LANDOVER, Md. -- The Bears' backup quarterback played better than anyone could have expected. But the first-team defense, at least what's left of it, played worse than anyone could have imagined.
The result was a 45-41 loss to Washington, a team that came into Sunday's game with just 1 victory. The loss dropped Marc Trestman's team to 4-3 and limping into its off week on a major downer, not knowing how it will bounce back from an insulting loss with an injury-racked lineup.
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After quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a game-ending groin injury just 4:51 into the second quarter, veteran backup Josh McCown played magnificently. Taking his first snaps of the season, McCown brought the Bears back from second-half deficits three times, the last time giving them a 41-38 lead with 3:37 remaining.
But, just as it had done all day, the Bears' defense failed.
Washington drove 80 yards in 12 plays, leaving just 45 seconds on the clock, which wasn't enough for McCown (119.6 passer rating) to work any more magic.
"The game was in our hands," defensive lineman Corey Wootton said. "They had to drive the whole field, and they drove it on us. We have to stop them. It was on us, and we didn't come through."
Washington converted all 3 of itsthird downs on the winning drive and quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards.
"We knew it was going to be on us," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "We were going to have to go back out there on defense and get another stop. We knew it was all on us. I can't emphasize enough and make it clear enough that, on that drive, someone has to make a play."
No one did, at least no one in a Bears uniform playing defense.
The defense also failed to get off the field on third downs, allowing Washington to convert 7 of 13 (54 percent), which kept the injury-riddled unit on the field for 33:56.
And the defense never solved the RG3 puzzle. Griffin riddled the Bears' leaky 'D' for 298 yards through the air on 18-of-29 passing and a 105.2 passer rating. He also ran for 84 yards on 11 carries (7.6 average) which, combined with running back Alfred Morris (95 yards on 19 tries), helped Washington pile up 209 yards on the ground.
The Bears played the entire fourth quarter without two of their three Pro Bowlers, cornerback Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs.
But it's not as if the defense played well when it was at full strength. The porous unit allowed 250 yards in the first half and 249 in the second half for an embarrassing total of 499, its worst effort of the season.
Still, the Bears clearly missed Briggs (shoulder) and Tillman (knee). In less than three quarters Briggs still tied for the game lead with 8 tackles, including 1 for a loss, and he had 2 pass breakups. Tillman also had 8 tackles and picked off his third pass of the season.
"Lance is our leader," Trestman said. "He's the driver. He makes everything go. He makes the calls."
Midway through the fourth quarter, Robbie Gould atoned for an earlier 34-yard miss, his first since last season, with a 49-yard field goal, drawing the Bears to within 38-34 with 8:39 left in the game. On the Bears' next possession McCown completed a 28-yard pass to Brandon Marshall and a 35-yard toss to Alshon Jeffery, setting up his 8-yard TD strike to Martellus Bennett.
But the defense couldn't preserve what might have been a magnificent comeback.
"How many points they put up?" defensive tackle Stephen Paea asked rhetorically. "That's on us as a defense. I feel like everyone is responsible. I'm talking about defensive line, myself, (you're) responsible to stay in your gap and read your keys, and make those plays.
"But I give credit to RG III and Ray Helu and Morris, they were balling."
The Bears have two weeks to recuperate before they're back in action in a Monday night game against the Packers in Green Bay.
That might not be enough time for a defense that is the first in franchise history to allow at least 21 points in its first seven games of the season.
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