The immediate question after a game like the Bears’ 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday is what was learned from it?
Is the Bears’ glass being filled or leaking? It depends on expectations and how you grade.
If you thought the Bears were a seven- or eight-win team, this game was a positive step. If your standard is significantly higher — that the Bears were 10-6 last season, improved personnel and should be in serious playoff discussions — this was not a step in a right direction.
For my part, I think the Bears are that playoff team — said so before this season and still do — but not without some major work, in all areas, mentally and physically.
Julius Peppers summed it all up: “We played OK. It wasn’t a great performance. It wasn’t poor. It was somewhere in the middle.”
Exactly. And that’s not good enough.
The loss left the Bears tied for first in the NFC North at 3-2, same as the Detroit Lions after the Packers handled them, 22-9, at Lambeau Field and a half-game ahead of Green Bay because of the latter’s off week. None of that actually matters right now, of course.
The Bears have the 0-5 New York Giants at Soldier Field on Thursday night and 1-3 Washington 10 days after that, with Washington coming off a division road game against Dallas. If they have accomplished anything with the addition of Marc Trestman as coach and the personnel upgrades of 2013, they should be 5-2 by the time they see Green Bay four weeks from now.
But the main thing immediately is that even with Alshon Jeffery putting up the greatest receiving-yardage total (218) for one game in franchise history, the Bears simply aren’t as good as the reconstituted (under Sean Payton) New Orleans Saints (5-0).
They out-gained the Saints by nearly 100 yards (434-347). They held New Orleans to one point and 72 fewer yards than the Saints are accustomed to, and that is with missing their top three defensive tackles: Henry Melton on IR, Stephen Paea inactive with a toe injury, Nate Collins lost in the third quarter with a knee injury. They generated two points and 130 yards more than the Saints’ defense allows on average.
That the Bears were again within a recovered onside kick and score from tying the game late in the fourth quarter is something positive. That a second straight game came down to that is not. Had this game been played in New Orleans’ dome, the margin likely would have been greater than eight points.
“We want to look like the New Orleans Saints’ offense,” said wide receiver Brandon Marshall. “You can see those guys are machines out there. It’s going to take some time to get there but I think we’ve got the guys in the room to get the job done.”
Outcoached and outplayed
The Bears were outcoached, no shame really with Trestman coaching his fifth NFL game vs. Payton. As one veteran observer concluded, Payton was every bit as smart as the Bears hope Trestman will be.
But the Bears were not ready for early game blitzes by the Saints — one Bear said they’d never seen those on film, another said they had. The result was three sacks of Jay Cutler within the Bears’ first 12 snaps.
They also appeared unprepared simply to play the game. They bobbled the ball on three of their first four plays, taking a 10-yard loss on a mishandled pitch to Matt Forte on their first play and losing the football on a sack/strip of Cutler on the fourth. Forte was able to hang onto the screen pass he juggled on third down but still came up four yards short of a first down.
“Certainly disappointed in the way we started this game offensively,” Trestman said, “and that starts with me and accountability to get our guys going and going in the right direction.”
They were out-played. It wasn’t Trestman who dropped three Cutler passes; it was Earl Bennett, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall.
Still needing help
The Bears did not get a single takeaway from quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints. That is part of a larger, concerning pattern beyond just turnover ratio.
Since the start of the 2012 season the Bears are 7-0 in games when they score a defensive and/or a special-teams touchdown. But they are just 6-8 when the offense doesn’t have the benefit of scoring from another phase. Put another way, it’s not enough yet for the offense to be given the ball more often than it gives it away; the Bears still need actual points on the board in order to win at a .500 level.