Two Wrong Calls Doomed Bears

It's easy, after any close loss, to second-guess any decision that the losing coach made and point to it as the decision that cost the team the game.

But in the case of the Bears' last-second loss to the Falcons on Sunday, it really isn't oversimplifying to say that Bears coach Lovie Smith and his staff made two huge strategic mistakes in the closing seconds, and that the combination of the two mistakes gave the Falcons just enough room to maneuver into range for their game-winning field goal.

The Bears appeared to have the game in hand when Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis for the touchdown that gave the Falcons a 20-19 lead with 11 seconds left. Just kick it deep, make one stop on defense, and it's over.

The Bears, however, didn't kick it deep. Instead, they squibbed the kickoff, giving the Falcons great field position, with the ball at their own 44-yard line. The Bears had had four previous kickoffs in the game, and all four of them yielded a better result than that squib kick. Yes, I know what you're thinking -- Falcons return man Jerious Norwood had brought back the previous kickoff 85 yards. But the truth is, the exact same result would have been great for the Bears, because that 85-yard return took 12 seconds off the clock. If the Bears had kicked deep, the only danger was that Norwood would return the kick all the way for a touchdown -- something he's never done in his NFL career.

But the Bears were so worried that Norwood would do something he's never done before that they squibbed it, and the Falcons out-strategized the Bears on the play. Atlanta anticipated the squib and lined up a pair of tight ends at the 40-yard line and a pair of wide receivers at the 30-yard line in preparation. One of those receivers, Harry Douglas, picked up the ball at the 34 and ran to the 44, where the Falcons took over with six seconds left.

Then the Bears' defense took the field, in the worst possible alignment for what the Falcons needed to do.

Atlanta wide receiver Michael Jenkins lined up split to the left, and for the Bears, it should have been obvious what their No. 1 responsibility was: Keep Jenkins in bounds. Any type of completion in the middle of the field was fine, as long as they didn't let Jenkins stop the clock by getting out of bounds.

So what did they do? First, they only brought four pass rushers, giving Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan time to drop back to pass. And in the secondary, the Bears had cornerback Marcus Hamilton lined up eight yards off the line of scrimmage on the outside, free safety Mike Brown lined up 21 yards off the line of scrimmage on the inside, and a great big gap in the zone along the left sideline. Jenkins ran to that gap in the zone, Ryan hit him for a 26-yard completion, and the Falcons were in field goal range.

The Bears allowed the one thing that could hurt them -- a deep pass along the sideline -- to happen, and on the next play Falcons kicker Jason Elam hit the 48-yard game winner.

This isn't a matter of second-guessing the coaching because the squib kick and defense didn't work. In fact, I'll say that Smith made the right decision on another call that didn't work, going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. But in a close game that came down to the final plays, Smith got it wrong on two of those plays.

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