Why would a team that we've been told "gets off the bus running the football" run it just three times in the fourth quarter while trying to protect a nine-point lead that turned into a five-point loss?
"Normally with a lead like that in the fourth quarter, we'll be able to hold them off," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said Monday at Halas Hall.
Normally a team with a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter would run 16 times and throw three, not the other way around. It seems part of the reason was the Bears' inability to produce on the ground (68 yards on 23 carries for a 3.0-yard average), a chronic problem, and part was the Giants defense dictating the play selection.
"I think it's a combination of both," Smith said. "Of course they dictated a lot with what they were doing, blitzing and things like that. A lot of times you have to take what you're being given. That dictates it as much as anything."
On the final play of the third quarter, Rex Grossman's 44-yard completion to tight end Desmond Clark put the Bears at the Giants' 36-yard line, on the outer cusp of Robbie Gould's field-goal range. From there, the Bears threw three straight passes, completing two for a total of one yard, lost five yards on a false start by Clark, and then punted.
On their next possession, the Bears got two yards on an Adrian Peterson run and then two Grossman incompletions sandwiched around a false start by right tackle John St. Clair, which led to another punt.
They were even worse on their next possession. After the Giants scored to cut their deficit to 16-14, kicker Lawrence Tynes booted the ball out of bounds rather than challenge Devin Hester. An eight-yard pass to Peterson left the Bears two yards short of midfield, but Peterson lost a yard on a run and Grossman was sacked for a loss of nine.
Another punt left the Bears with a total, to that point, of one yard on nine plays for the fourth quarter. The offense also lost 10 yards on penalties, and another five on the final drive when left tackle John Tait had a false start.
"The penalties really hurt us, on both sides of the football," Smith said. "I think we had 10 (for 71 yards). It seemed like every one was a big play that really set us back."
The defense did its part, too, allowing the two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The first was aided by an offside call on linebacker Lance Briggs that nullified a sack of Eli Manning for minus-eight yards by Darwin Walker that would have resulted in 3rd-and-14 for the Giants. Six plays later, safety Brandon McGowan's pass-interference penalty against Jeremy Shockey gave the Giants a 16-yard gain down to the Bears' 7-yard line. Even after that, the Bears had the ball and a two-point lead with 6:54 remaining, but no way to kill the clock.
The Bears' three fourth-quarter runs produced nine yards, the same average they had for the game and just a small fraction less than their season average of 3.2, which is dead last in the league. Regardless of whether it's Cedric Benson or Peterson carrying the ball, the Bears offensive line hasn't provided much running room.
"Running game-wise, it was OK," Smith said of the most recent performance, but then revised his assessment. "About like it's been all year. Not really good enough."
That, more than anything, explains the Bears' reluctance to run with the game on the line.
NOTES & QUOTES
Operating without a huddle, the Bears opened the game by driving 79 yards on nine plays after a Brian Urlacher interception, scoring on Rex Grossman's one-yard pass to Desmond Clark just 5:02 into the game.
That was the only time they reached the end zone, but they never went back to the no-huddle for more than an occasional play.
TE Desmond Clark
Jerry Lai/AP Images
"It was something we wanted to mix in a little bit," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We weren't going to go the entire game with it. We wanted to start out with it and see how it went. Obviously it went well that opening drive, and then we were going to jump in and out of it. And we did it another time or two and didn't have the success."
The 79 yards represented more than one-quarter of the Bears' 312 yards of total offense.
"We thought we needed to go in a different direction," head coach Lovie Smith said. "The pressure had a little bit to do with it. They got quite a bit. It was a good change-up, but you can't use change-ups to move the ball. You need to be able to keep the drive going when we had the lead, and then defensively you've got to be able to stop them at the end."
Prior to their final drive, the Bears had three straight three-and-out possessions, and the nine plays netted a total of one yard. …
After allowing 34 points and 292 passing yards last week, the starting secondary got a shakeup against the Giants as Brandon McGowan replaced Adam Archuleta at strong safety and Trumaine McBride regained the starting cornerback spot from Ricky Manning Jr.
McGowan tied for second on the team with six solo tackles, but the defeat soured his assessment of his performance.
"Terrible," he said when asked to evaluate his play. "We lost."
Smith was more positive.
"We thought that Brandon deserved an opportunity to play," he said, "and I thought he stepped in and did some good things."
Indications throughout the previous week of practice were that injured cornerback Nathan Vasher would be eased back into the lineup, but he missed his ninth straight game with a groin injury suffered on Sept. 23.
"Hopefully next week," Vasher said after the game.
McBride had started four straight games in place of Vasher, but was used only on special teams last week after missing some practice time with a hip injury ...
John St. Clair started in place of Fred Miller (ankle) at right tackle, although Miller was active despite missing practice all week. It was only Miller's second missed start in nine years and his first absence in more than two years, since Week 9 of the 2005 season, when he was out with a broken jaw after a scuffle with teammate Olin Kreutz. …
A frustrated Manning has been phased out of the defense in recent weeks, passed up by rookie McBride in the base defense and often replaced by strongside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer when the Bears are in a nickel defense, previously Manning's forte.
Manning was barely on the field Sunday, even in passing situations, and it appears doubtful he'll be around to collect on the final three years of a five-year, $21 million contract he signed as a restricted free agent before the 2006 season.
"For me personally it doesn't really matter," Manning said of the current situation. "What matters is us winning games. I just have to go out there and work, and whatever happens happens. The most important thing is winning and losing right now. Personal stuff can wait. That's stuff you can talk about in the offseason."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: C – Rex Grossman started off on fire but went out with a whimper, although he avoided turnovers and threw for 296 yards with an 81.4 passer rating. But he was also sacked six times for 52 yards in losses. Devin Hester let what would have been an 81-yard TD pass hit off his shoulder pads for a drop.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D – Adrian Peterson managed just 67 yards on 22 carries in his first start in four years, and his long gain was only nine yards. He might have been able to help run out the clock in the fourth quarter but never got the chance with just three carries.
PASS DEFENSE: B – For most of the game, the Bears confused and frustrated Eli Manning, picking him off twice and taking TE Jeremy Shockey (two catches for 25 yards) and Plaxico Burress (three for 36) out of the equation. But Manning played well enough to lead a pair of fourth-quarter TD drives, finding his accuracy with the game on the line.
RUSH DEFENSE: D – Derrick Ward, coming off a fractured fibula, ran all over the Bears for 154 yards on 24 carries, much of the yardage coming over the left side and Bears DE Mark Anderson. The Giants totaled 175 yards on the ground, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C – Devin Hester was no factor on the rare occasions he was allowed to field a kick, but the coverage units also played very well and K Robbie Gould went three-for-three for the third straight week.
COACHING: D – With a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Bears ran the ball on just three of 19 plays. The team that gets off the bus running the football called 52 pass plays. Going no-huddle on the first possession produced the Bears' only TD of the day, but they never went back to it.
All of that plus much more in the January issue of ...
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