They’re being pushed into desperate times after they dominated the lowly Jaguars at Soldier Field only to give the game away in the closing minutes, losing 17-16 to a team that has been inept on the road under coach Gus Bradley.
The Bears held a clear edge in nearly every phase, finishing plus-two in turnovers and controlling the ball for 35 minutes, 47 seconds for an advantage of more than 11 minutes. They ran 22 more offensive plays than the Jaguars. Brian Hoyer went over 300 passing yards for the fourth consecutive game and ran his streak of attempts without an interception to 189. But the numbers proved hollow once again and the offense remained inept in the red zone despite No. 1 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery being prominently targeted.
John Fox’s team is reeling at 1-5 and could soon find itself in worse shape as it plays at the Packers on Thursday night and then hosts the division-leading and unbeaten Vikings on Oct. 31. That could be a quick journey to 1-7, a record the Bears have not had at the halfway point of the season since 2000. The Bears have finished in the cellar of the NFC North for two straight years and the third-place Lions are two games ahead.
This marks the first time the Bears are 1-5 since 2004, Lovie Smith‘s first season. He managed to build a contender rather quickly. Try as they might, it is difficult for Fox and Co. to sell progress. Where is the development of young talent? Are difference-makers emerging?
Like it or not, the quarterback situation will be front and center the rest of the way. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported a week ago that it is Hoyer’s job to lose when Cutler is healthy. That’s significant when you consider Glazer’s relationship with Fox. Recall it was Glazer who tipped that Fox was headed out of Denver before the Broncos were upset at home in the playoffs by the Colts after the 2014 season.
Cutler has yet to practice and the Bears probably have only a scaled-back session Tuesday in preparation for the trip to Lambeau Field. He wasn’t wearing a protective brace on his right thumb when he exited the locker room. Fox has made it clear he has nothing to say about a quarterback quandary until Cutler is healthy. Switching quarterbacks offers little hope for the franchise, though, as it continues to explore new depths. It’s not like Cutler played well the first two games.
The Bears led 13-0 after three quarters Sunday. The last time they blew such a lead in the fourth quarter was Week 2 of the 1999 season when the Seahawks rallied to defeat them 14-13.
“We just can’t mess anything up if we expect to win ballgames in the NFL,” right guard Kyle Long said. “And that will be no different on Thursday night and no different whenever the hell we play after that. I mean, we can’t keep losing these games.”
The margin for error is razor thin because the Bears have a flawed roster and have been dealing with injuries. It’s at least refreshing to hear a player come to terms with reality. Maybe they get outside linebacker Pernell McPhee back soon, perhaps as soon as the Packers game, but what kind of shape will he be in? The Bears don’t have a player preparing to return who is going to tilt the field for them.
Fox’s bunch led 13-7 when outside linebacker Willie Young forced one of those hard-to-find takeaways, stripping Blake Bortles from behind to set the offense up on the Jaguars’ 28-yard line with 11:34 remaining. It was the perfect opportunity to put Jacksonville, 1-14 on the road with Bortles starting, away. Instead, they settled for a Connor Barth field goal. At least Barth avoided being a scapegoat for a week.
What will push Fox to turn back to Cutler when he’s healthy? Who knows? Hoyer completed 30 of 49 passes for 302 yards and was sacked only once, but the narrative that the offensive line is improving by leaps and bounds is probably skewed. They managed only 92 yards on 26 handoffs. So much for run/pass balance, but at least Jeffery was targeted 13 times. He caught seven passes for 93 yards. Rookie Jalen Ramsey broke up a fourth-down throw to him with 57 seconds remaining, sealing defeat.
“I don’t think we’ve turned the ball over,” Fox said. “I think we won that part of the game. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t all quite there.”
It hasn’t been there all season.