Biggs: Cutler misses, Bears' defense amiss

CHICAGO—What’s next?

A season that began with immeasurable expectations after the Bears completed their six-decade search to find the replacement for Sid Luckman now appears irretrievably lost. Instead of thinking about the playoffs, Chicago now must ponder if it has what it takes to reach .500.

The Bears had an opportunity to get right in the thick of things. A victory Sunday night over the Philadelphia Eagles would have put them in the mix in the NFC, given them some hope and more importantly some confidence. Instead, Luckman’s replacement Jay Cutler didn’t get the job done and a defensive unit that was supposed to return to lofty status was overrun when the game was on the line. The Eagles (6-4) remained on the heels of the Dallas Cowboys with a 24-20 victory.

Lovie Smith’s team has lost five of its last six games and it counts its last two victories over Cleveland and Detroit, two of the NFL’s worst. The Bears have managed to take a 26-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback and completely marginalize him. Cutler stopped throwing interceptions in bunches but against a battered Eagles’ secondary that took a blow when cornerback Asante Samuel was sidelined with a stinger, he simply couldn’t make plays.

Veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown maintained his consecutive games played streak, but did so on a bad hamstring. The Bears couldn’t take advantage of him deep. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner caught the Eagles in a blitz on third-and-five from the Bears’ 30-yard line with 3:57 to play and the Eagles up four. It was the look Chicago had been waiting for all night as there was no safety help over the top. Rookie wide receiver Johnny Knox blazed past Brown, and it was a sure touchdown if the pass was there. Cutler’s ball sailed long. The Bears punted and when they got the ball back with 1:51 remaining, their drive went nowhere.

“Just the throw,’’ Cutler said in explaining what went wrong. “What do you want me to say about it? A throw I should hit. I didn’t.’’

The same thing happened twice in the second quarter. With second-and-two from the Eagles’ 27, linebacker Chris Gocong bit up on a play fake and tight end Greg Olsen escaped free to the end zone. Another sure touchdown was missed when Cutler overshot him. On the very next play, a shoulder fake by Cutler freed up Devin Hester wide open streaking to the end zone. Again, Cutler overthrew him. The Bears settled for a 45-yard Robbie Gould field goal, and they learned when you trade touchdowns for field goals, you lose.

But as has been the case in this maddening slide, it can’t all be heaped on Cutler’s shoulders. The defense allowed the Eagles to march right through it on Philadelphia’s first two possession. The Bears trailed 10-0 before they got going. The pass rush was decent—Donovan McNabb was sacked three times—but too often the unexplainable happened. On the third play from scrimmage, a third-and-one, Michael Vick faked a handoff and ran up the middle 34 yards. Yes, the same Vick who had made no impact to this point. How does that happen?

No Brian Westbrook was no problem. LeSean McCoy rushed for 99 yards on 20 carries, scoring on a 10-yard dash around the left side to put the Eagles ahead for good with 5:31 to play. DeSean Jackson got open deep behind strong safety Al Afalava for a 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Surely that wasn’t the plan, to have the rookie Afalava trying to run with Jackson. Where Cutler missed on the deep ball, McNabb was right on the money.

That’s what has to be most frustrating for the Bears. Smith revamped his coaching staff in January, replacing position coaches at all three levels of the defense and sending the message that the Bears were going to coach themselves out of the problems they had the last two seasons. Smith took over the play calling responsibilities on defense and the unit is more unpredictable than ever.

“I said this the last couple weeks,’’ defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. ``This stuff is getting old fast. It's frustrating. The lack of consistency is becoming unsettling and disturbing.’’

Smith can’t keep canning defensive coaches, although at this rate it’s likely a change will be coming on offense. The Bears aren’t going to find much help in the draft, where they’ve missed more than they’ve hit lately. They’re already without picks in the first two rounds. Weeks ago, players touted the fact that they had yet to play the Minnesota Vikings. It was with the idea that two games left with their NFC North rivals would provide them an opportunity to get even. Their first meeting comes this Sunday at the Metrodome. If nothing else, they might find out exactly how far they have to go.

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