In the end it was a Bears team that failed, failed to take advantage of situations right in front of it.
They failed not once but twice in championship situations, with the division title in front of them — in Philadelphia last week and Sunday at home in a 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers, who left Soldier Field as NFC North champions.
Indeed, the Bears have become unwilling playoff welcome mats for the Packers. They won the NFC North with a Week 15 win in Soldier Field last season. They clinched home-field advantage through the 2011 playoffs with a thumping of the Bears. They got into the 2010 playoffs with a final-game win over the Bears, then won the NFC Championship with a defeat of the Bears, also in Soldier Field.
It has reached the point where the Packers don’t even consider stepping on the Bears on the way to postseasons to be anything out of the ordinary.
“Not really,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We seem to always battle these guys for the championship. Nothing different now, it’s always been this way around here with Green Bay and Chicago. It’s just one of those things.”
For the Bears on Sunday, however, it was less about the Packers than about the Bears.
“We were in the position we needed to be in,” said running back Matt Forte, who finished with 110 rushing yards, 47 receiving yards, two touchdown runs and a TD catch. “We could have locked it up last week and we didn’t do that. We had anything lined up and we couldn’t come through. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
So many failures
In losing their way out of the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years, the Bears:
— Failed in three fourth-down situations on the Packers’ final drive of the Green Bay Packers’ 33-28 win Sunday in Soldier Field, the last with a blown coverage on fourth-and-eight that turned into the game-winning pass of 48 yards from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb.
“I was hoping for a miracle,” said Green Bay linebacker Andy Mulumba. “And I think that’s what happened.”
The miracle came in the form of safety Chris Conte appearing to settle at the first-down mark as Cobb ran by him for “a great, great play that will be running on the highlight reel for the rest of my time on this earth,” said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy.
— Failed to pick up a loose ball on a second-quarter fumble, allowing the Packers a touchdown when the Bears could have done the same thing. Julius Peppers sacked Rodgers, the ball flew up in the air and when it landed, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin picked it up. He stood there momentarily until Rodgers came running over yelling for him to run, which he did, 15 yards for a touchdown as most players on both teams stood around.
“We all thought it was a dead ball,” said linebacker James Anderson, the nearest Bear to the ball as it landed. “That was why everybody kind of stopped. I thought I did (hear a whistle).”
— Failed to turn an opening drive starting at the Green Bay 42 into any points or even a first down. Failed to hold onto the football with 2 minutes to play in the first half, with Alshon Jeffery’s first lost fumble of the season turning into three Green Bay points.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” said quarterback Jay Cutler, who delivered 15 completions on 24 attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions until the game’s final heave into an end zone jump ball trying for the win. “Looking back on the season, there’s one play here and there — beginning of the game, end of the game, middle of the game — it we make it a few of those, we’re in a different spot.”
The Bears ultimately are what their 8-8 record says they are, which is a .500 team (although it’s amusing to hear some pundits conclude that they knew the defense was going to have problems, meaning they knew that Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Nate Collins and D.J. Williams would all go down to injury. I want some of those analysts picking stocks for my retirement fund.)
Changes will come as they do every offseason, with Cutler expected to be re-signed sooner rather than later, but major changes expected on defense in particular.
“Anytime you lose it’s disappointing, but to lose in the last minute or get blown out like we did last week, both losses are disappointing,” Peppers said. Peppers got a hand on Rodgers’ arm on the final, winning touchdown pass but “there’s no other way around it,” he said. “You play to win and we didn’t win.
“We knew this game was going to be tough, probably come down to the last possession, if we could be in that position again, we’d take that every time.”