INDIANAPOLIS — In the final 223 seconds Sunday, the Bears allowed a 35-yard go-ahead touchdown pass, fumbled and gave up a field goal.
Miraculously, were still only six points behind the equally atrocious Colts when they turned the ball over on downs despite having Alshon Jeffery single-covered for what could have been a game-winning touchdown.
In that sense, the 1-4 Bears’ 29-23 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium was as pretty as a petroleum spill.
“Anyone who watched this game or was part of this game knows we battled,” guard Kyle Long said. “But sometime that’s not enough.”
It wasn’t Sunday, even if the stats say something more aesthetically pleasing. Against a team with all the defensive tenacity of a stiff cross-breeze, the Bears’ 522 yards marked the franchise’s most in 27 years. They only scored two touchdowns, though — a 21-yard catch by rookie running back Jordan Howard and a 14-yarder by second-year receiver Cam Meredith.
In his second career start, Howard finished with 16 rushes for 118 yards, including a 57-yarder, and three catches for 45 yards. In his first start, Meredith had nine catches for 130 yards.
On a day the Bears took the field with one first-round draft pick — outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (calf), quarterback Jay Cutler (thumb), receiver Kevin White (knee) and cornerback Kyle Fuller (knee) are all hurt — it was a much-needed glimmer of hope.
“It’s definitely exciting to see young guys contributing, because we have a foundation,” Howard said. “But at the end of the day, we all want to win.”
That’s what’s proving problematic for a team ravaged by injuries and inexperience — by the time either of those issues can be fixed, the season will be even farther gone.
Two penalties cost the Bears first-half points. On their first possession, Howard’s facemask call wiped out a screen pass to the 1. In the second quarter, Long held on a pass that would have given the Bears a first down at the Colts’ 17. In both cases, the team settled for field goals.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” guard Josh Sitton said. “But we gotta get to the point where we can put teams away and finish games like that.”
After Howard’s touchdown catch, quarterback Andrew Luck marched the Colts 82 yards on six plays, tossing a 35-yard pass over the middle to T.Y. Hilton to take a three-point lead with 3:43 to play. Meredith fumbled on the Bears’ next play, and Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri tied a career high by making his fifth field goal of the game — a 46-yarder.
Down six, the Bears needed to travel 75 yards in 2:28 or less. It took only three Brian Hoyer passes to go 45 yards. The Bears wouldn’t gain another first down, though, with Hoyer — who finished 33-for-43 for 397 yards — throwing incomplete to Meredith on fourth down rather than looking for Jeffery down the left sideline.
“It’s as disappointing as they come,” Hoyer said, “when you’re that close.”
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley