Cutler dreadful, offense still a disaster in the red zone
One can only wonder if Mike Shanahan recognized the Jay Cutler he developed into a Pro Bowl player with the Broncos by age 25, or did he just see the remains of what the Bears have ruined.
This sure isn't what anyone expected as the dysfunctional Bears' offense took a turn being self-destructive in a maddening 17-14 loss to Shanahan's Redskins on Sunday at Soldier Field, a defeat that could have implications later on. The Bears have now dropped two consecutive home NFC games and three of four overall since a 3-0 beginning.
The Bears (4-3) head into their open date atop the NFC North, but all of a sudden their position looks precarious and you have to wonder if three practices this week are enough to fix the mess that Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and Mike Martz have on their hands. Since missing a game because of a concussion, Cutler has been dreadful. He is being sacked at a record rate after getting nailed four more times. And in this instance, he reverted back to being the turnover machine he was last season with four interceptions, all by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall to tie an NFL record, and a fumble at the one-yard line. Hall returned the second pick 92 yards for the go-ahead score after Cutler floated a pass off his back foot that Johnny Knox had little chance to get.
Perhaps more amazing was how the Bears attempted to prove in one game that Albert Haynesworth isn't a complete $100 million bust for Daniel Snyder. On first-and-goal from the 1, he stuffed Cutler, who then fumbled. He also sacked Cutler by driving left guard Chris Williams 10 yards back into the quarterback. A typical staple of a Smith victory — a defensive touchdown in the form of a 54-yard D.J. Moore interception return in the first quarter — wasn't enough as the Bears gave the Redskins (4-3) chance after chance until they finally decided to win the game.
Obviously, it's very discouraging right now," Cutler said. "We let a game get away from us. The defense has every right to be mad at us. We blew that game offensively, and most of that falls on my shoulders."
Cutler's turnovers were bunched in the second half, when Matt Forte also lost a fumble. The quarterback lost the ball when Haynesworth throttled him and London Fletcher knocked the ball loose. It was unclear if Cutler crossed the goal line or had his momentum stopped before losing the ball.
"Considered (challenging) it quickly," said Smith, who the play before had unsuccessfully challenged that Earl Bennett had scored on a 48-yard reception. "Normally, if it's a critical play like that, we will challenge."
The Bears have run 10 plays from the opponent's one-yard line this season. They have no touchdowns and two turnovers. The offense is a disaster in the red zone, and while Cutler's streak of failing to convert a third down ended after 28 consecutive, the Bears were just 2-for-10.
Martz won't be made available until Wednesday, so that left Smith to explain the heinous showing by Cutler. He couldn't.
"I have to go and look at the video to know for sure," Smith said. "When you have that many turnovers, of course, there is a problem. I can't say. I know Jay was trying to win the football game as much as anyone was out there."
The defense — which lost linebacker Lance Briggs in the first quarter to his nagging ankle injury — played well enough to win even with Ryan Torain rushing for 125 yards. The Bears picked off Donovan McNabb twice and recovered one of six forced fumbles. But McNabb hit Santana Moss for a 24-yard touchdown pass and Graham Gano kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 10-7 Redskins' lead before the Bears drove 70 yards to go ahead 14-10 just before halftime on Cutler's nine-yard touchdown pass to Knox.
The Bears have a problem. They're still refusing to run the ball (44 pass calls vs. 16 runs) and still struggling to protect Cutler, who is now being spooked into turnovers. Lance Louis replaced Edwin Williams (back) at right guard in the first quarter. Maybe a new line will emerge after the open date. Something has to happen even if Angelo insisted on the WBBM-AM 780 pregame show that it's about continuity with the right five.
"It's not about getting great players," Angelo said. "It's about getting the same five players playing well together."
And as Cutler said, he takes an awful lot of blame too.
Bears try to stay united as they head into bye week
Bears try to stay united as they head into bye week
When the chaos mercifully ended Sunday -- after the offense turned the ball over six times and its futility on third down persisted -- the Bears remained a united front.
Admirably, defensive players such as Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers accepted their share of the blame for a 17-14 loss to the Washington Redskins even though it was neon-sign clear why the Bears dropped to 4-3.
''It's not about placing the blame on somebody else or pointing a finger at somebody,'' Peppers said. ''You look at yourself and see what you could've done better. We all could've done something to change that outcome.''
Quarterback Jay Cutler accepted responsibility for his and his offense's forgettable day.
''We let a game get away from us,'' Cutler said. ''Our defense had every right to be mad at us. We blew that game offensively. Most of that falls on my shoulders.''
Cutler's refreshing candor aside, the Bears' political correctness was easy Sunday.
It may not even be all that hard the next few days when they're still together at Halas Hall. But the challenge will start Thursday evening, when they disperse around the country for their bye weekend.
In and around Chicago, coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz will endure a barrage of criticism from fans and reporters on an assortment of issues and problems.
But players will inevitably hear family members and friends assign blame to everyone but their beloved.
Can they continue to resist the temptation to point fingers when they're not around their coaches and teammates?
''We won't [point fingers],'' Urlacher said. ''I've never been on a team like that. We won't do that. That's not an issue. Our head coach doesn't let that happen.''
Even after three consecutive non-playoff years, the players still have confidence in Smith, who's in his seventh season as coach. The Bears showcased their grit and flashed some potential during a 3-0 start, but they've also been exposed in losing three of their last four games, including the last two at Soldier Field.
The offense can't protect the quarterback (31 sacks) or consistently convert a third down (15-for-84), and the defense -- in spite of a strong effort that included a pick-six by cornerback D.J. Moore against the Redskins -- has allowed opponents an average of 126.5 rushing yards the last four games.
''It sucks bad because you have to sit on [the loss] on your bye,'' cornerback Charles Tillman said. ''I think it was a must-win. I think we're still in first place in the division, but you want to break away from the pack, and right now we're still in the pack.''
Whether they fall behind the Green Bay Packers or Minnesota Vikings, however, depends on them and how they use their open weekend.
And the onus, of course, is on Smith to set the tone.
Publicly, Smith will be diplomatic, one of the reasons his players have long respected him.
But what will Smith do privately?
How will he deal with Cutler and Martz, whom he had high hopes for during the offseason?
Players naturally gave Cutler a pass (''Jay's the least of our worries,'' Greg Olsen said), but will Smith push him about his decision-making?
Surely, Johnny Knox didn't help Cutler on at least two of the interceptions (seemingly not coming back for the ball on DeAngelo Hall's touchdown return and not slanting in front of Hall on another).
But Cutler forced several passes, including the last interception to Hall.
''You can't put that ball up there,'' Cutler said. ''I was just trying to make something happen with Johnny with his speed.''
The Bears have plenty to address during the bye. But the schedule is kind; their next game is against the winless Buffalo Bills before a tough stretch against the Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles.
''I know we have a tough second-half schedule, but we're 4-3,'' Urlacher said. ''That's reality. We lost two in a row -- that's not good -- but we are still 4-3. We just have to get better.''
Despite an open invitation from Jay Cutler, Bears defensive end Julius Peppers insisted nobody on his side of the ball holds a grudge against the offense.
“It ain't about being mad at nobody,” Peppers said. “We can be mad at the outcome. It's not about placing the blame on anybody else or somebody pointing the finger.”
When asked whether the defense did enough to win Sunday, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher snapped, “Obviously not.”
Nonetheless, if you can forget the offense's 6 second-half turnovers for a moment, consider just how well the defense laid the groundwork for a convincing victory instead of a 17-14 loss at Soldier Field.
“The second half, it was domination out there,” said Bears nickel back D.J. Moore. “They couldn't throw the ball or run it.”
At least not without trying to give it away to the Bears. Here's the proof:
Until Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb started kneeling with 1:45 left and the game clinched, he took 26 second-half snaps where the play was allowed to continue.
Of those snaps, the Bears produced 1 diving interception by Danieal Manning.
They produced 1 interception return for a touchdown (by Moore) that was brought back because of a delay-of-game penalty.
They forced the Redskins into losing 1 fumble when linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa stripped running back Ryan Torain as he raced into the red zone.
They also forced four more fumbles 2 by Charles Tillman, 1 by Brian Iwuh and 1 by Israel Idonije that the Redskins either recovered or swatted out of bounds.
For the hard of dividing, that's a potential takeaway every 3.7 plays after halftime.
Moreover, Washington's offense managed no points, 5 first downs and 132 yards in the second half.
And if you stretch this trend back even further to the final 10:21 of the second quarter the Redskins went three-and-out with 11 total yards on their final three first-half possessions it's easy to understand why the defense might be a wee bit miffed.
Idonije, who continued his recent brilliance with 1 sack, 2 pass knockdowns, 1 forced fumble and 1 quarterback hurry, chose to spin his disappointment over Sunday's misadventures into a positive.
Remember, the Bears lost linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle) before the first quarter ended Sunday and safety Major Wright (hamstring) hasn't played since Week 2. Both could be ready to go when the Bears face Buffalo on Nov. 7.
“We're going to enjoy the bye,” Idonije said, “heal up and the team we put on the field after the bye is going to be the team that we are.
“Because we're giving the games away. It's not like somebody's coming in here and actually destroying us. We're giving these wins away, plain and simple.”
Urlacher isn't quite as certain.
“We're not where we want to be, I know that much,” he said. “You want to get better as the season goes on and I don't know if we're doing that right now.
“We're making too many mistakes on both sides of the ball and we're not progressing like we should.”