If there was any delusion in the fanbase of the Chicago Bears that this team was on the verge of making a run and making the playoffs, it was quickly dispelled as the Detroit Lions went on a 31-3 scoring run and knocked off the Bears at Ford Field on Thursday afternoon.
The game started out well for the Bears, with Jay Cutler and the team’s offense marching down the field and scoring on their first drive. The good play continued when the Bears recovered a fumble deep in Detroit territory, and Cutler threw another touchdown to make it 14-3 with about three and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter.
As soon as Alshon Jeffery came down with that pass, everything started to go wrong for the Bears. The Lions ultimately scored 21 points in the second quarter alone, and they added another touchdown in the fourth quarter to put things out of reach. After the Jeffery touchdown, the Lions outgained the Bears by a 423-195 margin, and on their three scoring drives in the second quarter alone they gained 228 yards.
This loss was more than just another lopsided defeat in a season full of such embarrassing blowouts. The entire game was an indictment not just of Marc Trestman and Mel Tucker, but it was a ringing repudiation of everything that Phil Emery has built for the organization over the past three years.
The defense, which started out well with getting pressure on the quarterback, had absolutely no answer for Calvin Johnson, with Brock Vereen and Kyle Fuller looking foolish in several instances. Golden Tate was no easier riddle for the team, as he caught eight passes of his own. Even the Lions’ running game, which was missing its best player in Reggie Bush, was pretty solid in the game, with Joique Bell running for 91 yards on 23 carries.
Not to be outdone, the offense came into the game looking for Cutler to get rid of the ball quickly, and they used slant patterns, screen passes, and play action to keep the Lions off-balance. It worked well for a while, but Detroit finally adjusted to address the threat, and Trestman and company were not able to provide an adequate counter-punch. That has been the narrative on numerous occasions this season, and it was there for a national TV audience to see on Thursday.
In a way, one almost has to feel sorry for the Bears’ players. Injuries have robbed them of depth at key positions like cornerback and defensive end, and against a talented offense they look woefully outmatched. Emery’s big-ticket acquisitions have done nothing for the Bears, and even though his draft picks from this season have worked out to a degree this season, they still have a long way to go before proving that they are long-term NFL assets.
Worse yet, Emery’s decision to give long-term extensions to Cutler and Brandon Marshall has been nothing short of a disaster. Cutler isn’t solely to blame for this team’s struggles, but Trestman and the coaching staff have either lost trust in him or are trying to simplify the offense to make him more effective, and in either case, it's a troubling development. Marshall still makes some plays for the team, but with his tendency to drop passes recently (he dropped two more in Thursday’s game) and his increased agitation both with the media and within the Bears’ locker room is making his three-year extension look more like a millstone around the Bears’ necks than a shiny monument to the accomplishments of the Emery regime.
Any way you slice it, change is going to come at Halas Hall, and it needs to. Tucker is overmatched as defensive coordinator. Trestman has proven time and again that he can’t adjust to what an opponent is throwing at his vaunted offense. Cutler is going to always be the “carry the ball too low, force it into coverage at inopportune times” quarterback. Marshall is a potential time bomb waiting to explode.
These are not facets of a successful NFL franchise, and if the Bears are going to be a competitive team at any point in the near future, then they are surely going to need to prune some, if not all, of these pieces away from the organizational tree.
And they'll likely need a new gardener to do the job.