By Robert Zeglinski
The NFL can be such a fickle league. Games and momentum turn on single plays and mistakes. An injury, or bevy of them in combination, can derail a season. When applying these principles to the current Bears, all you can do is just solemnly nod your head in agreement.
In the Bears’ listless 29-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night at home, there wasn’t much room to discern any hope post-game. Every metaphorical haymaker and left hook took a solid shot out of an organization that’s no doubt searching for answers at the moment. The Bears are now 1-9 at home in the last two seasons.
As was the story with the Texans in the opener, Chicago actually hung around and competed relatively with their opponent in the first half. A 9-7 score at the break tells the tale of two evenly matched teams. But signs of the dam breaking were there as were other unforeseen dire complications.
When the first two plays of the game feature a no-gain carry by Jeremy Langford and then Jay Cutler being absolutely torn apart by a free blitz on a sack leading to an eventual quick three-and-out, it might as well have been a premonition.
Fast-forward to your next possession featuring an offense in rhythm that stalls in the red zone forcing your kicker Connor Barth, to make a chip shot field goal. Of course, given the current turn of events, he “doinks” it off of the left upright. Finally, after your defense makes stop after stop in the red zone keeping you alive, and your only consistent offense-a jump ball to Alshon Jeffery-leads to an eventual touchdown from Langford to take the lead 7-3, all hell breaks loose. And that’s putting it lightly.
There are game-changing plays and there are franchise-changing games.
Philadelphia would outscore Chicago 20-7 in the second half, as the Bears have now been outscored 33-7 overall in the second stanza. But it wasn’t about how Philadelphia took control to win this game. The credit still goes to a franchise currently on the upswing that looks like has found its franchise quarterback in rookie Carson Wentz. It was about how the Bears fell apart with in fighting and the unfortunate injury to insult.
Your two starting safeties, Harold Jones-Quartey and Adrian Amos, as well as nickel back Bryce Callahan, would at some point go through concussion protocol and not return save for Jones-Quartey.
Lamarr Houston, a solid outside linebacker firmly in your front seven rotation-who tore his ACL in the 2014 season-injures his knee on a pass rush with something that head coach John Fox calls “substantial.”
Eddie Goldman, the young nose tackle and lynchpin of the defense at this rate, turns his ankle well after the game was over with the Eagles leading 22-7 in the red zone and ready to punch in another score. Goldman was carted off and seen in a walking boot after the game. It’s reported he “only” has a high ankle sprain, which is relative good news for the Bears considering how the injury looked in real time when they carted him off. The bad news, well, he’s still going to miss significant time after also working through a high ankle sprain last season.
Oh, and starting linebacker Danny Trevathan will have thumb surgery, the leader of your defense.
Finally, the final punch in the gut, a significant injury to Cutler’s thumb on his throwing hand.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Cutler suffered a torn ligament in said thumb in the loss to the Texans. After last night’s beating-which culminated in him aggravating it, the prospects look bleak. There was a reason you saw Cutler throwing lame duck passes and leaving receivers short. Cutler broke the same thumb in 2011 and that required surgery.
“Concerned. As a quarterback, you kind of need your right thumb” said Cutler, clearly distressed in the post-game press conference, alluding to that same injury of five years ago.
That doesn’t sound like an optimistic quarterback expecting to return anytime soon. Cutler’s going to miss time.
The loss aside, where the Bears were pushed around and dominated on both fronts, again, is not of the utmost importance. Chicago’s quarterback without his right thumb can’t grip the ball or be an effective playmaker behind a shoddy offensive line. Chicago’s offense without its quarterback, as the Bears now turn to back-up Brian Hoyer, may turn into a complete train wreck.
It’s completely understated how much Cutler masks this team’s deficiencies and pushed them to seem like they were more competent than they really were. The other injuries pale in comparison to defining what this season may ultimately become without Cutler. If these Bears offense doesn’t have Cutler-who have an inexperienced and currently struggling offensive coordinator in Dowell Loggains and one playmaker on offense in Jeffery-then Chicago will be in line for a top-five pick in next year’s draft in May. There they potentially will be looking for a new quarterback should the opportunity arise.
What was once a career of promise with the Bears eight seasons ago, becomes a classic Shakespearean tragedy for Cutler and everyone involved.
So it’s fitting that on Cutler’s last play of the game on Monday where he threw an interception, that currently sidelined Pernell McPhee felt the need to angrily confront him. For all of the Bears’ struggles in the past near-decade, Jay Cutler has been at fault for many of their problems, but not all. Yet, he’s been the convenient scapegoat for all of this organization’s worries by fans and other pundits alike.
Debate McPhee’s place-a player currently on the physically unable to perform list-in criticizing Cutler all you want. McPhee, a captain, felt the need to place the blame again on Chicago’s favorite quarterback. That’s out of line and speaks of a locker room tearing apart at the seams. McPhee is that fan or pundit refusing to see the truth of what’s really going on.
Fox made light of the situation saying, “We’re a family so we do have arguments and frustrations.”
Yes, families have disagreements, but not like that on national television. Not when you as the coach are supposed to be a symbol of stability of a rebuilding team with everything in-house.
Two weeks ago, discussions were abound about how much the second-year Fox would improve the Bears and have them moving along the right track. Instead, it’s time to play every young guy and see who is a valuable commodity on the roster. With a roll of the dice, all of the goodwill is gone.
And what to make of the Bears now?
Well, we’re only seven months away from next year’s draft.
Week 3 @ Dallas Cowboys
In an NFL scheduling quirk, the Bears have a quick turnaround amid this chaos on national television again as they head to Dallas for ‘Sunday Night Football.’
When the Bears are on defense: Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott looks like the real deal. With long-time starter Tony Romo injured, Prescott has stepped in admirably behind the league’s best offensive line and hasn’t missed much of a beat considering how he was pressed into action.
An 83.1 quarterback rating is something you would normally shrug your shoulders at, but Prescott has shown composure in guiding an offense he has little experience with. He’s thrown no touchdown passes but he also hasn’t thrown an interception, so he hasn’t made a soul-crushing mistake. That’s translated to a current 1-1 Dallas team that could very well be undefeated save for a bounce here or there.
Prescott should be applauded for keeping the ship together.
It’s tough to predict who sees the field for the Bears defense given the laundry list of injuries, and that doesn’t bode well against one of the best offensive fronts in the league, if not the best. With Chicago’s offense in shambles, the Bears defense is going to have step up more than before, but that facet is difficult with so many moving parts.
If Chicago can have movement up front defensively against the dominant Dallas line to shutdown a running attack from Ezekiel Elliot, they’ll have a chance to rattle Prescott.
Guys like Willie Young and Leonard Floyd have to consistently win one-on-one battles pass rushing. That’s even more difficult a task to ask against left tackle Tyron Smith and company, but it’s the only way to prevent a long night.
When the Bears are on offense: With Brian Hoyer likely in tow, the Bears offense is now equipped to play to not lose the game.
Hoyer is adequate when everything around him is going swimmingly. When things are chaotic, the situation can get disastrous as it did for him in last year’s playoffs against the Chiefs. Given the state of the Bears offensive line and lack of playmakers, it’s safe to lean towards the latter.
In all fairness, there’s nothing to write home about with the Dallas defense. There aren’t any true impact players save for linebacker Sean Lee or corner Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys don’t have the same pass rushing that the Eagles or Texans possessed either. So the Bears might have a shot here.
If the Bears commit to a semblance of the running game then they have a chance on Sunday night; 36 attempts between two games is no-where near enough. Jordan Howard showed some burst on Monday. Let him take over the game. And if they stay ahead of the chains to not put Hoyer in precarious third-and-long situations, the Bears offense may surprise against a mediocre Dallas defense.
But that’s asking a lot of “what-ifs” from an offense with no identity, cohesion, or leadership at the moment.
Early pick: Cowboys 26 Bears 10
Robert Zeglinski is a staff writer for SB Nation and managing editor at No Coast Bias. Follow Robert on Twitter:@RobertZeglinski.