It wasn't just the defense or just the offense or even just Charles Tillman's penalty that cost the Bears a victory Sunday at Soldier Field.
It was the inability to make a big play, THE play, when it mattered. And it wasn't just one play. There were several opportunities to make a play, just one play, that might have reversed the outcome.
"We had a lot of opportunities to make plays down the stretch, and we didn't," head coach Lovie Smith said.
"The game was in our hands," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "You make one play, and the game's over."
In reverse order, here are the plays that could have made the day for the Bears but instead sealed their fate:
With the Buccaneers facing second-and-10 from the Bears' 44, the defense still had a chance to prevent a game-winning field goal. But on that play, Antonio Bryant got behind Nathan Vasher and Brian Griese hit him in stride for 38 yards.
"Just a great ball and a great catch," Vasher said. "It had been a long game, and they just made the plays when they needed to."
And of course, as usual, the Bears' pass rush, which registered no sacks, was missing in action on that play, too.
That fateful final drive probably never happens if Rashied Davis doesn't drop a perfectly-thrown pass from Kyle Orton on the preceding possession. On third-and-7 with the Bears at their own 47, the pass hit Davis in the hands at the Bucs' 33-yard line for what would have been a first down.
"I took my eyes off the ball," Davis said. "It should have been an easy catch. I just dropped an easy pass. It shouldn't have happened. But it did, unfortunately."
The drop left Davis in a dark mood.
"I wanted to jump off a bridge," he said. "No, I'm just joking. But I was upset. I beat myself up all night. I watched the film [Monday]. I know one play doesn't determine the outcome of a game. It was a big play. I should have made it, and I didn't."
But Davis would never have been in the position of dropping that pass if the offense could have managed just one first down when it took possession at its 20-yard line and just 3:11 left in the game. Instead, the Bears went three-plays-and-punt.
"That was huge," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "We've got to get at least one [first down]. We'd like to get two, but one for sure."
It should have been easy enough after Matt Forte picked up seven yards on first down. But Forte picked up just one yard on second-and-3, and then Orton was forced to scramble on third down – he was stopped for no gain.
"We had an opportunity," Orton said. "But it's just another example of we weren't able to do it."
Tight end Greg Olsen was the primary receiver on the play but was well covered, leaving Orton no choice but to run.
"It was fake the run and with eight, nine guys in the box, obviously [they were] ready for the run," Turner said. "We ended up bringing [Orton] out on a naked bootleg. Greg was coming from the other side and was supposed to be in the flat but got knocked off. [Orton] had two other options but couldn't get them."
And the Bears had several chances to win Sunday, but they couldn't capitalize on any of them when it counted.
News & Notes
So why did Griese's uniform not need laundering?
"They max-protect some. But to give you a reason why, I don't really know right now," Smith said. "If you let him throw that many times, when you have that many snaps (84), normally the defensive linemen will tire a little bit in the end."
That doesn't explain why the Bears didn't get to their former teammate on the first 40 or 50 pass attempts.
"When you max protect and take three steps and you throw the ball, you're not going to get there," defensive end Alex Brown said. "They max protect, you got two receivers out. We gotta be able to cover them. Now, as a defensive line we have to get to the quarterback As a secondary, we have to cover them. So everybody do their job. That's all we gotta do." …
Wide receiver Marty Booker's streak of 60 straight games with a reception was snapped Sunday when he was blanked against the Bucs.
Booker, the go-to guy in his first go-round with the Bears from 1999-2003 has just two catches this season for 11 yards and was asked if he's growing frustrated waiting for an opportunity to contribute.
"I've been waiting all my life," he said. "I don't know what's going on, man. I'm just going along with it."
Booker could see more playing time this week against the Eagles considering Davis' drops the past two games, but he said he isn't aware of any lineup changes.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Booker said. "I'm just sitting here waiting my turn. Hopefully I get some opportunities. If I don't, whenever I'm out there, I just have to do what I can."
Booker played about one-third of the Bears' 74 snaps against the Bucs, and he appeared to be wide open on at least a couple of them.
"He runs good routes," Smith said. "We need to be able to hit him. He's been open a few times. We haven't been able to get the ball to him. That will all come in time. Our passing game took a big step this past week from the second game, and hopefully we'll see the same type of improvement this fourth game. And hopefully Marty will be a big part of that." …
"He's dirty," Harris said. "He wants you to know that. Since he's not that talented and not that good, he wants you to know that 'I'm the dirtiest player.'"
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