Bears overcome inexplicable play-calling by Mike Martz
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org October 23, 2011 9:36PM
Jay Cutler went to the air early and often in the second half, completing nine of his 18 attempts. | David J. Phillip~AP
Updated: November 25, 2011 8:19AM
LONDON — The Bears could laugh and hug in their locker room at Wembley Stadium, because to the victor go the spoils.
“We like to win like that,” Bears cornerback Charles Tillman playfully said. “We like to win in style, with dramatics and all that other good stuff.”
It was more like a comedy of errors.
After the Bears defense intercepted a pass, the offense turned the ball right back over and ticked just 15 seconds off the play clock.
After a Bucs’ touchdown, the Bears couldn’t convert a third-and-one.
After another Bucs’ touchdown, the Bears regained a rhythm and earned a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line because of a 36-yard catch-and-run by running back Matt Forte.
But the Bears — with 3:52 remaining — attempted a pass.
“We’re trying to surprise the defense,” receiver Devin Hester said. “The defense wasn’t expecting it. I mean, anyone in their right mind wouldn’t expect that we would throw the ball, first and goal.
“But sometimes, you try to take a shot. You keep defenses on their heels, when you do that.”
For the sake of argument, let’s give the offense a pass.
Yet on second down — still from the 4-yard line — the Bears dialed up another pass.
And then another.
Remarkably, though, after Jay Cutler was sacked by untouched blitzing cornerback Ronde Barber, the Bears were bailed out when the Bucs’ other starting cornerback, Aqib Talib, was flagged for a 15-yard face-mask penalty.
After the game, when approached by a Sun-Times reporter, Talib refused comment.
With a fresh set of downs, the Bears dialed up three consecutive runs, losing six yards on the first two and gaining five on the last.
They settled for a 25-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
Down 24-18, the Bucs lined up for a potential game-winning drive with timeouts and 1:50 left.
“We had a chance to win at the end,” Bucs coach Raheem Morris said.
Without a chance to speak to offensive coordinator Mike Martz, the assumption has to be that Cutler didn’t change plays.
But several players defended the play calls and embraced responsibility for not executing.
“I got total faith in coach Martz. He’s been in this league a long time, and he coached a team to a Super Bowl win,” Hester said. “Things are going to break down, every now and then.
“You’re not going to coach a perfect game.”
But one of the knocks on Martz is that he sometimes outsmarts himself.
In the first half, the Bears attempted 18 runs, averaging a gaudy 7.7 yards per carry. Cutler, meanwhile, attempted 14 passes, completing eight of them for 95 yards and throwing one interception.
In the second half, though, Cutler dropped back for a pass on four of the team’s first five offensive plays. Then, on consecutive runs, Forte gained nine yards and backup Marion Barber scored from 12 yards out.
On the next series, after an interception by Josh Freeman, Cutler dropped back twice in a three-and-out series.
The final series of the third quarter had Cutler passing on three of five plays, before Gould missed a 41-yard field goal. Then, on the first series of the fourth, Cutler attempted two more passes, the final one picked off and returned to the Bears’ 21-yard line.
Bucs made the adjustments
The Bucs said they adjusted.
“We just had to figure out how they were attacking us,” defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. “We started to stop them, so they had to do something else.”
Specifically, the Bucs called on a safety to help defend the run and others were “shooting the gaps,” according to Cutler.
That isn’t an excuse, Bears center Roberto Garza said.
“This should not have been a game,” Garza said. “It’s our job to execute those plays with our techniques and rules.
“That falls strictly on the offensive line.”
Entering the bye, everyone has a chance to reassess: Martz on the play-calling, linemen on their blocks, Cutler on his decisions; the defense on their keys to prevent two fourth-quarter touchdowns; and Gould for missing a field goal he routinely makes.
Either way, if this team wants to make a playoff push, they will need to learn to close games better.
“It’s very important, because we could have easily given this game away,” Hester said. “It went from having a big victory to having us hope our defense holds up.”