Playing it safe late in game costs Bears
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter December 1, 2013 7:55PM
Updated: January 31, 2014 3:25AM
MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears know they lost this one well before Blair Walsh’s 34-yard field goal ended it, well before Robbie Gould’s 47-yard field-goal attempt sailed just wide right in overtime. Back when it was still a football game and not a black comedy.
‘‘It was weird. It was bizarre,’’ guard Matt Slauson said. ‘‘Each team had a chance to end it a lot earlier.’’
For the Bears, that opportunity came just as the game was unraveling into a bad advertisement for the sport of football — with 4:38 left in regulation after Khaseem Greene intercepted a Matt Cassel pass and returned it 49 yards to midfield.
The Bears had a 20-17 lead and momentum. After Matt Forte gained nine yards on first down, the Bears had a second-and-one at the Vikings’ 41. A team that has playoff intentions instinctively knows what to do next — put the hammer down.
Instead, the Bears went soft. As dynamic and inventive a play-caller as Marc Trestman is, he is prone to fearing worst-case scenarios at the wrong time. Forte was stopped for no gain up the middle. On third-and-one, Forte again was stopped for no gain on another ‘‘cloud-of-dust’’ run, behind Slauson at left guard.
That’s where the Bears lost this one. Adam Podlesh punted, the Vikings took over at their 9-yard line with 2:40 to go and drove 79 yards for a tying field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation.
‘‘I felt very, very, very good about those two plays,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘We ran a spontaneous play to just try to hit ’em quick because it was so short to go and we had exactly the play we prepared for on third down.
‘‘I’m not sure exactly what happened, but we certainly didn’t get it done. They got their pads under us and were able to make the stop.’’
It might be a second-guess to question the conservative play-call — the Texans’ season began unraveling when in a similar situation, Matt Schaub had a third-down pass intercepted by the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman and returned 58 yards for a tying touchdown.
‘‘I understood our thinking there,’’ said quarterback Josh McCown, who was excellent again, throwing for 355 yards and two touchdowns. ‘‘As a competitor, you’re ready to throw the ball. But I have full trust in Marc and Aaron [offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer] and the direction they wanted to take that.’’
But that doesn’t excuse the execution. It’s Week 13, and the Bears are getting worse in short-yardage plays. They have converted 24-of-44 plays with one yard to go this season — just 6-of-17 in their last four games. On their last 12 rushes with one yard to go, they’ve converted three times.
‘‘Third-and-one, fourth-and-one — that’s ours. That’s our time to shine, and it didn’t happen,’’ Slauson said. ‘‘It’s sad.’’
Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod didn’t avoid responsibility for his role in squelching the Bears’ momentum after Greene’s pick.
‘‘Huge play. Huge play,’’ Bushrod said. ‘‘[But] we didn’t get it done up front, and the first play was on me. I was a little short on a block. Hats off to them. But we had more opportunities to do it again and didn’t get it done. That’s what’s frustrating. We had so many opportunities and we just couldn’t capitalize.’’
It was that kind of day. After the Vikings tied the game 20-20, Devin Hester returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to midfield with 14 seconds left. But a sack and a two-yard pass forced them to settle for Gould’s futile 66-yard field goal attempt.
The Bears have reached a new level on offense — they gained 480 yards Sunday. But there’s yet another level out there.
‘‘Special-situation football we did not do well today,’’ Trestman said.