JENSEN: Offense showed flashes all season, but it wasn’t consistent enough
BY SEAN JENSEN email@example.com
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) breaks through the Detroit Lions defense for a 1-yard touchdown during the second quarter of an NFL football game at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
DETROIT — There were plenty of highlights from the Bears’ offense this season.
Rookie Alshon Jeffery’s 42-yard touchdown catch against the Indianapolis Colts. Receiver Devin Hester’s diving 34-yard touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys. Running back Matt Forte’s 39-yard run to set up a touchdown against the Detroit Lions. And any number of catches from record-breaking receiver Brandon Marshall, the Bears’ most consistent offensive playmaker.
Problem is, you’d need to splice plays from multiple games to come up with anything that lasts for more than a few fleeting seconds.
That’s why Forte was convinced the Bears’ best game was still ahead of them.
‘‘What gives me confidence is, as an offense, we have a lot of talent, and we haven’t put together a whole game the whole year, in 16 games,’’ Forte said after running for 103 yards in a 26-24 victory Sunday against the Lions. ‘‘That gives us a lot to look forward to, so that when we do put together an entire game and play good, we can score a lot more points.’’
That, of course, begs the obvious question: Why now?
‘‘Because we played 16 games,’’ Forte said matter-of-factly. ‘‘Sometime it’s going to have to have something click, sooner or later.”
Apparently, it’s later — much, much later. As in September 2013.
Minnesota Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh, who earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, made a 29-yard field goal to give his team a 37-34 victory against the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field. That kick booted the Bears from the postseason.
The Bears could have used a spark from the offense for much of November and December, when they dropped five of six games and ceded control of the NFC North. Instead, the offense averaged 11.2 points in those five losses.
While he has fielded some championship-caliber defenses, coach Lovie Smith has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, shuffling in an assortment of players and coordinators. Mike Tice, who was promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, had a rough season, struggling to get his unit into a rhythm for any sustained period.
It all seemed so promising before the season.
In Marshall, the Bears have a legitimate go-to receiver. He finished the season with 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In Forte, the Bears have a Pro Bowl running back. He finished the season with 1,094 rushing yards and turned in some of his finest performances with the Bears’ season on life support.
And Tice finally mixed and matched his offensive line to come up with a serviceable group. From left to right, J’Marcus Webb, James Brown, Roberto Garza, Chris Spencer and Jonathan Scott provided solid protection for quarterback Jay Cutler and some holes for Forte against a talented Lions defensive line.
‘‘There’s plenty of stuff we’ve done that we deserve to get the finger pointed at us,’’ Garza said. ‘‘But we got a chance to play all five guys a couple of weeks now. When you have five guys together, you’re going to see the fruits of that.’’
Also providing some hope for the Bears’ offense was the play of Earl Bennett, the only receiver not named Marshall to top 100 yards in a game this season. Bennett turned a short pass into a 60-yard touchdown against the Lions and finished the game with five catches for a game-high 109 yards.
‘‘I just want to make plays and help the offense out as much as I can,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘Jay saw the look and he checked, and we just went from there.
‘‘Once given the opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it.’’
But it was too little, too late. And now the fate of the offense is in the hands of general manager Phil Emery, who will determine the future of many, from Smith to Cutler.
After the game, Smith was asked if he was concerned about his offense.
‘‘We had some things to correct, but we’re always trying to get a little better,’’ he said. ‘‘We scored enough points offensively to win the football game against a team that was really riled up.’’
Ultimately, though, Smith was wrong. The Bears’ offense didn’t score enough.