John Fox is so conservative, he has his own cable news network. So it was stunning when the Bears coach went mainstream-media liberal on fourth down at Denver’s 4-yard line Sunday.
The Broncos were leading 17-9 with about 10 minutes left in the game, meaning the Bears needed two scores to take the lead. A field goal was the way to go, a sure three points, a red-state, no-brainer of a decision. This is how Fox always rolls.
Not this time. He went for it on fourth down, an excellent Denver defense denied Jay Cutler’s pass attempt and the Bears went away pointless.
The failure came back to haunt them in a 17-15 loss.
“We hadn’t made many trips down there, and when we had, we hadn’t scored touchdowns,’’ Fox said. “It had been kind of a field-goal game. At that point in the game, we felt that that was going to be kind of maybe our last opportunity. So we were aggressive and came up short on fourth and 4.’’
And why did Fox think it would be the Bears’ last opportunity to score, especially considering Cutler’s much-publicized fourth-quarter comebacks this season?
“You’re going against a pretty stingy defense,’’ he said. “They scored 17 points, we scored 15. That’s not a real high-scoring game in our business. We knew it would be tough sledding and so we needed to take advantage of getting points when we had the opportunity.’’
As it turned out, the Bears were able to drive again on the Broncos’ defense — 65 yards worth of drive, in fact – and scored on Jeremy Langford’s two-yard run. The offense failed to convert on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with 24 seconds left.
To sum up: If the Bears had allowed Robbie Gould to kick a short field goal with about 10 minutes left in the game, there’s a good chance they would have won this game, improved their record to 5-5, thought big thoughts about the playoffs and, I don’t know, ended poverty. OK, we’re getting carried away here. But you get the point: If Fox had made the right decision on that fourth-down call, the Bears wouldn’t be talking about the two-point conversion that got away. They’d be talking about a victory.
Fox’s modus operandi has been the same this season as it has been at every one of his head coaching stops: Hold on to the ball, wait for opponents to make a mistake and then squeeze the life out of them. With that philosophy as your guide, how does saying “no’’ to a guaranteed three points fit? It doesn’t.
“They went for it on fourth down and didn’t convert, either,’’ he said of the Broncos. “Maybe that had a factor too.’’
It’s true that Denver went for it on fourth down at the Bears’ 2 in the third quarter and that the same criticism applies: take the points, you knuckleheads! But at least the Broncos were up 10-6 at the time. When the Bears decided to bypass a chip shot of a field goal, they were trying to find a way to make up the points necessary to win the game.
And I’m not sure why Gary Kubiak’s head-scratching decision for the Broncos should interfere with Fox’s ability to make smart choices.
Cutler said opting to run a play instead of kicking a field goal was the right one for the Bears.
“I was good with going for it,’’ he said. “I was good with the play call (offensive coordinator Adam Gase) sent in. This isn’t anything new for our group. We’ve had some red-zone problems throughout the year. We’ve got to look at that.’’
No self-respecting quarterback wants to kick a field goal in those situations. That’s why it’s up to calmer types to make the decisions. Players play and coaches get second-guessed. But most people watching this game had to be first guessing Fox’s decision before the ball was even snapped.
Maybe he was amped up playing against the team he had coached the previous four seasons. Maybe the excitement just got the best of him.
What did facing the Broncos mean to him?
“More guys to say hi to after the game,’’ he said.
One of themes of this season has been how well the Bears have been coached. It’s a nod to the staff Fox has put together and a roll of the eyes to whatever that was last season under former coach Marc Trestman.
On Sunday, the Bears took a step back, all the way to 2014.