By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Nothing’s really fun about today as it comes in the wake of a tough 31-28 overtime loss by the Chicago Bears to the Miami Dolphins.
The Bears had an opportunity to win this game and improve their record to 4-1 before a big showdown with the New England Patriots in Chicago this coming weekend. Unfortunately, the now 3-2 Bears are left in many ways back at the drawing board after a perfect opportunity gone squandered in the face of Bears killer Brock Osweiler.
Sunday’s game was another “tale of two halves”-type contest filled with plenty of ups and downs. The entire team gets a hand in this loss and once again the Bears are in need of some answers instead of being in a position to make a league-wide statement.
Though it was a negative day in South Florida, Sunday was not all bad and some positives can be taken from the tough loss. This loss, like the Packers loss in Week 1, could have major implications later on in the season if the Bears are contending for a playoff spot, but now it’s up to the Bears to put this game in the rear-view mirror and worry about defending their home turf in a showcase game.
Before we do the same, lets take a look at some key takeaways from a surprisingly wasted day on South Beach.
All Hands on Deck
What was so surreal about this game was how many advantages the Bears had coming into it. The Dolphins lost Ryan Tannehill to a shoulder injury and Brock Osweiler became the starter at quarterback. Meanwhile, the Bears only had Marcus Cooper on their injury report. But as the game was going, it became clear that something was off. In the first half it was an offensive problem as the Bears looked out of sync and went into the half scoreless.
Part of the problem in the first half was a big missed opportunity when Jordan Howard fumbled on the one-yard line. In the second half Mitchell Trubisky and the offense started to look brilliant as they started out with three straight touchdowns. But while the offense was starting to catch fire, the Bears defense was slowly dying from the fire of the sun.
The hot weather started becoming an issue and it was apparent the Bears defense was wilting. The defense gave up a pair of field goals in the third coming after long drives of bend but don’t break defense. Miami fought to be competitive but the Bears seemed to have complete control of the game up 21-13 early in the fourth quarter and on Miami’s doorstep. A poor call by the referees negated a touchdown to Tarik Cohen. Trubisky then made a terrible mistake by throwing an interception on the next play.
Albert Wilson twice ran extended sprints to the end zone in the 4th quarter thanks to horrible tackling, the first time in the drive right after the Trubisky INT, the second time doomed the game to overtime on an impossibly ling 75-yard connection that tied the game 28-28 with 3:01 left in the fourth.
In OT the Bears gave up everything except a touchdown on a great play by Akiem Hicks at the goal line as Miami was attempting to win the game. The Bears used that fumble to only get conservative on offense and lose the game.
Both Chicago’s offense and defense failed when they had chances to win the game and made way too many self inflicted wounds. The final indignity was the eighth highest kicker in the NFL, Cody Parkey, missing the kind of kick that the Bears paid him to make. This was a textbook example of losing as a team.
Trust the Process
There is no way to sugarcoat this loss and sadly it looked way too much like Green Bay in Week 1. Flat out, the Bears gave this game away from their lack of preparation for the heat during the week all the way to not taking advantage of a big second half lead. Chris Kamka of the Chicago Tribune provides a great stat that tells a lot of the story about what has held the Bears back in their efforts to be a real contender.
The Bears are not closing out games well enough so far this season, they are giving up way too many points in the final defensive sequences.
This could be a red flag or it could just be the growing pains of the NFL. Some teams can just become great in one snap and not have to lose tough games in order to learn how to win, but that’s rare. Most teams need to feel the despair of losing, especially on the road, to learn how to win over time. In football people talk about calcifying during training camp to be prepared for the season, a similar logic applies with winning in the regular season and postseason.
This Bears core and the team at large features very few players that with a ton of success in the NFL and even less with experience in highly competitive games. These young players have to learn to win even when they aren’t playing their best. Another obvious test exists right away this coming week on the home turf.
Look, all things aren’t bad for the Bears, its certainly not the end of the world. It would have been right to feel this way because the team more or less competed by accident and didn’t have much going on when they lost.
Every game this year from the Bears has had elements of positivity that showed themselves — even in the two brutal losses Chicago held control for certain periods and had times where they looked destined for a win. This team is not far at all from 5-0, its more like being right behind a well-locked door, they just need that key they know will get them in instead of going through the effort of trying to pick the lock or knock it down.
A few positives should be pointed out: Tarik Cohen is a true difference maker. Cohen backed up his fine performance against the Bucs with a near-stellar performance against the Dolphins.
Obviously, Cohen has to hold onto the ball better at crucial times but in Nagy’s offense he will continue to cause a lot of nightmares for defensive coordinators. Trubisky followed up his record game against the Bucs with an up and down game against the Dolphins but Mitch threw some beautiful balls downfield and he looked comfortable in the pocket, he also did a great job sliding across the field and not putting his body in harm’s way, it seems like he is getting better but he cannot make the two bad throws he made late in the game.
On defense Kyle Fuller made big time plays to get the Bears back into the game, namely an interception that kept Miami out the red zone just before halftime and one that he just came short of running back to the end zone in the third quarter. Without Fuller’s performance things could have gotten uglier for the Bears in this one and the overall outlook of the team may have been much more dire.
None of the mistakes the Bears made in Miami are beyond the realm of being correctable and now that their lone time in the South Florida cooker is complete they come home to Chicago, home-cooked meals, their own beds and expected cool temperatures — all the better to make things rough on Tom Brady and his crew this Sunday.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR