A gimped-up Jay Cutler, playing courageously on a newly sprained left ankle in addition to a three-week old torn groin, took the Bears as far as he could before turning the game over to backup quarterback Josh McCown, who again played superbly.
But their combined efforts came up 2 points and about a yard shy in a 21-19 loss to the Lions, who moved into first place in the NFC North at 6-3 and dropped the Bears into a second-place tie with the Packers at 5-4.
Cutler completed 21 of 40 passes for 250 yards, even though he suffered a second-quarter ankle injury that left him practically immobile. Although he was sacked just once, Cutler was knocked down repeatedly, and as his ankle worsened so did his mobility.
So, trailing 21-13 with 2:17 remaining, coach Marc Trestman brought McCown on in relief, and he directed a brilliant 74-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard TD catch by Brandon Marshall with 40 seconds left. Needing 2 points to tie and having the option to call a run or a pass, McCown handed the ball to Matt Forte who was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley and several others.
"We have our rules (for deciding which option to select), and we were going off a number count," McCown said. "We felt like we had that (numbers advantage), but we just didn't get it executed well."
Coach Marc Trestman concurred on the play run to the left over guard Matt Slauson and center Roberto Garza.
"The defense gave us the run," he said, "and we just didn't block it."
The defeat, and especially the manner in which the Bears lost for the fourth time in six games, left a lot of questions. The queries must start with the decision to run the ball on the game's pivotal play after the Bears had managed just 38 yards on 20 rushing attempts for a 1.9-yard average. The longest Bears run all day was for 7 yards, and Forte had a season-low 33 yards on 17 carries. The passing game, meanwhile, generated 312 yards, and McCown had a 123.4 passer rating on his only drive.
And then there was the fourth-down gamble.
Unlike six days earlier against the Packers, when a similar gamble paid off big time, the Bears came up snake eyes against the Lions. Tied 7-7 early in the second quarter and at the Detroit 27-yard line with fourth-and-1, the Bears sent Michael Bush into the middle of the line, but he failed to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Those 3 points would have been huge a couple hours later.
But, considering the Lions hung 40 points on the Bears in Week 4 and piled up 623 total yards against the Cowboys in their last game, it made sense that Trestman assumed the offense would need to maximize its scoring opportunities.
"It's early," he said. "They went down the field on the first series and scored (85 yards on 12 plays). The field position was such that, if we don't get it, they have to go the long field. It had nothing to do with lack of faith in the defense."
And finally there was the question of whether or not Cutler should have been relieved earlier, or if he should have started at all.
Trestman went to the bullpen on the final possession, reasoning -- correctly -- that in any two-minute drill consisting primarily of pass plays, a mobile quarterback is preferable.
"I knew he would have to run around in the two-minute drill," Trestman said, "and that's when we decided to put Josh in the game."
But the mobility factor was never a part of the game for Cutler, so it was left to wonder if the offense would have been better off with McCown from the beginning. It was apparent from the first snap that Cutler was not a threat to run and, especially after the ankle injury, was unable to do much more than occasionally sidestep a pass rusher.
"I thought he made some plays in the third quarter, into the fourth quarter that showed he wanted to be in there," Trestman said of Cutler, who finished with a 69.8 passer rating, his second lowest of the season for a full game. "We talked about it on the sideline. I didn't want to take him out unless he felt he couldn't do the job."
Finally, that's how Cutler felt, but it was too late, when he bounced a pass well short of a wide-open Alshon Jeffery with 5:36 remaining. The Lions responded with their final TD, and Cutler knew it was time to cede control.
"Obviously I didn't want to put Josh in that position," Cutler said. "I couldn't move around. I just didn't feel like I made some of the throws I wanted to make. I missed the throw to Alshon. The best option for the team was to put Josh in.
"I was hurting us more than helping us."
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