Cutler questionable, and so is Bears offense
This time the Bears couldn't come back from another feeble offensive beginning.
Staggering out of the gate yet again set the tone for an offense that never got into a rhythm, and there don't appear to be any sure-fire solutions.
"We'll just keep working on it," coach Lovie Smith said one day after the 13-6 loss to the Texans. "That's all I can say. Eventually it will come. We're not there yet."
Not only was the "attack" held to 99 total yards in the first half, but it turned the ball over four times. Tight end Kellen Davis and running back Michael Bush each lost a fumble, and there were 2 interceptions thrown by Jay Cutler, who completed just 7 of 14 passes for 40 yards and finished with a 16.7 passer rating before being sidelined with a concussion.
At this point, Cutler's return is questionable at best, so the offensive mess belongs to backup Jason Campbell until Cutler gets medical clearance to return to practice.
Sunday was the second-worst passer rating of Cutler's seven-year career. His only worse effort was a 10-for-27 performance against the Ravens in 2009 that included 3 interceptions and no touchdowns.
"You just can't make some of the mistakes we made early on," Smith said. "When you play a good football team like the Texans, you have to get off to a fast start."
The Bears face another good team Monday night when they travel west to face the 6-2-1 San Francisco 49ers, who have the NFL's best defense and the best run game.
The Bears had been running the ball well, too, but Matt Forte had his worst game of the season, picking up just 39 yards on 16 carries for a 2.4-yard average Sunday. His longest run of the night was for 8 yards, and his 2 catches totaled minus-3 yards.
The passing game, which has been too reliant on Brandon Marshall, was almost nonexistent except for the go-to guy, who had 8 catches for 107 yards. No one else had even 10 receiving yards for a Bears passing game that needs to find another option. The next most productive receiver for the Bears against Houston was Earl Bennett, who had 9 yards on 1 catch.
Marshall is having a Pro Bowl season. He has 67 receptions for 904 yards and 7 touchdowns. The problem is that the next four Bears receivers combined have 68 receptions for 717 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"Someone does (need to step up)," Smith said. "You're right. Brandon has played outstanding ball, but we do (need others to contribute). We had a few opportunities (Sunday) night where we dropped a couple of balls that could have been big plays for us. Getting Alshon Jeffery back should help a little bit too, but yeah, we need to get a little bit more production out of that No. 2 slot."
Jeffery could return for the 49ers game, but that remains to be seen. No one has emerged to pick up the slack since the rookie was hurt in Week Five.
Sunday night was just the latest example.
Davis' fumble after a 6-yard gain (his only reception despite 5 targets) on their first play from scrimmage got the Bears off to a bad start. An apparent 42-yard completion to Devin Hester (2 catches, 4 yards) was nullified by officials who ruled Cutler was across the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass.
Just before halftime, Forte couldn't hang on to a high but catchable pass deep down the middle that would have set up a chip-shot field goal at least. And with just under four minutes remaining, Davis leapt and got his hands on a high pass from Campbell that would have been a first down around midfield, but he couldn't hold it.
Even Marshall bore some blame for an offense that converted only 2 of 13 third-down plays and generated just 249 yards of offense. He dropped a catchable ball in the end zone early in the second quarter that would have given the Bears a 7-3 lead.
Instead, the Bears settled for Robbie Gould's 51-yard field goal, his 10th straight from 50 yards or farther, 1 shy of the NFL record.
"I didn't make that play in the end zone," Marshall said. "I let the team down. I take full responsibility for sputtering a little bit in the first half."
It was good to see Marshall take some responsibility for the offensive failure. But it would be much better for the Bears if someone besides Marshall could take credit for their success.
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