The Bears aren’t a good football team.
That wasn’t breaking news before they lost in painful fashion to the Vikings on Sunday, so it’s not breaking news now. But it needs to be pointed out in case anyone believes the Bears are a player or two away from turning this thing around.
They are an offense and a defense away from turning this thing around.
The Bears ostensibly lost because cornerback Sherrick McManis couldn’t make a routine play late in the fourth quarter. But the real indictment is that McManis was in the game for an injured nickleback named Bryce Callahan, an undrafted rookie from Rice whom nobody has good reason to know. The Bears have some people on the roster their families might need convincing are football players.
That’s what happens when you’re in rebuild mode, not that you’ll ever hear anyone in the organization say such a thing out loud. But a rebuild certainly was on display Sunday in a 23-20 loss that ended with Blair Walsh’s 36-yard field goal and no time left on the clock at Soldier Field.
The Bears were on their way to their third victory of the season, and then they weren’t. It’s the fate of subpar teams in the NFL — they can’t make plays when necessary. Teams with winning records can. The Vikings won’t be confused with the 1978 Steelers, but they are 5-2. The Bears are 2-5.
The end came on a third-and-four just after the two-minute warning. The Bears were ahead 20-13, thanks to Jay Cutler’s four-yard, battering-ram touchdown run. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed a short pass to rookie receiver Stefon Diggs, who did a quick turn to his right after catching the ball. The move left a sprawled McManis feeling for his valuables.
Diggs ran 40 yards for the touchdown.
“I’ve got to do my job,’’ McManis said. “That was my guy. He stopped, and then he got open. I need to stay with him. … My man, my guy.’’
A few reporters tried to raise the possibility of new grass at Soldier Field being the culprit, but McManis, to his credit, was having none of it.
“Nah, I like the turf,’’ he said.
The game wasn’t over at that point. The Bears’ offense went three and out, handing Minnesota the ball with a minute left. The killer was a deep pass from Bridgewater that was heading right for Bears safety Antrel Rolle. But before Rolle could grab it out of the air, Vikings receiver Charles Johnson stepped in front of him for a 35-yard catch.
“I thought it was just a for-sure layup,’’ Rolle said. “I couldn’t even see the receiver on the outside of me. I just waited until the ball came and jumped up. I guess he had a running start coming from my side in. He just made a hell of a catch.’’
Sticking with the basketball theme, Bears coach John Fox said: “It’s like, ‘What should the guy have done better to get the rebound?’ I don’t know, get the rebound.’’
One play later, Walsh hit a trey to give his team the victory.
Adrian Peterson ran for 103 yards. Matt Forte missed much of the second half with a leg injury. And so it goes for both teams, one heading up, the other down.
“We have good coaches, we have good schemes,’’ Cutler said. “We have to find some better ways to execute as players and find ways in the fourth quarter to close out games like this because we aren’t far away. We aren’t far away at all.’’
But that’s just it: The Bears are far away. They don’t have the good players to match the good coaches. They are in that great maw of teams that aren’t very good. There is much work to be done after the season. And the season after that.
Cutler was more than fine Sunday, completing 22 of 33 passes for 211 yards. Some fans are frustrated with all the short passes and want to see Cutler’s amp plugged in again. But we’ve seen that concert too many times. It usually ends with the stage collapsing.
The exception Sunday was a beautiful pass into the corner of the end zone that Alshon Jeffery pulled in just before halftime. That’s when life was looking up.
Then came the fourth quarter.
“It’s a play or two every game,’’ McManis said. “It’s a game of inches. I know we’ve all heard that. Plays like that you’ve just got to make. I’ve got to make those plays.’’
It’s what happens to teams that aren’t very good.