Chilling finish to Bears' season
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It wasn't the collective brain cramp late in the first half that lost Sunday's game for the Bears.
Even though 11 defenders stood around watching as Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin scooped up a loose ball and pranced 15 yards for a touchdown, they were able to overcome that.
What they weren't able to overcome is a defense that couldn't make a play when it had ample opportunities with the game on the line. The result was a 33-28 loss at Soldier Field to the Packers, who claimed the NFC North title and a home game to start the playoffs next weekend. The Bears get to watch from home.
The Bears didn't seem to suffer any hangover from the weird Packers fumble that, instead of resulting in a lost ball, turned into a touchdown, even though it helped the visitors to a 13-7 halftime lead.
"We had that very unusual situation where nobody picked up the ball, which is something we're all disappointed about," coach Marc Trestman said. "But, we're down 6 at halftime. Our guys came back; they rebounded. They didn't have any quit in them."
The Bears bounced back to score touchdowns on three straight second-half possessions to take a 28-20 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Packers narrowed it to 28-27 with 10:28 remaining. Rodgers' completions of 34, 12 and 22 yards set up Eddie Lacy's 6-yard TD run. The Bears allowed 160 rushing yards, just shy of their league worst average.
But it was the Packers' last possession that put the magnifying glass on a Bears defense that has been a burden most of the season.
Green Bay went 87 yards on 15 plays in 5:46 and converted not 1, not 2, but 3 fourth-down plays along the way. The dagger was a fourth-and-8 play from the Bears' 48.
Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker sent an all-out blitz, which never got there. Rodgers got outside a pass rush what was supposed to keep him contained.
"Once Rodgers gout outside the pocket, anything can happen," Trestman said. "You have to marvel at the fact he was going to his left and made that kind of throw (back to the right)."
After that it was easy because no one covered wide receiver Randall Cobb, who ran unaccompanied down the middle of the field, caught Rodgers' toss down all alone behind the secondary and sprinted in for the winner with 38 seconds left.
"It came down to the last play, fourth-and-8, we had an all-out blitz," defensive lineman Corey Wootton said. "We have to make that play. That's on us, the D-line."
Cornerback Zack Bowman, who did not have responsibility for Cobb, gave chase but to no avail.
"In the back end, we had some miscommunication," Bowman said. "As a group we all take responsibility for the play. When everybody doesn't get on the same page that's when you get a big play."
Prior to Cobb coming free, safety Chris Conte was the closest defender to him, as nickel corner Isaiah Frey was one of the Bears' blitzers.
The Bears' offense had 38 seconds left to cover 60 yards after Devin Hester's 29-yard return gave it the ball at the 40-yard line. Jay Cutler's 15-yard completion to Martellus Bennett, his only catch of the day, got the Bears into Packers territory with 24 seconds left. Cutler went deep three times with no luck, including his final pass that was picked off at the goalline by Sam Shields as time ran out.
That dropped Cutler's record as a Bear against the Packers to 1-8. But he played his best game yet against Green Bay, despite a slow start by the offense, which was able to stay on the field for just 21 plays in the first half, while the Packers snapped the ball 41 times.
Cutler completed 15 of 24 passes for 226 yards with 2 touchdowns and the desperation interception for a 103.8 passer rating.
Matt Forte rushed for 110 yards on 22 carries and caught 4 passes for 47 yards, but none of it was enough to give the Bears a big enough lead that the Packers and Rodgers couldn't overcome.
"We were pretty efficient in the red zone," Cutler said as the Bears scored TDs each time they crossed the Packers' 20. "We didn't make enough plays to win, though. That's what it boiled down to. We got the loss."
Maybe the late-season fade can't be compared to the collapse of the Detroit Lions, who went 1-6 in their last seven. But Trestman's team had two opportunities to wrap up the NFC North and a playoff berth.
Instead, the Bears won't be involved in the postseason party for the sixth time in seven years.
"It's frustrating," Wootton said. "I mean, two weeks ago we sat in a position where … (we just needed) to beat Philly, and we could have won the division, (but) we got our butts whupped, and it ultimately came to this game.
"We had the game in our hands and we didn't execute when we needed to."
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