"It turned on us pretty quick," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "I really thought we'd played well as an offense and obviously the defense was playing great."
"We let one get away from us today," understated Bears coach Lovie Smith after his team sank to 1-3 and a second-place tie with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North Division.
They couldn't blame their carelessness entirely on rookie quarterback Kyle Orton or fellow rookies Cedric Benson and Chris Harris, but those four shared guilt with key snafus. They couldn't blame it entirely on their defense, but there was the secondary collapsing at crunch time by allowing touchdown passes of 33 yards and 28 yards from Browns quarterback Trent Dilfer to wide receiver Antonio Bryant in the game's final 3:10 to turn the four-point lead into a 10-point defeat.
"We found a way to lose it at the end," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. "We had played well for 3 1/2 quarters."
The most disturbing aspects of the loss was the comeback the veteran defense allowed and the wasted running effort of Thomas Jones, who gained 137 yards on 24 carries.
Their defense, the strength of their team, allowed a struggling offense to drive 54 yards to the go-ahead score with 3:10 left in the game. Dilfer, who'd been held to 140 yards passing before the go-ahead drive, lofted a pass up to Bryant against what Smith always calls the Bears' "signature coverage," the cover-2 zone, with Harris manning the deep spot.
"We had a safe coverage," Smith said. "It still comes down to guys getting into position and making plays. There's no magic cure or anything like that."
Harris hinted that Dilfer had too much time to throw the ball which gave the Browns (2-2) a 13-10 lead.
"They ran the route earlier in the game and we were all over it," said Harris, who was making only his third NFL start. "The quarterback held the ball a bit longer (on the TD). I should have been a little deeper while he was holding the ball.
"Instead, he (Bryant) got behind me. It wasn't a rookie mistake. I just didn't get back deep enough. I've seen that play before."
The Bears still had plenty of time to counter, needing a field goal to force overtime. Orton, who completed 16-of-26 for 117 yards with a passer rating of 84.9, completed an 11-yard pass to Bradley at the Bears' 42.
On the next play, running back Adrian Peterson rushed in low to pick up blitzing Browns defensive back Chris Crocker as Orton began to drop back. Peterson struck the ball and knocked it loose, and Crocker recovered at the Bears' 29. .
"It was just one of those things that happen, really nobody's fault," Orton said. "When you're dropping back you're not expecting for the ball to be hit.
"It was an unfortunate situation, especially because when we got that first down I kind of felt like we were moving the football. I don't know what happened. I'm not going to blame anybody."
The Bears' secondary then made certain there would be no comeback when cornerback Charles Tillman got beat for his fourth touchdown allowed in three games in man-to-man coverage on Bryant with 2:24 left.
"It's hard to come down to the last three minutes and you kind of explode as a defense," said cornerback Nathan Vasher, who was available in the locker room to explain what happened when Tillman was not.
The defense held the Browns to 76 total rushing yards and first-half Phil Dawson field goals of 19 and 44 yards during the game's first 56-plus minutes, but emerged only with frustration.
"You play good defense and you almost kind of have the taste of victory in your mouth and to get it snatched away like that is really embarrassing," defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "That's not the way that I play football. That's not the way the defense plays football, and as a team that's not the way we should be playing football."
The Bears had the 10-6 lead because Jones had ripped through the Browns' defense for 76 rushing yards on a 93-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. Orton's nice look-off pass to the opposite side of the field found wide-open fullback Marc Edwards for an 8-yard TD pass.
They had plenty of other opportunities, including a missed field goal of 48 yards by rookie kicker Robbie Gould, who kicked because of a back injury to Doug Brien. Gould had made a tying 44-yarder in the second quarter after Mike Brown's interception and 72-yard return to the Browns' 9.
The offense failed on several occasions, including that field goal drive. They failed to get the touchdown, and finished with negative 17 yards on the scoring drive. Later, in the third quarter, the offense had it at mid-field but Benson lost a fumble when the Bears still led 10-6.
"If we could have come up with one drive at the end of the game or at least put them back in there own territory, we probably could have won the game," center Olin Kreutz said.
The Bears were left only to ponder how they'd blown a chance to keep a lead in the NFC North.
"It turned on us pretty quick," Orton said. "I really thought we'd played well as an offense and obviously the defense was playing great."
Reminded Ogunleye: "That's why they play 60 minutes."