At the epicenter of country music, the Bears’ offense mastered the two-step — or at least two steps back — in their 24-17 loss to the Titans on Sunday. Many of its biggest mistakes came on consecutive plays:
The first fourth-and-one
The Bears’ problems started with their first possession. On third-and-five at the Titans’ 38, receiver Allen Robinson ran an out route at the 35 and drifted back to the 34 as he went out of bounds. He was ruled short.
The Bears thought the Titans would try man coverage, but they played cover-2. Robinson expected cornerback Malcolm Butler to be closer to him when he caught the ball.
“It’s just one of those plays where maybe I possibly could have tried to buy a little more time in-bounds to try and be able to stretch out,” Robinson said Sunday.
Faced with fourth-and-one, the Bears split running backs David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson behind Foles. Foles faked a pitch left to Patterson and handed it underneath to Montgomery.
Right guard Germain Ifedi missed a back-side double-team block of defensive tackle Teair Tart, an undrafted rookie from FIU making his NFL debut.
Ifedi lunged too far to the left. Tart used a swim move to his right and filled the hole.
“Germain was trying to come off and blow the guy up in that gap, and when he stepped, he dropped his head,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said Monday.
That was the most dispiriting play of the game for the Bears’ offense. If Ifedi, a five-year starter, can’t beat the likes of Tart, the Bears have no hope.
The end of the first half
A 19-yard punt return gave the Bears the ball inside Titans territory — at their 48 — with 54 seconds left in the first half. Out of timeouts, the Bears had to move quick.
Left tackle Charles Leno, though, committed a false start on the first play. Right tackle Rashaad Coward was flagged for illegal use of hands on the second.
Just like that, the Bears lost 15 yards. They threw two short passes — on the second, Montgomery was tackled and laid on by the Titans to waste time — before Foles launched an incomplete pass from midfield as time expired. They didn’t even try a Hail Mary.
Castillo defended Coward, saying he punched Derick Roberson in the right shoulder, only for his arm to slide up when the Titans linebacker hit it.
But there was no excuse.
“We had the penalties to start,” coach Matt Nagy said of the drive. “Which dig you in a hole right away.”
The second fourth-and-one
The Bears tried to go for it on fourth-and-one on the first drive of the second half, too. Rather than trying a 49-yard field goal, they lined up under center, and left guard Arlington Hambright, making his debut, committed a false start. Undeterred, they went for it on fourth-and-six, but tight end Jimmy Graham flinched from a standing position.
The Bears can explain away a rookie mistake. But Graham has played 161 more games than the rookie. What’s his excuse?
Out came the punt team.
“Those are the ones that they probably magnify it a little bit, when you have back-to-back penalties in that situation,” Nagy said. “You’ve got momentum going. You’ve got a lot of good things going. And then you just have that happen.”
On third-and-16 from the Titans’ 45, Riley Ridley, who was making his season debut, split left and ran a dig route. Foles threw his best ball of the game, hitting Ridley just as he turned for a first down midway through the third quarter.
On the next play, Nagy called a naked bootleg off a play-action pass, hoping edge rusher Harold Landry would run off the left end toward the running back. By design, he was unblocked.
Landry, though, went right to Foles and got him on the ground. He was flagged for intentional grounding.
The Bears moved up eight yards on second down — five on an offside penalty during a play that would have been another sack, and three on a Graham screen.
The Bears seemed content to settle for a field goal when, on third-and-13, they called a screen right for Montgomery. The running back fumbled the ball when second-year defensive end Jeffery Simmons punched it out of his right arm. Cornerback Desmond King returned it 63 yards for a touchdown.
Running backs coach Charles London tells his players their chances of fumbling go up as their wrists sit below their elbow when they carry the ball.
“David’s got to do a better job protecting,” London said. “It’s one of those things where you’re trying to make a play and the ball popped out.”
There’s a fine line between trying to break a run and trying to do too much. Montgomery couldn’t be blamed, given the previous two plays, for the latter.
“Everybody wants to make a play and get things right,” London said. “Sometimes, you just got to know when your journey’s over and go down.”
Any positive gain wouldn’t have counted anyway. The Bears were called for an illegal shift.