the foot, creating a snowball effect that has accumulated each week. At this point, that snowball is 42-feet in diameter and no one can stop its momentum.
Case in point: The Bears came out of halftime down just seven points and were approaching midfield on the opening drive of the second half. Matt Forte caught a pass in the right flat and sprint for the first down, yet fumbled before he hit the ground and turned the ball over.
Less than 15 minutes later, the Cowboys were up 35-7 and the game was over.
Just like that, one mistake, one turnover, was all it took to completely demoralize a Chicago roster and give Dallas the momentum it needed to run up the score.
“We were in it at 14-7. We came out at the half and did what we’ve done all year, shot ourselves in the foot,” Roberto Garza said. “Matt Forte, that play, that’s not something that [usually] happens. He’s a hell of a running back, a guy that sets the tempo for us. It’s something we wish we had back but that’s kind of the way our season has gone for us this year unfortunately.”
Defensively, the Bears started off strong, forcing punts on Dallas’ first two drives. Yet during their third drive the Cowboys were able to convert two fourth downs, one of which was on the goal line and resulted in Dallas’ first score.
From then on, the defense could do very little to stop Murray, who rushed for a career-high 179 yards on 32 carries, while adding 49 receiving yards on nine catches.
“It’s tough,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “Their offense does a lot of stuff, getting you running sideways. They did a good job of running the ball today.”
Offensively, it was another slow start for the Bears, who again failed to establish the run. Forte ended with just 26 rushing yards on 13 carries, which resulted in another one-dimensional offensive showing.
“The running game started off slow,” said Forte. “That had a lot of impact on [the game]. We tried to run the ball a little bit but on one of them, I got hit in the backfield for minus six yards. That’s like a penalty. It’s hard to get first downs on 2nd and 3rd and 15.”
Jay Cutler threw the ball 46 times, completing 32 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another score on the ground. Yet the majority of that production came in garbage time when the game was well out of hand. Otherwise, it was just one more outing in which the passing attack could not find its rhythm.
“Obviously, there is anger,” Cutler said. “There is a sense of urgency. Coaches and players alike, you never want to be in this situation. You never want to be in a situation where you’re playing for nothing.”
Yet that’s exactly the position the Bears are in: three games under .500 and with no hope of the postseason.
It’s a team with holes throughout the roster and throughout the coaching staff. If the Bears continue to flush the season down the toilet and fail to show any heart over the next three weeks, you can be sure heads are going to roll this coming offseason.
At this point, it’s all about playing with heart and showing that you, whether you’re a coach or a player, belong on the Chicago Bears sideline next season. It’s fair to say that, after tonight’s debacle, that sideline is going to look much different in 2015.
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.