PHILADELPHIA – The first play of the Bears’ most inept first half on offense in 40 years was a handoff from an offset I formation to David Montgomery up the middle for 4 yards.
It took 16 additional plays spanning another five drives before the Bears would eclipse that first gain, and it wasn’t until the 17th offensive play during their 22-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field – with 57 seconds remaining in the first half – that they gained a first down.
The longest of Mitch Trubisky’s six first-half completions was a 6-yarder to Allen Robinson, or 1 yard shorter than the quarterback’s scramble forcing the chain gang to advance the sticks a full 10-yard interval for the only time before halftime.
“Just really, really sloppy. Extremely sloppy,” coach Matt Nagy said of the first half of a must-win game. Nagy’s postgame news conference was too solemn to be as combative as the ones in any of the Bears’ previous three consecutive defeats.
Just how sloppy? The Bears (3-5) were penalized eight times for 56 yards – including four neutral zone infractions on defense, two by Aaron Lynch. Tarik Cohen committed two drops. Robinson couldn’t get his feet in bounds on a potential long sideline catch. And Trubisky, well, Trubisky misfired to Robinson on his first attempt, what should have been a chain-mover on the opening series, en route to compiling a minus-21 completion percentage over expectation, the worst by any qualifying quarterback this season, according to Next Gen Stats.
The Bears were so sloppy overall that Nagy didn’t even contemplate benching Trubisky.
“We knew that where we were, we could collectively be better,” Nagy said.
The Bears amazingly only trailed 12-0 at the break, thanks to a pair of goal-line stands from the defense that led to short field goals and a missed extra point after the Eagles’ only touchdown, a 25-yard Carson Wentz-to-Zach Ertz hookup that appeared to be offensive pass interference.
“He basically stated that it was a tough call, but whatever he saw, I guess it was enough for him to pick it up,” said Kyle Fuller, who was beaten in coverage but not before Ertz jolted the cornerback with a hand to the face as he was separating. “It definitely frustrates you, but you have to move past it.”
Nagy gave a similar response to why he didn’t bother challenging the non-call.
To their credit, the Bears moved past a first half during which they were outpossessed by 111/2 minutes and totaled 9 net yards of offense.
After the 84-yard scoring drive by the Eagles immediately out of the break, capped by former Bear Jordan Howard sauntering 13 yards untouched through a monstrous hole, Montgomery began with a positive run, same as in the first half, setting up Trubisky to Taylor Gabriel for 53 yards on an over route for the Bears’ longest passing play of the season. Montgomery plowed in after a Trubisky scramble to the 1, and the Bears were on the board.
Two possessions later, the Bears overcame a drop by Robinson on an underthrow that likely would have been a 42-yard touchdown, to pull within five points after another Montgomery scoring leap.
“I will say this: It’s no consolation prize, but the guys fought to the end,” Nagy said. “Being down like we were, 19-0, they never gave [up], and I appreciate that part. But it doesn’t mean anything [in] the win-loss.”
The Bears even caught a break after Montgomery’s second touchdown, when Alshon Jeffery dropped a perfect third-and-11 throw, giving his former team the ball back at their 30 with 10-plus minutes remaining with a chance to take their first lead.
But after Montgomery returned the favor, dropping the ball on second-and-9 on what appeared to be a well-blocked screen play – “there was some green grass there,” Nagy said – the Eagles were able to consume more than eight minutes on their game-sealing field-goal drive, including four third-down conversions – or twice as many as the Bears had all afternoon.
“I feel like that is how it has been the entire year, with us not getting off the field, we have to correct that,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.
Big picture, at 3-5, the Bears likely are out of time to make meaningful corrections. A season that began with Super Bowl aspirations, perhaps fittingly, for all intents and purposes, was ended by the Eagles. Even on a day when the Bears’ three division rivals all lost, other playoff hopefuls Seattle and Carolina won.
So why weren’t the Bears better prepared when their sense of urgency should’ve been at an all-time high? And how much longer will the team continue to fight in what’s turned into a lost season with eight games remaining?
“I’m learning right now that our team is very strong. They are built tough, and we’re being challenged right now. It’s not easy. We hate it ... but it is what it is,” Nagy said. “We have to rally those guys around each other and support one another. It’s not where we want to be, and there [are] different parts to it everywhere. Again, we’re being tested [more than] we ever wanted to be, but we’ll see how respond to it.”