Toughest of losses for Chicago Bears
In the myriad ways the Chicago Bears have found this year to play hard and keep it close but ultimately lose, this one was special, and not just because it was the Packers.
To a lot of fans, players and coaches, knocking Green Bay's playoff drive into a ditch would have gone a long way toward mitigating a season with just 3 victories.
And the Bears were on the precipice of accomplishing the upset at frigid Soldier Field -- until Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tossed them off the cliff.
Rodgers did what he often does against the Bears, just a bit more dramatically this time.
With 31 seconds and no timeouts remaining in a 27-27 game, Rodgers dropped a bomb into the outstretched arms of Jordy Nelson for 60 yards.
By the time players hurried downfield and Rodgers spiked the ball, only three seconds were left. Just enough time for Mason Crosby's 32-yard field goal to deliver one of the most gut-wrenching defeats of the Bears' 3-11 season.
The Packers' fourth straight win moved their record to 8-6 and left them a game behind the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions, who fell to 9-5 after losing to the New York Giants.
This defeat was especially galling -- but not just because rookie cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc let Nelson get behind him or because LeBlanc had no deep help from a safety.
"I'm not going to get into the blame game," coach John Fox said of that play. "Our guys fought hard. We had an opportunity to win a game and came up short. It's happened quite a few times here late."
The last 2 Bears losses each have been by 3 points, and the 2 before that were 6-point defeats, including the 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in which a pair of Matt Barley passes were dropped in the end zone in the final minute.
This one stood out because the Bears roared back from 27-10 fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game with 79 seconds left.
For the first time in the first four starts of his NFL career, Barkley hit a personal rough patch. But he came back with a vengeance.
Counting a Hail Mary into the end zone on the final play of the first half that was intercepted by Micah Hyde, Barkley turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions. The 4 turnovers came in a 13-play span, 2 of them on consecutive snaps sandwiched around halftime.
On the first play of the second half, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers sacked Barkley, stripped the ball and recovered the fumble at the Bears' 17.
On the Bears' ensuing possession, Barkley, who had not been intercepted in his previous two games, was picked off by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Next possession, Clinton-Dix picked Barkley again.
The flurry of turnovers turned a 10-10 game into a 27-10 Packers lead heading into the fourth quarter.
"Obviously we dug ourselves a hole, but (Barkley) responded," Fox said. "Our team responded."
That's when Barkley got hot. In a fourth quarter with a passer rating of 115.8, he completed 15 of 20 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.
Rookie center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game, said the comeback goes toward Barkley's mental toughness.
"He just didn't let it get to him," Whitehair said. "You can let those couple turnovers get to you, or you can just take it (to the) next play -- and that's what he did. He really kept his poise and kept things going."
Barkley finished 30-for-43 for 362 yards with 2 touchdown passes and 3 interceptions for an 81.7 passer rating. The completions, yards and completion percentage (69.7) were personal bests.
"I just settled down and didn't try to force anything," Barkley said. "I stuck with my reads, and guys were getting open. We sped things up with the tempo. We hurried up, got to the line quicker and it seemed to work for us."
But, as usual in this season of disappointment, it wasn't enough.
"We didn't do the things necessary to win the game," Fox said. "We'd like to avoid those picks and hopefully at some point we will."
• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.