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Conservative game plan can't save Jimmy Clausen in shutout loss

Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen was 9-of-17 for 63 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions for a 61.6 passer rating Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — You have to give John Fox and Adam Gase credit — they see the same Jimmy Clausen we do.

With Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery sidelined by hamstring injuries, there was little or no chance that Clausen — making his second start since 2010 — was going to be a difference-maker against a fired-up Seattle Seahawks defense playing its first regular-season home game. And Fox and Gase didn’t ask him to.

On the contrary, they used two and three tight ends in a concerted effort to rely on Matt Forte to carry the load and all but take Clausen out of the game. It was clear they didn’t want to take their chances with Clausen throwing downfield.

“You watched it. I think that it proved to be pretty true,” Fox said when asked about the strategy.

Clausen’s performance in the Bears’ 26-0 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field was predictable. He didn’t make the big mistake — the Bears had no interceptions or fumbles — but he didn’t come close to making the big play. On a third-and-four play in the first quarter of a 3-0 game, Forte was open down the sideline, but Clausen never saw him. Instead, he stepped up and scrambled for a one-yard gain and the Bears punted.

“It was tough,” Clausen said. “Our focus was [to] run the ball against these guys. That was the game plan — just stick with it, run the ball, try to take shots when shots were there.”

There weren’t many opportunities. Clausen was 9-of-17 for 63 yards, no interceptions and no touchdowns for a 61.6 passer rating. He was sacked twice. It’s the fewest passing yards for a Bears quarterback playing the entire game since “Bad Rex” Grossman (6-of-19, 34 yards, 1.3 rating) against the Vikings in 2006 en route to the Super Bowl.

Clausen’s longest completion was nine yards to Eddie Royal until the Bears suddenly trailed 13-0 in the second half. He hit tight end Zach Miller for 21 yards but that was his only completion longer than 10 yards. And he complete zero passes to Forte — the first time Forte has not caught a pass in 50 games (when he was injured against the Chiefs in 2011) and the first time Forte hasn’t caught a pass in a full game since the 2009 season opener against the Packers. Usually Forte is a safety valve when the Bears’ passing game is struggling. But he was barely an option with this game plan.

“He did well,” Forte said of Clausen’s performance. “Obviously we’ve got to watch the entire film. But from what I could see right now, he did as good a job as I thought he would do.”

That pretty much said it all. The Bears didn’t ask Clausen to do too much, and weren’t disappointed.

“He did really great,” tackle Kyle Long said. “He was doing a lot of stuff with different snap counts and obviously with that defense you have threats everywhere. Jimmy did a great job leading the offense. We need to put him in a better position to have success.”

“It’s a tall order, coming in to one of the toughest places to play in the league, where communication is so difficult,” guard Matt Slauson said. “I thought he did really well keeping his chin up, staying poised, staying confident. I was pleased with that.”

Share Events on The CubeOn the Bears’ very first offensive play, Clausen looked like he was Peyton Manning trying to direct protections and perhaps change the play. The Bears were called for a false start, Forte lost four yards on the next play and suddenly were in a second-and-19 situation at their 11-yard line — exactly the situation they wanted to avoid.

“We were trying to do too much at the line — that’s on me,” Clausen said. “You can’t have that.”

After a three-and-out on that initial series, Clausen settled down and the Bears had six first downs in the first half — that seemed like momentum considering how conservative the game plan was. “We had a really good plan,” Slauson said. “We felt we could get physical on ‘em up front and we did a good job with it [at the] beginning. But we couldn’t finish drives. That was the biggest problem.”

Indeed it was. The Bears punted on all 10 of their possessions Sunday. Six of them were three-and-outs. The Bears were shut out for the first time since 2002 — when Henry Burris and Cory Sauter played quarterback in a 15-0 loss to the Buccaneers at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

“Yeah, that’s not good, obviously,” Clausen said when asked about the 10 punts in 10 possessions. “We needed to get the ball down in the red zone to try to get us an opportunity to kick a field goal and score. But it just didn’t happen.”