The Bears’ season-long offensive issues will take a back seat this week.
Vic Fangio’s defense has been one of the redeeming qualities of a difficult Bears season — the Bears ranked seventh in total defense last week and 13th in net points allowed. But the defense not only faltered throughout Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Packers — allowing 451 yards, including 226 on the ground — but was burned on the game-deciding play when Aaron Rodgers completed a 60-yard pass to Jordy Nelson on third-and-11 that set up Mason Crosby’s winning field goal.
How rookie cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc ended up one-on-one vs. Nelson in such a critical moment remained a mystery Monday.
“I think we’d run that particular coverage a couple of other times and been successful,” Bears coach John Fox said. “Actually we had a decent day on third down [the Packers were 2-for-9 before that play]. They just made a really good play.”
That they did, but not without some kind of breakdown on the part of the Bears’ defense. If the Packers’ 19th-ranked pass defense can hold Alshon Jeffery to one target and without a catch for three quarters, the Bears’ defense should be able to prevent the only play that could have beaten them in a critical moment. Even against Rodgers and Nelson.
“There were a whole lot of plays before that one — I think that affected the outcome [as well],” Fox said. “Obviously it was a big play, but it wasn’t the only big play. The biggest factor was minus-4 in the turnover ratio.”
1a. The only other time Rodgers has completed a pass of 50 yards or more in the final minute of the game in his career was the 61-yard Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers that beat the Lions last year at Ford Field. Even for Aaron Rodgers that’s a fluky play.
The only play close to what he did against the Bears on Sunday also came against the Bears — in the 2013 season finale, Rodgers’ 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter gave the Packers a 33-28 victory and the NFC North championship and kept the Bears out of the playoffs.
2. The threat of Rodgers seemed to discombobulate Fox a bit when he declined a 10-second run-off after Lane Taylor’s injury with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Packers facing a third-and-11 from their 26. Fox aggressively wanted to give the Bears time for a field goal if they forced a punt. But he also seemed to want to avoid giving Rodgers enough time if he converted the third down, and got caught in between.
That’s about he only explanation for why Fox declined the run-off but did not call time out. With the clock running on the referee’s signal, the Packers did not snap the ball until 36 seconds remained, a lapse of 18 seconds.
“It was going to be a winding clock, we knew that,” Fox said. “Without the 10-second run-off, let’s say we get the stop on third-and-11 — there’s not going to be much time. It’s depending on where you want your time outs. It’s kind of six [of one], half-dozen [of another]. It really doesn’t matter because that’s not the way it went.”
3. Here’s how bad the Bears’ run defense was against the Packers: In Week 15 — pretty late in the season for big statistical movements — the Bears dropped from 11th to 24th in the NFL in first-down rushing defense after allowing 153 yards on 12 first-down rushes Sunday.
In the previous eight games, the Bears had allowed 3.6 yards per carry on first down. On Sunday, it was 12.8 yards per carry, bumping their overall average from 3.9 yards per rush to 4.4.
4. The Packers seemed to get a break — as they often do against the Bears — when they had 10 defenders on the field for the Bears’ critical third-and-goal play from the 4. Nose tackle Letroy Guion belatedly ran onto the field from Packers’ side of the end zone into the exact area that the play was called to go, causing at least a bit of confusion on Matt Barkley’s part.
“I saw that, Barkley said. “I kind of had to hesitate actually throwing that because I thought he was looking at me and was going to come under and pick it off. Kind of a funny situation. But I didn’t see [the missing defender].”
5. The Jaguars blowing a 13-0 lead and losing to the Texans cost Gus Bradley is job but also was costly for the Bears. Had the Jaguars won to improve to 3-11, the Bears (3-11) would be third in the 2017 draft order, winning the strength-of-schedule tie-breaker.
As it is, the Bears can finish with no worse than the ninth pick in the first round if they win their final two games, and sixth overall if they win one of their last two.
5a. The current draft order prior to the Panthers-Redskins game Monday night (with record and strength-of-schedule in parentheses): 1. Browns (0-14, .558); 2. 49ers (1-3, .507); 3. Jaguars (2-12, .540); 4. Bears (3-11, .522); 5. Rams (4-10, .498); 6. Jets (4-10, .516); 7. Chargers (5-9, .538); 8. Eagles (5-9, .573); 9. Cardinals (5-8-1, .466); 10. Panthers (5-8, .514).
6. Ravens coach John Harbaugh had no trouble playing the blame game after offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a pass play from the Eagles 11 with the Ravens leading 27-17 with 6:21 left in the fourth quarter. Joe Flacco’s first-down pass was intercepted, igniting an Eagles comeback. The Ravens survived 27-26 when the Eagles failed on a two-point conversion with four seconds left.
“All-time worst call ever. I’ll take responsibility for it,” Harbaugh said of Mornhinweg’s play call. “I should have vetoed it right away. I like an aggressive mindset, but that was way too aggressive. It should have never happened. We should have never been in that situation as a result of that.”
7. Here’s how tight the difference is between winning and losing in the NFL: In the last five games, the Bears are 1-4 with a point-differential of plus-2 (107-105). In the same span, Adam Gase’s Dolphins are 4-1 with a point-differential of plus-3 (111-108).
8. Underrated play-call of the game: Matt Barkley’s screen pass to running back Jeremy Langford for an 18-yard gain to the Packers 16-yard line with 2:00 to play was executed with Packers-like precision, with center Cody Whitehair and left guard Josh Sitton providing the key blocks.
9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week: With his strip-sack and fumble recovery on the first play from scrimmage of the second half against the Bears on Sunday, Packers linebacker Julius Peppers now has 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in 46 regular-season games since the Bears cut him after the 2013 season. Jared Allen, acquired to replace Peppers, had 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 15 games for the Bears.
10. Bear-ometer (4-12): vs. Redskins (W); at Vikings (L).