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Bears Mon Dec 12 2011

Bears Stumble to the Finish in Denver

Thumbnail image for bears.gifIt's unfair to blame Marion Barber for the Bears' 13-10 loss in Denver on Sunday. But ... yeah, he had the two biggest gaffes late in the game.

As has been repeated ad nauseum, football is a team sport. Just what happened to the Bears?

With a little under six minutes remaining, the Bears forced their eighth punt of the game. Chicago was leading 10-0, and Tim Tebow was 8-of-22 for only 86 yards. Running back Willis McGahee had 33 yards on 16 attempts. The defense had forced two turnovers and seven three-and-outs.

Although the Bears had to punt on their first seven possessions, they were still able to muster a Barber touchdown and a Robbie Gould field goal. The Bears took over at their own 17 with 5:41 left in the game. From here, the collapse begins.

Let's look at the tape (literally, because I recorded the game on VHS) and see what went wrong.

5:15 remaining: The Bears call for three Kahlil Bell rushes and go three-and-out. Each call was very vanilla - a run off-tackle to the right, a run up the middle, and a pitch to the right. Chicago only gains seven yards and kills a little more than a minute. The only upside is that Denver uses their last two timeouts.

Revisionist History Analysis: if Chicago gets a first down, Denver is in deep trouble. Should the Bears have called a pass play, maybe an out route or a screen? Yes, but it's understandable that they kept it on the ground, especially with Caleb Hanie throwing the ball.

3:36 remaining: After two short Tebow completions, FOX's cameras show Chicago playing safeties 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It's very clear the Bears are trying to prevent the big play, and will cede a touchdown if it takes up time.

RHA: This conservative play calling essentially brought Denver back into the game. Chicago only rushed four on the previous two plays, and Tebow found wide open guys for gains of six and 10 yards. By positioning guys deep, Chicago was taking away the deep ball and letting Tebow make short throws... his specialty. This broke perfectly for Denver.

2:09 remaining: Denver completes the drive, and Tebow finds Demaryius Thomas wide open in the endzone for a touchdown. The Broncos, in the hurry-up, march right down field for the score. Tebow goes 7-for-7 on the drive, although his longest pass was only 19 yards.

RHA: Rushing more than four linemen or mixing up the coverage could have stopped the Broncos' drive. Although Chicago allowed a touchdown, only two minutes are left in the game. The Bears' opted for the safe plan. After all, theoretically, if the Broncos' don't get the onside kick, the game is over, right?

2:08 remaining: The onside kick is recovered by Nick Roach.

RHA: Even with the two-minute warning, Chicago can take almost two minutes off the clock and give Denver the ball back with a few seconds left. And if they run for a first down? Game over.

1:55 remaining: On second and ten, Barber takes the handoff, runs off-tackle to the left, and runs out of bounds. During the five yard run, Barber gets too aggressive in trying to break tackles and get the first; his momentum takes him out of bounds. The clock stops.

RHA: Barber should have stayed in bounds. Forget the first down at that point.

:56 remaining: Denver takes over on their own 18 after a Chicago punt.

:23 remaining. The Bears are again allowing the Broncos to move the ball, but only for short gains over the middle of the field. But on a second-and-10, Bears' cornerback Tim Jennings decides to cover the deep ball... leaving his man Matt Willis wide open for a 19 yard gain down the sidelines to the Bears' 41.

RHA: Jennings was the third defender covering Eric Decker deep. He should have just stuck on Willis.

:02 remaining: Broncos' kicker Matt Prater nails a 59-yard field goal.

RHA: Not much you could do about that. Tie game, 10-10.


13:18 remaining: With Mile High rocking and the Broncos having all the momentum, Chicago still wins the toss and moves the ball into Denver territory. Hanie makes some great throws, including an off-balance lob to Roy Williams to avoid a sack, and a soft-touch pass to Barber for 16 yards. On second down, Barber runs to the Broncos 38, meaning a 56-yard field goal from Gould wins the game.

12:53 remaining: Oof. Barber cuts back, hit the hole, and looks like he is going to break free... only Wesley Woodyard forces a fumble, and Elvis Dumervil recovers.

RHA: Can't fault the play call, because the five yards Barber would have got would have set up a doable 50 yard field goal for Gould. But, Barber really should have protected the ball better. Although it looked like Woodyard punched it out right as Barber saw daylight... perhaps "touchdown" was on Barber's mind, not "long field goal."

9:13 remaining: Even though the Bears play solid defense, Tebow throws for two first downs and gets the Broncos to the Chicago 33...

8:40 remaining: ... where Prater drills a 50-yard field goal for the win. Final score: 13-10, Denver.

The Bears lost due to a couple reasons. One was Tebow. Even though he doesn't have the best throwing motion, and he has a stupendously slow release, he is outrageously effective in the fourth quarter. He was able to escape the Bears rush and hit open receivers for short gains late in the fourth and in overtime.

Two was a strong opposing defense. The Broncos got stops when they needed them, and forced punts and a very costly fumble. Hanie was only able to throw for 115 yards, and while Barber rushed for 108 yards, he needed 27 carries to get that (4.0 yards per carry).

Third? A lack of commitment to either being aggressive or conservative late in the game. The Bears were extremely conservative on defense, allowing the short gains but taking away the deep ball, and were playing it safe by calling bland rushing plays late in the fourth. But Barber was playing aggressive, going all-out for every yard he could get on his run out of bounds, and getting a little loose with the ball when he sniffed the end zone on his fumble.

If the Bears played more aggressive late, perhaps they win. They could have thrown in a blitz or focused more on the short pass (and let Tebow wing one deep) and maybe something different happens. On offense, with a 10-point lead in the fourth, maybe a riskier pass play gets them a first down and allows them to milk more clock.

And if Barber would have been more conservative, they would have won. If he goes down in bounds, Denver needs a miracle to win. If he holds onto the ball, Gould gets a field goal try for the win.

Either way, it was a tough loss for the Bears, and this game should serve as a turning point for them. Chicago has two choices next week against Seattle at home: play with a motivation to stop a three-game slide or pack it in and call it a season.

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