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MORRISSEY: Third loss in last four games more than a speed bump

Bears receiver BrandMarshall is brought down by Seattle safety Earl Thomas after catching pass first quarter Chicago Bears-Seattle Seahawks NFL

Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is brought down by Seattle safety Earl Thomas after catching a pass in the first quarter of the Chicago Bears-Seattle Seahawks NFL game Sunday December 2, 2012 at Soldier Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 1, 2013 1:53AM



Let’s start with why Lovie Smith chose to go for it on fourth-and-one early in the second quarter, then work our way down to the depths of the Bears’ existence.

You can’t say definitively that Smith’s decision was the deciding factor in the Bears’ 23-17 overtime loss Sunday because there’s every likelihood Russell Wilson, the Seahawks’ remarkable rookie quarterback, would have found additional ways to make their lives miserable.

But it starts there, at the Seahawks’ 15-yard line, with Smith doing what coaches who want to be popular with players and fans often do. With a 7-0 lead that easily could have been a 10-0 lead, he trotted out burly running back Michael Bush instead of dainty kicker Robbie Gould. The players who had been for politicking for the chance to go for it rejoiced. The crowd roared its approval.

And then the Seahawks stopped Bush when all he needed were a couple of inches for a first down. It’s true: An NFL team should be able to gain the length of a few postage stamps whenever it wants. But what’s truer is that whatever momentum the Bears had stuck in the Soldier Field sod like a lawn dart.

Afterward, Smith took responsibility for making a bad decision, then said he probably would have made the same decision if he had to do it again. I think the proper category for that would be ‘‘Accountable, But Not Really’’ or, if you prefer, ‘‘Spectacularly Conflicted.’’

But, as I said, it was just one of many things that went wrong for the Bears, who, while you were sleeping, have lost three of their last four games. A wide-open Earl Bennett dropped a long pass from Jay Cutler that might have changed the complexion of the game. And the Bears’ defense would have had an easier time understanding graduate-level quantum physics than figuring out Wilson.

The kid was incredible and every bit as collected as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He threw for 293 yards and ran for another 71. He hit Sidney Rice with a 13-yard touchdown pass for the game-winner. In their last two possessions, the Seahawks had drives of 97 and 80 yards, respectively.

Those last two numbers say, while gasping, that the Bears’ defense was worn out.

The first half of the season was filled with so many forced turnovers that we forgot how old the defense was. We found ourselves using the word ‘‘seasoned.’’ But ‘‘old’’ returned in a hurry Sunday. Brian Urlacher looked every bit his 34 years. Actually, he looked every bit Smith’s 54 years.

‘‘Fatigue plays in when you don’t get off [the field after] third downs, and then you don’t get off on fourth downs,’’ Smith said.

Time after time, Wilson brought the Seahawks back from the edge of disaster, either with his legs or his feet. They were 8-for-15 on third-down attempts and converted their only fourth-down attempt on a seven-yard pass with a little more than a minute left in regulation.

The Bears caught a big break when the Seahawks, for reasons known only to them and their mental-health therapists, decided to devote single coverage to Brandon Marshall. This was a bad decision for three reasons: Everyone knows Cutler would prefer to throw exclusively to Marshall, the Bears were without receivers Alshon Jeffery and Devin Hester and the Seahawks had knocked Bennett out of the game with a concussion.

Obvious response: You might want to get up on that Marshall guy.

But the Seahawks didn’t with 20 seconds left in regulation, and the result was a 56-yard completion to Marshall, who finished with 10 catches for 165 yards. Gould made a 46-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

That left it up to the defense. And Wilson.

It’s why the beaten-up Bears are 8-4. It’s why the degree of difficulty for upcoming divisional games against the Vikings (road) and the Packers (home) just skyrocketed.

‘‘The games are getting more important as you get down the line,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘There’s no doubt about it. In December football, every game counts. You’re trying to get in the playoffs.’’

So are a lot of teams, an unfortunate problem for the Bears. They played easier opponents in the first half of the season; now they’re playing tougher competition.

If they want to call this a bump in the road, fine. But how do they explain those deployed airbags?



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