One of my biggest complaints in football is when teams blow fourth-quarter leads after refusing to throw a pass late in the game and then acting shocked, shocked, when their defense can’t hold in a two-minute drive. That said, I really have no problem with the Bears staying so conservative in today’s 13-10 overtime loss to Denver, even though they went 3-and-out all four times they had the ball in the fourth quarter.
The thing is, this isn’t Pittsburgh doing this with Ben Roethlisberger or Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers or even the Bears with Jay Cutler. It was Caleb Hanie, who was awful for the third straight game. And Tim Tebow was even worse through three quarters for Denver.
So, go ahead, play it ultra-, ultra-, ultra-safe on offense.
Just don’t do the same on defense.
How many comebacks does Tim Tebow have to lead before teams learn it’s not smart to defend him with a prevent defense? Denver has been tied in the fourth quarter of all six games in its six-game winning streak, and trailing in five of them. Five fourth-quarter comebacks in one season is historic proportions. Tebow has been the worst quarterback in the NFL through three quarters and just about the very best in the fourth quarter. Maybe he just needs time to get warmed up, but I’m skeptical. Maybe it’s because the other team’s defensive linemen wear down and their pass rush disappears late, but if that’s the case, it happens to every team against all quarterbacks, and no one improves at the end of a game more than Tim Tebow.
Tebow was 3-for-16 through three quarters today and 15-for-20 in the fourth quarter.
The Bears might have won if Marion Barber (108 yards rushing, 32 receiving) hadn’t run out of bounds in the last two minutes of regulation or if he hadn’t fumbled in overtime. Neither is guaranteed, though. Denver still would have had 20 seconds or so in regulation if Barber had gone out of bounds, instead of nearly one minute, and the Broncos kicker did make a 59-yard field goal to force overtime. It’s possible he could have made a 70-yarder if Denver had less time. As incredible as that sounds, his 59-yarder had room to spare and he did make a 70-yarder in practice. Thin air in Denver, indeed. Also, even if Barber hadn’t fumbled, Chicago might have missed a field goal. It was going to be about 50 yards at that point if Barber didn’t get the first down, although if he held onto the ball, he also had a chance — a chance, mind you, nothing guaranteed — to not only pick up the first down but break a long run for a touchdown or close to it.
It should never have come down to that.
The Bears had a 10-point lead and the ball on first down with less than 10 minutes left against a team that had not scored a point all day. Denver used all its timeouts and got the ball back at its 37 with 4:34 left. Make a stop and the game is over. Instead, Tebow suddenly completes 7 consecutive passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. His passes gain 6, 8, 10, 3, 19, 7 and 10 yards. That has prevent defense written all over it to me.
After the Bears recover an on-side kick, I would have called a rollout pass on first down with 2:08 left. That would have given Caleb Hanie the option to run, and if he wound up seeing a receiver open deep, if he threw deep the clock might have run down to the 2-minute warning even on an incomplete pass, the same as a run. But, at that point, a run was OK, too. Getting pushed out of bounds on second down, as Barber was, was not OK. I also didn’t like taking the penalty on fourth down and backing up to the 50 to punt. Why not just punt from the 45 and angle the ball out of bounds at the 5 or 10 for a 40- or 45-yard punt? Instead, Denver started at its own 20 with 53 seconds left (it would have been around 18 seconds or so if Barber had stayed inbounds).
Tebow then passed for 9 and 11 yards on his first two plays, spiked the ball to stop the clock, then threw for 19 yards. His last three plays gained nothing, but Denver then kicked the tying field goal.
How about a blitz? Just one time. Or bring the coverage up and challenge the receivers the way the Bears had been doing so well before Jay Cutler got hurt.
Instead, the Bears sat back and made it easy for Tim Tebow to take small chunks at a time. How many times does Tim Tebow have to do this before the Bears figure out that giving Tim Tebow an inch is the same as giving him a mile?
Blame this loss on Marion Barber if you want. Or on Caleb Hanie for having another brutal game — his worst pass was overthrowing Barber on a simple screen pass that would have gained 30 or 40 yards or more. Blame it on getting too conservative and going 3-and-out four times in a row in the fourth quarter. Chicago would have definitely won if even one of those things had not happened.
But, me? I’m going to blame playing scared on defense. Hanie, the offense, even Marion Barber are not supposed to win games for Chicago. They’ve been the Bears’ biggest problem, not their biggest strength.
Chicago, without Cutler and Matt Forte and Gabe Carimi, is supposed to win with defense. And the Bears were winning with defense for 55 minutes.
And then they decided to play scared and neuter their strength and go back to playing a soft, bend-but-don’t break style in the last five minutes, just hoping for the clock to run out and protect their 10-0 lead.
That’s why the Bears lost this game. Because they went from attacking on defense to sitting back on their heels.