The score and game flow were such that the Tennessee Titans were able to spend the entire fourth quarter Sunday in a form of prevent defense.
They knew as long as they didn’t make a critical mistake — allowing a huge play or turning the ball over — there was nothing the Chicago Bears could do to pull off the kind of wild, come-from-behind win that highlighted the early portion of the Bears schedule.
Truthfully, the Bears needed multiple huge plays and at least one takeaway for a dramatic rally, and they got none in a 24-17 loss at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. Their third straight loss dropped them to 5-4 and served as a weekly reminder that they are operating one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Questions continue. Answers remain sketchy — at best — and it’s fair to start wondering if the Bears’ 5-1 start will be wasted away as they enter a critical portion of the schedule with the next three games against division rivals. If the playoffs started this week, the Bears would not be in the seven-team NFC field.
“Obviously, a high level of frustration,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Anytime you lose three games in a row, you feel that way. We didn’t do enough offensively to get the job done. Recurring theme here on offense. That starts with me, and we’ve got to get it better.”
Nagy could record that and have the team’s public relations staff play it back for the next few weeks. Because the way things are going, with injuries and COVID-19 issues now plaguing the roster, it takes a wild optimist to think things will improve much.
When you glance at the box score, some of it looks like a pretty good day at the office. This was precisely the kind of game that leads coaches to say statistics don’t always tell you a lot about the actual game.
— The Bears piled up 375 yards of offense, their second-highest total this season, and outgained the Titans by 147 yards.
— They possessed the ball for 33 minutes, 54 seconds — nearly eight minutes more than the Titans.
— Nick Foles completed 36 of 52 passes for 335 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. A lot of that had to do with the soft zone coverage the Titans played while protecting a 17-0 lead after the Bears went scoreless in the third quarter for the eighth time in nine games.
— The defense limited Derrick Henry to 68 yards on 21 carries. He had one 26-yard gain and was otherwise almost completely bottled up.
— Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed only 10 of 21 passes for 158 yards.
— Bears punter Pat O’Donnell had a strong game, and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo ran 11 yards on a fake punt to move the chains. It happened to be the long run of the game for the Bears, but it was a good day for the special teams.
Yet it never felt like the Bears were within a touchdown. The Titans led 10-0 at halftime, and as the case has been for most of the season, any hole the Bears are in at the start of the third quarter only becomes deeper before the fourth quarter.
The Titans’ 17-0 lead entering the fourth might as well have been 47-0. Sure, tight end Jimmy Graham caught an 8-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds remaining to draw the Bears within one score, but when you’re relying on an onside kick, your chances are mighty slim.
At least Graham did something after he was called for a false start early in the third quarter immediately after rookie left guard Arlington Hambright had a false start. That turned fourth-and-1 at the Titans 31-yard line into a punting situation.
Graham has been largely ineffective in recent weeks as the offense hasn’t been able to utilize him in the red zone. He doesn’t run well enough to be a legitimate focal point in the passing game, and rookie tight end Cole Kmet, who probably wasn’t 100% after a groin injury this week, went another game without a target.
The offense was a disastrous 2-for-15 on third down against the worst third-down defense in the NFL. The Titans were allowing opponents to convert a whopping 61.9%.
When Mingo’s 11-yard run is the long for the day, it’s a bad day for the ground game. The Bears had 56 yards on 20 carries, and David Montgomery was limited to 30 yards on 14 attempts. He got stuffed on fourth-and-1 to snuff out a promising opening drive. Montgomery left to be evaluated for a concussion, and it looked like he was favoring his left shoulder when he left the field.
The offensive line was down to two starters from the beginning of the season: left tackle Charles Leno and right guard Germain Ifedi. That’s not to make excuses, but it does explain some of the issues. Still, does anyone legitimately believe the offensive production would have been significantly different with the original starting five in place?
Nagy has lamented penalties much of the season — and the Hambright-Graham daily double was brutal — but the Bears had only five penalties for 35 yards. They’re getting behind the chains, they’re struggling to get the ball to their playmakers and the vaunted defense has now gone consecutive games without a takeaway and has only nine for the season. The Bears aren’t good enough to win many games without a takeaway, and they have only one in the last three games, all losses.
Add it all up, and the chatter you heard about this being a special team after the rally to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a short week in Week 5 seems like it was two months ago. The Bears need a bye week in the worst way, but they will have to settle for a long week instead as they host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, Nov. 16, before finally getting their week off.
Soldier Field has been a house of horrors for the Vikings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 road games in the rivalry. But the Vikings team that looked awful while beginning the season 1-5 has now defeated the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in consecutive weeks and finally is complementing the Dalvin Cook-led running game with better defense.
With three straight division games and the bye coming up, Nagy was asked if the team has reached a point where it desperately has to turn things around. As he started to answer, the room he was in inside Nissan Stadium went dark.
“We’ve got to — I don’t know if you can see me, the (lights are out) — we do got to right the ship, and we’ve just got to do it by getting one win,” Nagy said. “We’ve got to be able to, by any measures, find a way to do it. I think our guys will do that. I think that they understand where we’re at. Again, unfortunately last year we were in this mode and we lost four in a row and it’s hard.
“When you’re sitting 5-1, to be 5-4, it hurts. But now we’ve got to make sure, whatever those issues are, we just at some point in time get this thing back on track. And that’s my job as the head coach to do that. And trust me, I’m going to look at everything.”
If the Bears don’t find some solutions, the lights will be out on this season before long.
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