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Packers score key TD on fumble after Bears’ defensive lapse

Updated: December 29, 2013 10:48PM



With his head down and without saying a word, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs trudged out of the Soldier Field locker room Sunday after the Bears’ 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers, dragging a rolling suitcase that carried who knows what — probably the last vestige of Lovie Smith’s defense.

As hard as they tried to maintain some semblance of the defense that kept the Bears afloat right through Lovie’s own demise, Mel Tucker and the Bears failed spectacularly this season. And while the miscommunication or whatever breakdown it was that left Randall Cobb wide open for a 48-yard touchdown with 38 seconds to play sealed the Bears’ fate, the official time of death of the Lovie Smith defense came much earlier — when Aaron Rodgers fumbled and the Bears fiddled.

Ironically, it was a sack by the team with the fewest sacks in the NFL that started it all. Julius Peppers hit Rodgers as he was about to throw a pass, the ball squirted out and fell to the ground around the 15-yard line. Bears linebacker James Anderson made a half-hearted attempt to pick it up before relaxing and assuming the end of the play.

While the ball stood on the ground, the officials said nothing and did nothing. Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin picked up the ball, waited, and after some encouragement by Rodgers ran untouched to the end zone.

Touchdown. Touchdown, Packers.

‘‘We all thought it was a dead ball. That’s why everybody kind of stopped,’’ Anderson said. ‘‘It was a freak play.’’

The freakiest part of the play is the Bears didn’t make it. This is a defense that has been conditioned by Lovie to pounce on every loose ball no matter what the situation. It’s the signature of the Lovie Smith defense. It’s so ingrained in the players, that in training camp defenders routinely jump on incomplete passes that fall to the ground, just out of habit.

But this time, in stunning fashion, the Bears just stood there. And let the Packers beat them at their own game. It was a fitting testament to the demise of a once-proud defense that made takeaways an art form. But no longer. The Bears under Mel Tucker recovered eight fumbles in the first four games, but only one of 12 over the final 12 games.

‘‘That was just us being lackadaisical,’’ said Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. ‘‘Obviously, a whistle didn’t blow. That’s not what we practice. We’ve always been [taught], if the ball is on the ground, that’s our ball.

‘‘But that just [exemplifies] how this year has been going for us — up and down. To let something like that happen, that’s not us. That’s just one of those things with the [coaching] transition, new style and everything we’ve got going on. Not making any excuses, but that’s how the year’s been doing for us.’’

Jennings did not agree that the Bears’ casual attitude on that play was a sign of the Bears’ regression under Tucker.

‘‘We practice that as much as we did last year,’’ he said. ‘‘[Whether] Lovie was here or not, we still practice that. We can’t allow that to happen. We still should finish that and I think every man will hold himself accountable, even myself, to get that football and [force] the refs to make a decision.’’

For the record, the Bears’ defense bucked up after that and other misplays and nearly stopped the Packers on the fateful drive. They forced three fourth-down plays, all of which the Packers converted. That left the Rodgers fumble as a fitting symbol of the Bears’ demise.

‘‘It feels like you got hit the stomach with a cannonball,’’ defensive end Shea McClellin said. ‘‘That was just a weird play. We work on that every day in practice. Any other play we would have picked it up. But that play, for some reason. I couldn’t tell you what happened.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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