This is a different category of embarrassment for the Bears than what they’re used to against the Packers.
Ultimately, the 24-14 loss at Soldier Field just gets flung on the mountain of other defeats. Each is a reminder of the Bears’ perpetual ineptitude against their archrival, whether it was part of Brett Favre’s 10-game winning streak or the latest blow of Aaron Rodgers yelling, “All my [expletive] life, I own you. I still own you. I still own you,” at the crowd Sunday.
But the painful twist this time was that the Bears could have won.
Unlike last season, when the Bears were obviously overmatched, this was winnable — if only the Bears could stop self-sabotaging.
“We still gave ourselves the opportunity to win the game — and we didn’t,” wide receiver Darnell Mooney said. “We have to be able to put points on the board. The defense played well enough for us to win. I feel like it definitely was an opportunity.”
When coach Matt Nagy goes on his weekly search for “the whys” to explain yet another loss, he’ll trip over them constantly.
The Bears began with Robert Quinn -committing a neutral-zone infraction on the very first snap and kept stumbling with disastrous consequences.
Their ugliest mistake was the most ironic, as rookie quarterback Justin Fields blundered brutally while trying to make a smart play late in the first quarter. He assumed, reasonably, that nose tackle Kenny Clark would get flagged for jumping offsides and looked to cash in on the free play by taking a shot at the end zone.
Good thought, but the flag never flew. And Fields’ pass did, gliding over Allen Robinson’s head to safety Darnell Savage. The Bears were suddenly on defense and flailing as Rodgers led a game-tying drive.
They even helped him.
Defensive tackle Mario Edwards, who was fined the equivalent of a used car for extracurricular penalties last week, kick-started the Packers by committing a taunting penalty on the first play. It’s fair to criticize the taunting rule and to note that Rodgers grabbed Edwards’ facemask first, but this team doesn’t have enough margin for error to give away yardage.
There were other debacles. So many.
Safety Tashaun Gipson whiffed on a tackle as running back Aaron Jones helped himself to the end zone, Eddie Jackson missed similarly on a deep catch by Davante Adams, the Bears dropped out of field-goal range by committing a delay-of-game penalty coming out of a replay review, and Fields never saw Robinson waving as he ran open up the middle of the field.
The parade of errors ended with Fields taking a sack on third-and-15 at the Packers’ 37-yard line with 2:26 left as the Bears frantically pushed for a comeback.
Any short or medium gain would have given them a chance at a field goal, but tight end Jimmy Graham was the only option in that range as everyone else ran deep. When Clark took Fields down, it left him staring at a fourth-and-26 to save the game.
Just for good measure, right tackle Elijah Wilkinson committed holding on Fields’ final heave, so any potential miracle would’ve been negated anyway.
It all added up to Rodgers beating the Bears again despite a modest game: 17-for-23, 195 yards, two touchdown passes. He has beaten Nagy’s Bears four times with 24 or fewer points.
Counting the playoffs, the Bears have scored 20 or fewer points in 27 of 56 games under Nagy. That’s what killed them against Rodgers. Holding him to 24 points should be a win, but scoring just 14 won’t beat hardly anyone.
It was bittersweet. The Bears didn’t get drubbed, but they also did so much to undercut themselves. Is the net result progress? Barely, but yes.
They showed Sunday they aren’t necessarily hopeless against Rodgers. Their defense can manage him, and Fields has enough potential to make you wonder how much he’ll grow between now and the rematch in December.