By Shane Nicholson
What’s been a record setting year for the Bears rolled on Sunday with a 26-0 loss to the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
Sadly, most of those records are the ones better left untouched.
Chicago moved to 0-3 for the first time in 12 years and were shutout for the first time since Henry Burris led the Bears onto the field at U of I’s Memorial Stadium, Week 17 of the 2002 season.
At least backup Jimmy Clausen fared better than his “Name this Bears Quarterback” trivia counterpart, inasmuch as he failed to register a turnover against the Seattle defence (Burris had four on his day).
Clausen also failed to do anything positive of note as the Bears punted on every one of their possessions, the first team since at least 1980 to accomplish such a feat.
While punter Pat O’Donnell continued to build his case to be the Bears’ lone representative at this year’s Pro Bowl the rest of the team stumbled through the slow burn of a quasi blowout. Sure, the game was always in reach on the scoreboard, but it was never really an option that the Bears would mount a challenge on the day.
Matt Forte racked up 74 yards on 20 carries; Clausen was the team’s second leading rusher. Only one Bears receiver totalled more than 20 yards: backup tight end Zach Miller. In all, 10 possessions, 10 punts, and one more hurdle out of the way on the way to the 2016 number-1 pick.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Bears were completely outmatched. It’s that they were done from the start against a team fighting its own problems having started 0-2.
Seattle’s offensive line has acted like a sieve so far this year, and that came to hold true again with Jarvis Jenkins and Pernell McPhee recording a pair of sacks each, the first recorded by the Bears this year.
Truth be told, the Bears’ defence played fairly well. Despite causing no turnovers they held the Seahawks to 19 points and just 5.9 yards per play, even with rookie running back Thomas Rawls collecting his first career 100 yard game after Marshawn Lynch went down with a hamstring injury early.
Seattle was only 5-of-16 on 3rd downs–though 2-of-2 on 4th down conversions–and probably left the field with as many questions as the Bears about where their season heading. The difference is they have answers; the Bears just keep finding more questions.
Robbie Gould’s kickoff to begin the second half was returned 105 yards by Tyler Lockett, a Seattle franchise record, and the second such record set against the Bears in as many weeks.
Gould’s leg (or lack thereof) is a problem the Bears surely have to look at addressing. Their touchback percentage on kickoffs has slipped from 21st in 2013, to 28th last year, to now 31st in the NFL, with just a third of Gould’s kickoffs staying in the endzone.
O’Donnell has experience kicking off from his college days at Miami; his booming punts (he’s averaging 47.6 yards a kick this year) should be enough to earn him a shot at kickoff duty going forward. Given that the Bears have seemingly no chance of properly covering a kick, anything is worth a look to prevent big plays on special teams from putting them further in the hole.
Clausen meanwhile has shown he’s no hope of executing an NFL offense, something that shouldn’t have come as news to anyone who’s seen him during his six year career.
In total, Sunday was nothing more than a methodical execution of a team firing into a death spiral one botched special teams coverage at a time.
The Bears move toward Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders (Sunday, 1 p.m. CBS) as underdogs, the first time Oakland’s been favored on the road in over three years. Surely the time must be now to see if last year’s 6th round pick David Fales has anything to offer at quarterback.
The second year QB, waived after the Week 1 loss to Green Bay only to be re-signed to the practice squad, posted back-to-back 4,000 yard/30 touchdown seasons at San Jose State. The Bears need to finally put him on the field and see if they have even a viable backup option for Jay Cutler when he returns.
And Cutler’s return is now the only hope of salvaging respectability out of the 2015 season. That respectability in the standings could come at a high cost on the field – simply, the Bears need draft picks, the higher the better.
Cutler may provide a brief reprieve for the viewing audience and a more effective offense, but the lack of depth haunting the defence and special teams of this squad can only be fixed through drafting.
Will Forte be next? It’s the most likely move given that he won’t play a part in the next Chicago team to compete for a Super Bowl. You gotta know when to hold’em, and know when you’re miles away from toppling Green Bay.
It may be a cruel pill for Bears fans to swallow, but if Chicago is to begin competing again these types of moves need to come fast and frequently as the rebuild towards a contender continues.