Haugh: Bears Fall Flat In London

The Raiders tried to give the game away, but the Bears politely declined.

David Haugh
October 06, 2019 - 5:28 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) On a Sunday when London fog described the Bears' mental approach to playing and coaching, you can pick out a handful of plays that put them in position to lose 24-21 to the Raiders at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

But let’s start with that frustrating fake punt in the fourth quarter.

It was fourth-and-1 for the Raiders at their own 27-yard line with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left and the Bears leading 21-17. The Bears had just gifted the Raiders a second snap on fourth down after a running-into-the-kicker penalty on linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, who pressured Raiders punter A.J. Cole for reasons that defy football logic. Why even rush the punter given how badly the risks outweigh any reward?

Anyway, with only three feet to protect before they regained the ball to run out the clock on a victory, the Bears suffered another brain spasm. Queen Elizabeth could've seen a fake punt coming from Buckingham Palace while she was sipping tea watching a polo match. And, inexplicably, the Bears still appeared caught off guard when the Raiders attempted to fool them. Blimey.

The direct snap went to up-back Erik Harris, who surged forward for four yards. After Harris' elbow landed, the ball came loose and Bears defensive back Buster Skrine recovered – causing a replay review that obscured the broader point of the Bears failing to stop the play. Why wasn't the Bears' regular defensive line that was in the game more prepared for the moment in case the Raiders were as bold and desperate as coach Jon Gruden turned out to be? And how can a defensive back be allowed to fight for extra yardage like a burly fullback to keep the chains moving?

Eight plays later, the Raiders capped a 97-yard drive – yes, a 97-yard drive against a supposed Super Bowl-caliber defense protecting a fourth-quarter lead – with an athletic two-yard lunge by rookie running back Josh Jacobs.

That left the Bears 1:57 to either tie or win the game, but those hopes fell hard on the fifth play of the drive when Chase Daniel floated his second interception of the game to Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley.

"The whole game, they were pretty tight on our outside receivers and I saw the nickel falling off and Anthony (Miller) took it lower than I wanted, but that was completely on me," Daniel told reporters in London. "There are two throws I want back. That’s one."

Related: Bernstein: Bears' loss starts up front

It capped an are-you-kidding-me day when Daniel confirmed any suspicions why he was a career NFL backup by completing 22 of 30 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns with the two picks. It was bad enough, at times, to Google how long it had been since Tyler Bray threw his last NFL pass. Big picture, it was concerning enough for the Bears to miss injured starter Mitchell Trubisky. Think about that one. What a difference a week makes in the every-week-is-a-season world of the NFL.

Five games in a 2019 season purported to be special, the Bears (3-2) look too ordinary too often – mostly due to an offense that can’t dictate anything. We all vastly overrated an offensive line that can’t consistently open holes or protect the passer. No matter how much skill general manager Ryan Pace has accumulated, nobody can count on the Bears to score more than 20 points without short fields and fortuitous bounces because they lack strength up front. They managed a meager 42 rushing yards against a Raiders defense playing without suspended leader Vontaze Burfict.

But the reasons for this loss went beyond Daniel and the stagnant offense. The Bears defense allowed Jacobs to gain 123 yards on 26 carries, the first time in 38 regular-season games a back had cracked the 100-yard barrier against the Bears. They missed defensive lineman Akiem Hicks after he left with an elbow injury eight plays into the game but managed to stop the NFL’s leading rusher last week without the big man. Linebacker Roquan Smith returned but definitely looked like a player distracted by the stir created by his absence for personal reasons last week, and the Bears could have used that sideline-to-sideline abandon in stopping the run. The two rushing touchdowns the Bears gave up in the second quarter were as many as they surrendered in the previous 10 games combined. The Raiders considered the Bears defense more inviting than intimidating.

Quarterback Derek Carr did even more damage in the short passing game, dissecting the secondary with an efficient 25-of-32 effort for 229 yards that included zero sacks. Carr – he’s a pretty good quarterback, gang – especially demonstrated poise on the final drive that became his 17th fourth-quarter comeback in 83 NFL starts. All the Khalil Mack Revenge Game did was bring out the best in his buddy and former Raiders teammate.

Oh, the Raiders tried the give this game away but, each time, the Bears politely declined to accept.

In the fourth quarter, the Raiders fumbled at the 1-yard line instead of scoring the go-ahead touchdown and had an interception in Bears' territory negated by a debatable roughing-the-passer penalty. How do bad teams lose close games? That’s how. That doesn’t even factor in the early silly penalties by Raiders guard Richie Incognito that cost his team points. The Bears will spend the next two weeks lamenting how they failed to capitalize on those mistakes like playoff teams must.

Should we still consider the Bears a playoff team after losing to the Raiders in an effort that raised questions about their identity and approach?

Please avoid the easy excuse of jet lag and the tired explanation contending that the Bears waited too long last week to fly to England. They’re young, healthy and flew first-class. They had plenty of time to adapt to playing football, as a spirited second half showed. Setting their body clocks ahead six hours doesn't excuse them spending half the game a step behind. It came down to how play-by-play man Jeff Joniak described it on WBBM-AM after the Raiders' second touchdown in the second quarter: "The Bears got punched in the mouth."

And they never really counter-punched. That reality was as much mental as physical. That was as one-sided a half of football as the Bears have played under Nagy. Bears running back Tarik Cohen came to London hoping to make the Queen’s Guard laugh and, if those guards peeked at the telly during the first half, no way they kept a straight face. The Bears' early effort was a joke. That they recovered in the third quarter squashed any jet-lag theory and shifted concerns to the Bears' ability to handle success.

"I need to figure out as a leader of this team where our hot buttons are, and it’s my job to make sure it gets better," Nagy said. "What’s the ‘how?’ What’s the ‘why?’ Every coach, every player, it’s time to start looking in the mirror and figure out why we’re out there."

This seems like a good time for some introspection at Halas Hall. This feels much like the loss to the Dolphins in Week 6 in 2018 that made much of Sunday’s mental malaise look familiar. Last year, the Bears recovered.

This year, it will depend on their response to Nagy’s attempts to reach a team that apparently thinks it has a switch it can flip when needed. After a long day in London, one look at the NFC North standings should be enough to tell the Bears that time is now.

Before it’s too bloody late.

David Haugh is the co-host of the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Listen to the show here. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidHaugh and email him at david.haugh@entercom.com.