From CHICAGO: Cre’Von LeBlanc the fall guy in Bears loss, but who called that defense?
From David Haugh, Chicago Tribune
~Surrounded by reporters Sunday inside the Bears locker room, the loneliest man in Chicago slowly fastened the buttons on his shirt and fidgeted with his belt.
The longer Cre’Von LeBlanc lingered, the better he collected his thoughts, which surely were scattered recalling the decisive play of the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the Packers. The Bears cornerback let Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson beat him for a 60-yard completion with 27 seconds left that set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning 32-yard field goal.
A wind chill of minus-4 degrees at kickoff made this one of the coldest games ever at Soldier Field, and the Bears’ last-minute lapse, after a furious 17-point fourth-quarter rally, ranked it among the cruelest. When an NFL team is 3-11, it finds ways to lose, but this was inventive even by Bears standards.
“At the end of the day, my technique has to be better,” a composed LeBlanc said, accepting responsibility like a pro.
Nobody will argue. Nelson quickly gobbled up LeBlanc’s 7-yard cushion, put his hand up so Rodgers would see him open and waited for the quarterback’s perfectly placed spiral. The ball fell exactly where it has so many times in Rodgers’ Hall of Fame career. LeBlanc had one job on third-and-11 from the Bears 26: Stay deeper than the deepest — and Nelson got behind him anyway.
“Perfect catch, perfect throw,” Bears cornerback Tracy Porter said. “Only two or three quarterbacks can make that throw … and the other two are Tom Brady and Drew Brees.”
The Bears played what they call quarters coverage, dividing the secondary into fourths, meaning the design of the defense called for an undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic to defend a Pro Bowl wide receiver one-on-one with the game on the line. Quarterbacks like Rodgers are sure to RSVP such an invitation to a big play every time.
Before the snap, Porter warned everyone to “keep their antennas up” because experience told him Rodgers wasn’t going to settle for overtime. Did LeBlanc expect safety help?
“Kind of, sort of,” LeBlanc said. “But in the huddle, they said stay deep and I should have been in position and gotten over his top shoulder.”
Truth is, LeBlanc never should have been in the position to let everybody down. Perhaps that was part of what general manager Ryan Pace shared with LeBlanc in a postgame pep talk.
The situation called for a safer two- or three-deep zone coverage supported by safeties reminded to keep everything in front of them. Instead, rookie safety Deon Bush — who had a chance to help LeBlanc deep — was focused more on the crossing route in front of him. We lately have referred to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as a genius, but this puzzling sequence sent press-box wags searching the thesaurus for antonyms.
The Bears’ last two losses came down to passes slipping through a wide receiver’s hands. This time, Bears coaches dropped the ball.
“I’m not going to play the blame game,” Fox said when asked about the pivotal play.
The coaching strategy on the 60-yard completion merited more criticism than Fox’s decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 4 with 1 minute, 23 seconds left, a move more likely to drive conversation Monday in the Second (Guessing) City. As popular as Fox potentially would have been had the Bears scored the go-ahead touchdown, imagine the regret if the Packers stopped them on fourth down. Regardless of the rivalry, Fox made the smart call to play for overtime at home with the Bears having regained momentum. Taking the 10-second runoff in the final minute wouldn’t have changed the outcome either.
“(Second-guessing) comes with the territory and we managed not to win the game,” Fox said.
Gradually, these Bears have developed a knack for managing not to win games. They aren’t getting blown out, but the Packers exposed the Bears for not knowing yet how to win. Example: On first-and-goal from the 3, tight end Logan Paulsen got called for holding, eventually forcing the Bears to settle for a field goal. An aside: Why does it seem that Paulsen’s name only comes up when something bad happens?
Meanwhile, frustration mounts on a team staring at 13 losses. Alshon Jeffery, unable to shake double coverage for three quarters, caught six passes for 89 yards in the fourth quarter against the Packers prevent defense but hardly felt satisfied. Jeffery stopped a postgame interview with WBBM radio because he was afraid he would say something offensive. Defensive end Akiem Hicks chided a reporter asking about Rodgers by wondering if he was “in the Aaron Rodgers Fan Club.” Even Matt Barkley, still considered the new guy, admitted the feeling is getting old.
“It seems almost deja-vu-ish,” Barkley said.
Two things made this defeat different for the Bears. Barkley, despite a huge fourth quarter, endured a Cutleresque day that included impressive numbers marred by three interceptions and a fumble. And Fangio’s vaunted seventh-ranked defense gave up 223 rushing yards, letting Packers running back Ty Montgomery go through holes like a plow through snow.
“I don’t think we expected to run for over 200 yards,” Rodgers said.
You can say the Packers took what the Bears gave them, down to the last play.
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