Nobody was happier to see U.S. military members being honored Thursday night than the Bears were. It meant that, for a moment at least, the crowd’s attention was not on the dreadful football being played by the home team. It meant that there was the strange sound of cheers at Soldier Field instead of the normal fare of grumbles, boos and last words from condemned Bears fans.
If coach Marc Trestman had started waving an American flag to prolong the patriotic fervor, nobody would have been surprised.
This was the third quarter, just about the time things completely fell apart for the Bears. Or to put it more accurately, this was just about the time the Bears completely fell apart. Whatever happened to them happened because of them. What ended up being a 41-28 Dallas victory was just about to crank into gear. The Cowboys would score 21 points in the quarter.
Did the Bears quit when it mattered Thursday night? No, but all of their shortcomings showed up when it mattered. This was more of a deflation, like a balloon going limp. Lifeless is more like it. When you have a team that has very little talent and the coaching to match it, nights like Thursday happen.
The Bears were all but out of the playoffs at the start of the game, and the Cowboys were trying to avoid a late-season swoon. And both teams played like it.
Please don’t get caught up in the Bears’ late comeback. It was too little, too late, and I fear it will only encourage an intractable organization to put the tractor in reverse when change is what is needed. The Bears showed effort, you say? Look, effort comes standard on the car. Everything else is the important stuff.
“What’s effort get you? A cup of coffee, right?’’ defensive end Jared Allen said. “We’ve got to win football games. That’s the bottom line.’’
The Bears are 5-8. The Cowboys are 9-4. And the difference between the two teams was more glaring than the records and the final score showed.
Don’t lose sight of a first half in which the Bears had four rushing yards. I know they ran only 20 plays in the first half, but still. Four yards. This was the same team that had run the ball just seven times the week before in a loss to the Lions. It was the same team with the same coach who had vowed to run it more against the Cowboys. Dallas led 14-7 at halftime, so it wasn’t as if the Bears were playing catch-up and had to pass. The whole thing was, in a word, brutal.
“We’ve got a long way to go,’’ Trestman said of his woebegone team.
There were dumb penalties by the Bears, including a false start on a punt. There was a blocked extra point and a deflected punt. There was a lost fumble by Bears running back Matt Forte. There were massive holes for Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 179 yards.
“Their running game wasn’t anything complicated that we didn’t know was going to come at us,’’ Allen said.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall got knocked out of the game with a rib injury. Safety Chris Conte left with a back injury, but not before being victimized on a beautiful 24-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Cole Beasley in the third quarter.
Let’s put something to rest. When former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the “Tony Romo of the Midwest’’ during a radio interview in October, it was meant as an indictment of Cutler. But for all the arrows Romo takes for being unreliable in the clutch, he’s better than Cutler is.
Cutler had one of his best games of the season, throwing for 341 yards and two touchdowns, but he had the requisite interception in the end zone, giving him his league-leading 15th pick of the season. The gaudy numbers were all empty calories. The Bears were down 35-7 in the fourth quarter, when Cutler did most of his damage. And even with all that production toward the end of the game, there was never the real feeling Romo or the Cowboys were going to lose this one.
“We just have to continue to trust the plan and believe we can still turn this around,’’ Bears safety Ryan Mundy said. “When we play our best, it’s good.’’
The problem is that the Bears haven’t played their best in a long time. And even if they turn it around, they’re going nowhere. Oh, and by the way, what plan?
The sooner this season ends, the sooner we can start doing something better with our time. Like staring at a wall.