Had Matt Barkley led the Bears to the season’s most improbable comeback, overcoming the Titans’ 20-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter Sunday, thousands of Bears fans were ready to lie and say they were still at Solider Field.
Instead, receivers Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson dropped touchdown passes in the game’s final minute, and the Bears fell, 27-21, despite an inspired fourth quarter.
They did it a sparsely filled stadium. The Bears said 11,086 of their 59,494 tickets sold Sunday went unused — an astounding 18.6 percent. Even more bolted at halftime, when the Bears trailed 21-7.
Running back Jordan Howard noticed the disparity, saying the stadium with “pretty packed to start” but there were empty seats in the second half.
“We ain’t been giving the fans nothing to really cheer about,” he said. “But we were really appreciative of the support.”
With three home games left in the 2-9 Bears’ slog, it will get worse. The Packers game will draw, but the Bears host the one-win 49ers next week and must contend with Christmas Eve plans after their noon Redskins game.
The march to a top-three pick will be televised — though probably not well-attended.
Those who stayed Sunday were entertained, at least.
Starting for Jay Cutler one week after he injured his right shoulder, Barkley threw two red-zone interceptions — one in the end zone after a successful onside kick —but rallied the Bears late. Down 20, he found Marquess Wilson for an 8-yard touchdown with 8:23 to play and Thompson for a 6-yarder about five minutes later to pull the Bears within six.
After Eddie Goldman stuffed a Titans shovel pass on third-and-2 with 2:06 left to force a punt, Barkley marched the Bears to the Titans’ 7 before throwing four incompletions. Two were drops — Bellamy on first down and Thompson on fourth.
Despite the all-too-typical result, the effort, at least, indicates the outmanned Bears haven’t quit on coach John Fox or his staff.
After the loss, defensive end Akiem Hicks praised coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheming, while Barkley, who went 28-for-54 for 316 yards and three scores, asserted that play-caller Dowell Loggains “called a helluva game.”
“We’re not getting the result that we want,” Hicks said. “But at least you know that your brothers, your coaching staff, your personnel, everybody’s in there with you, fighting to get a better result out of it.”
About 10 minutes into the game, Barkley gave the Bears the lead on a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Brown. The Titans scored the next 27 points, though, starting with Derrick Henry’s 11-yard run in the first quarter’s final seconds.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who went 15-for-23 for 226 yards and a 126.4 passer rating, threw second-quarter scoring passes to Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews. Ryan Succop kicked two field goals to go ahead by 20 before the Bears attempted their comeback.
The result was the same refrain, though, even if the optics — to those who stuck around — looked better.
“Quite frankly, I think a lot of guys are tired of having to look for the bright side on it,” Hicks said. “We want that result. I know I do — I want that result.”