Monday, December 12, 2011

Bears Tebunked in Denver 13—10, December 11, 2011

The Bears 13—10 defeat in Denver saw the defense put in a months worth of effort in a single game. At the same time, the fans got a year's worth of frustrations. The Bears were Tebunked.

Lovie Smith called the devastating defeat “one of the toughest I’ve had to deal with.” According to famed coach and current sports commentator Tony Dungy, “This was not about Tim Tebow winning the game, this was about the Bears losing the game.” Regardless of Dungy's comments, one can certainly make the argument that the Bears did well in some respects considering the fact that they were missing their two top offensive players. That does not mitigate the sting of the loss of course. With their starting quarterback Jay Cutler out along with their all-purpose running back Matt Forte, they had few surprises for the Denver defense that seems to be getting better each week.

The Game

In the first half, the Bears stuffed the Denver offense and blocked a field goal attempt. "Peanuts" Tillman made an interception that could be used in a wide receivers instructional film—it was perfect. Bear defenders did an excellent job containing Tim Tebow's runs and putting some pressure on him. Briggs and Idonije were called for separate roughing the passer violations on hits that were so soft, the teammates might be lambasted for lack of intensity by their coaches. On the offensive side of the ball, a few key false starts and sacks punctuated a complete offensive dud.

Hanie did not look good, but by the same token he was not making rookie mistakes and throwing interceptions. As inept as the offense appeared to be playing, Hanie's numbers were not those of a quarterback who was self-destructing or killing his team.

Denver was awful on offense. The Briggs and Idonije fouls did not contribute to any Denver scoring. You might argue that they contributed to poorer field position for the Bears' offense when they got the ball back.

Towards the middle of the third quarter, Devin Hester ran back a punt to the Bears' 42 followed by a successful drive that featured five Marion Barber rushes (for 36 total yards) including a 9 yard touchdown run. Barber was able to "front" the drive that led to the first TD. This was no small feat when you consider that Barber was the biggest threat that the Denver defense had to key on.

When Denver got the ball after the Bears' TD, the Bears defense stuffed the Broncos again and the ball was back into Chicago's hands with a little under 4 minutes left in the quarter. Hester returned another punt for 10-yards to the Bears 37. What followed was a couple more Barber runs and a 17-yard completion to Roy Williams to put the Bears in field goal range. Hanie showed some toughness in this possession. A face mask penalty call against Devin Hester and a Hanie sack took the Bears out of field goal range. But the backup quarterback recovered enough yards when he hit Barber on a 16 yard pass to put them right back in field goal range, albeit at the fringes. Gould managed a 57-yarder to put the Bears up 10—0 a few seconds into the 4th quarter.

The Bears offense had been anemic, but they did score 10 points on a tough defense. And, they had not been reckless. The defense had been chasing Tim Tebow all over the field and had managed to keep Denver from scoring in the first three quarters.

At this point in the game, the entire football watching world was wondering if Tim Tebow was going to work some magic to turn things around. At first, at least, it didn't look that way. Denver went three and out, but the Bears offense returned the favor and followed the Broncos' example. Collectively both possessions used less than four minutes time. After the Bears punt and a Quan Cosby 13 yard return to the Denver 37, the Broncos had the ball with 11:30 to go.

The first play resulted in a holding call against the Broncos, but Tebow followed with three decent passes collecting 37 positive yards to the Bears 36. On the next two plays Tebow was stuffed and then sacked whereupon he coughed up the ball to Israel Idonije of the Bears. It was Bears ball, leading 10—0 with 8:53 left after what should have been a momentum changing turnover. At that point it looked like Tebow and the Broncos would take a loss.

A Bears three and out used up a measly 2 minutes of clock and the Bears punted to the Denver 7 yard line. Tebow took over behind 10—0 with 6:50 remaining. A decent first down pass netted the Broncos a first down and 23 yards, but the Denver offense laid another egg and had to punt the ball back to the Bears.

The Bears began their next drive at their own 17 with 5:41 left. It was beginning to look like it would take a miracle for Denver to come back. The Bears inched their way towards the first yard marker on three rushes that totaled 9 yards—one yard shy. A Podlesh punt to the Denver 31 was returned by Quan Cosby to the Denver 37 for the start of Tebow's next series. There was 4:34 remaining in the game.

Using about 2 1/2 minutes of clock, Tebow finally got a sustained drive going with a series of 7 passes including a 10 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown. After the extra point, the score was Bears 10—Broncos 7.

With time running out, the Broncos attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the Bears Nick Roach. It was Bears ball on their own 49 with 2:05 remaining. The game was solidly in the Bears hands at this point.

After the Bears first rush, the two minute warning was called to stop the clock. On the next play, Marion Barber inexplicably ran the ball out of bounds stopping the clock. After a short rush up the middle and a punt, Denver got the ball on their 20 yard line with 56 seconds remaining. The Bears had managed to use up barely a minute of clock.

After three decent pass plays followed by two failed ones and a Tebow stuff, Denver decided to attempt a 59-yard Matt Prater field goal. It was good and the game was tied 10-10. The half ended after Devon Hester was tackled on the ensuing kick off. The Bears and Broncos went to overtime.

The Bears had first possession and drove the ball down the field on three Hainie completions followed by an incomplete pass and then a short rush by Barber. On the next play, Barber ran through heavy traffic and just as he was moving into the clear for a first down and a lot more, linebacker Wesley Woodyard desperately grabbed at Barber's arm and ripped the ball out if his grasp. Barber was already past Woodyard when the contact was made and he fumbled and Denver recovered on their 33 yard line.

Denver had the ball in good field position and Tebow chipped away at the Bears with four passes that net just over 30 yards and three rushes that net another 7 yards—it was just enough to give Matt Prater another field goal opportunity. After making a 59-yard attempt earlier in the game, it was no surprise to the millions watching to see Prater nail a 51 yard attempt that sealed the Denver victory.

This game and a few previous Bears losses will be fodder for plenty of columns and blogs like this one, but the bottom line is simply this: The Bears are simply not a very good team without Cutler and Forte. Hainie might get much better in time, but they are not very good now. They just don't have the offensive tools to be a good team right now. On defense, they can still play very well, but their performance there is going to slip unless the offense improves. The defense needs at least a glimmer of hope from the offense.

In retrospect, the Denver game was exceptionally painful for several reasons. As frustrating as the Bears were on offense, Denver was far worse for almost the entire game. For fans, watching a game with two ineffective offensives can be painful. Another reason for the frustration was that the game seemingly didn't have to come down to overtime had the Bears been able to burn up a few more seconds. In a way, the Bears did all the hard things—contained Tebow, avoided interceptions and scored 10 points, but not the easy ones.

Some will pin the loss on Barber, but like last week's loss, Lovie Smith and his players have suggested that everyone had a chance to make some plays that would have led to victory rather than defeat. Matt Spaeth pointed out that Bears would not have been in the game had it not been Barber's play.

The 7-6 Bears take on the 6-7 Seahawks next week. They need to right the ship if they have any hopes for a Wild Card shot. The team that they field will not include some of their top skill positions players.
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

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