With five grueling weeks left to play, the Bears still haven’t run out of superlatives to show how they pale in comparison to most of the NFL. Sunday’s came in six simple words from quarterback Andy Dalton after a soggy 33-22 loss to the Cardinals in front of an apathetic Soldier Field crowd.
“I had two tackles today,” Dalton said. “Unfortunately.”
That’s one more than Bears starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree had. And one for the record books. No quarterback — who wasn’t also a special-teamer — in modern NFL history has ever had more than one. The in-game statistician gave Dalton one solo and one assisted tackle.
Both came after interceptions — Dalton finished with an inexcusable four picks — and, to add injury to insult, he injured his left, non-throwing hand on one of the tackles. The Bears were set to evaluate Dalton’s hand, but he said the injury he suffered diving for safety Budda Baker during a 77-yard return “obviously didn’t affect anything” the rest of the game.
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter. Nothing Dalton does this season will — he’s on a one-year contract and is starting only while Justin Fields recovers from cracked ribs.
In the 4-8 Bears’ overall evaluation, though, Dalton’s play only reinforces what had become apparent the last two seasons: The Bears’ offense is broken, and coach Matt Nagy is not going to be able to fix it. That, more than any other factor, is why he doesn’t figure to be coaching the Bears next season — if he makes it to Week 18 this year at all.
When Mitch Trubisky struggled the previous three seasons, Nagy supporters argued that they wanted to see how the offense functioned with a veteran under center. The Bears have their answer: Nick Foles was 2-4 in games he started and finished last season, and Dalton is 1-2 in such situations this year.
Nagy, of course, was the one who wanted to start Dalton for the entirety of the season before he hurt his knee in Week 2. As he has done to the point of exhaustion during his career, Nagy tried to defend his quarterback, whose 54.9 passer rating was the 11th-worst mark in his 150 career games.
“There’s no stat in the NFL for interceptions that occur that aren’t on the quarterback,” Nagy said, “but there probably should be.”
Dalton’s first pick came before Bears fans could shimmy into their plastic ponchos. Three plays into the game, Dalton threw to returner Jakeem Grant on a crossing route. The pass was high — Grant is 5-7 — and bounced off his outstretched hand and into the arms of safety Jalen Thompson.
“We got man coverage, which is what we wanted on that play,” Nagy said.
About nine minutes later, tight end Cole Kmet appeared to catch a third-down pass — only to fumble the ball into the air as he fell to the ground. Baker plucked the ball out of the air. Nagy said the Bears “got what we wanted [coverage-wise].’’
“We as receivers feel like if it hits our hand, we’ve got to catch it,” Kmet said. “Or, at the very least, be able to knock it down.”
Nagy had excuses for the third pick, which came after the Bears got new life on a roughing-the-punter penalty. Byron Murphy picked off Dalton with about 12 minutes left because “the ball got tipped” at the line of scrimmage by Chandler Jones, Nagy said. The fourth pick, one possession later, came when defensive lineman Zach Allen jumped a screen to David Montgomery.
“Andy will tell you that you don’t want those,” Nagy said. “But you try to float it and have touch over the top of that.”
Dalton was more blunt.
“You can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win the game,” he said.
The Bears couldn’t turn the ball over twice and expect to beat the fastest NFL team to 10 wins this season — much less four times. But Nagy didn’t stop the lobbying, trying to paint the Bears as coming close — even though once his team trailed 14-0, it pulled within one score for three whole minutes the rest of the game.
“What’s tough is that you look back and you say, ‘Dang, man,’ ’’ Nagy said. “You look at how, at the end of the game, things went, how the game went against this offense. In general with the team, being able to have the time of possession, being able to be 3-for-3 in the red zone, 4-for-4 on fourth down. Those turnovers got us.
‘‘This is the NFL, and when you play the best team in the NFL right now record-wise, they’ll make you pay. And that’s a credit to them.”
And a knock on the Bears, who have five more of these joyless exercises left.
There were few fans left to boo Nagy as the gun went off to end the game. Maybe 90% of the Soldier Field faithful had gone home — or to anywhere drier.
That apathy won’t apply next week — for better and for worse — when the Bears travel to Lambeau Field.
“You can’t turn the ball over,” Dalton said. “I think that’s what it comes down to.”