Football is a game of inches. It can also be a game of second guesses.
Yet Chicago Bears left guard Matt Slauson refused to get mired in the mental game of "what if" when asked about the team's decision to go for the score instead of kick a field goal on fourth down early in the fourth quarter.
"It's unfortunate to say the last that we came away from that series with nothing to show for it on the board," Slauson said after today's 15-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. "But I am taking the positive view here, that the coaches had enough confidence in our abilities and felt we could get this done. If that had happened, we would have come out on top. As it happened, we were't able to execute."
As expected, the game was primarily a defensive battle, which John Fox said was the reason he chose to go for it from the 1-yard line down just eight points with more than 10 minutes left in the game.
“You know, we hadn’t made many trips down to the end zone. We hadn’t scored touchdowns," Fox said of the offense, which was 1-for-4 in red-zone efficiency. "It had been kind of a field goal game. At that point in the game, we felt that was going to maybe be our last opportunity [for points]. So we were aggressive and came up short.”
The decision not to kick the field goal came back to haunt the Bears, who lost the game by just two points.
"You’re going against a pretty stingy defense," said Fox. "They scored 17 points and we scored 15 points – that’s not a really high scoring game in our business. We knew it would be tough, so we had to take advantage of getting points when we had the opportunity.”
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, filling in for the injured Peyton Manning, was the big unknown on Sunday. Yet Slauson said, if anything, the uncertainty surrounding Denver's situation put more pressure on Chicago's offense.
"We needed to start strong and give our defense a little breathing room," Slauson said. "It's something we've been dealing with all year, playing from behind early on. I put that on us on the offense."
The Bears had just 347 total yards and didn't score a touchdown until the final minute of the game, while the red zone woes on offense continue to weight down the offense.
"I put that on us, on the [offensive] line," Kyle Long said. "Jay [Cutler] was doing a great job back there. There were times I felt we weren't giving him enough time. When we got close to the end zone that is where it showed up the most. Yes we finally got that touchdown in the last minute or so of the game but there were many, many missed opportunities to score before that point. All we had on the board were field goals going into the fourth quarter."
With a red-zone efficiency of just 25 percent, it's clear there is ample room for improvement. Even after scoring a potential game-tying field goal, the Bears could not convert the two-point conversion, which is indicative of their struggles near the goal line.
"I was hunkered down waiting for Jay's call. We all felt that it was a very achievable play and that we would get it done," Hroniss Grasu said. "Well, we fell short. It was difficult mentally. You never want to get that close then come up short."
There's a quick turnaround to the next game, a prime time contest in Green Bay on Thanksgiving. For Slauson, that's a chance to put this game behind them and move in a positive direction.
"We really wanted this win. Reaching .500 would have been huge," said Slauson. "It didn't come down to just one play or two that we failed to execute. We need to turn things around in the red zone and start fast generally. I think that is very achievable and facing Green Bay will be a good test of how far we've come."
Still, this was a tough loss to swallow, with the Bears falling to 4-6 and their playoff hopes shrinking.
“Any time you don’t get it done there is going to be second guessing in hindsight. On my part as well," Cutler said. "We’ve missed some tight games like this and we haven’t gotten it done in the fourth quarter like we wanted to. You look back at those games and think what you could have done differently. What throws could I have made, what plays could we have checked out of? So, there is definitely going to be that. At the end of the day we gave ourselves a chance to win at the end but we just have to find a way to just make it happen.”