A fine mess

10/19/2009 - NFL Chicago Bears

If you're sitting at home in front of the tube, maybe wiping nacho cheese off your purple jersey, Sunday night's game of the week was a hoot. Entertaining even.

If you're Bears coach Lovie Smith and his players, you talk about "missed opportunities."

And if you're a Bears fan, you might consider trying what QB Jay Cutler was seen doing at the end of the Bears' hideous 21-14 loss to Atlanta in the Georgia Dome and stick the nearest towel in your mouth.

Just be careful you don't stick it in too far. And that you pull it out eventually.

Missed opportunities?

If that's what you want to call three trips into the red zone for the Bears that resulted in an interception, a fumble and three penalties in five plays, with the game on the line in the closing minutes.

Or failure on two consecutive plays in the second quarter to pick up a loose ball and come down with an interception when you're leading 7-0 and seemingly ready to grab the momentum and run with it.

Oh wait, poor choice of words there when your leading rusher was your quarterback -- Cutler scrambling for 34 yards on three carries -- and running back Matt Forte once again found no room to operate (23 yards on 15 carries).

"We'll be fine," Forte said. "We just need to keep working each week and not harp on things too much."

Fine, this game, this mess, was not even about the numbers because the numbers, as they so often do, did not always prove any salient points.

The Bears' defense kept Michael Turner in check for the second straight year (13 carries for 30 yards), save for his 5-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 3:10 left in the game that was set up by Eric Weems' 62-yard kickoff return. And what did that matter?

Missed opportunities?

OK, if that's the way you choose to characterize the way the Bears' defense seemed to come into the game determined not to get off to another slow start -- and then, having checked that off the goal sheet with three straight three-and-outs, the D spent the rest of the half patting itself on the back.

When the Falcons went to their quick huddle/no huddle in the second quarter, the Bears looked as if they were in the middle of one of those dreams where you're back in college, can't find your class, and when you do, you discover you have a final exam for which you haven't studied.

With the Bears' safeties out of position, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan found receiver Roddy White for a 40-yard catch-and-run TD that completed a three-play, 55-yard drive and tied the game at 7-7.

Unable to cram quickly enough to catch up, the Bears were caught with their proverbial pants down on Atlanta's next possession, as well -- a 12-play, 64-yard drive in which Ryan completed all seven of his throws for 57 yards, his final one a 10-yard pass to tight end extraordinaire Tony Gonzalez in the back of the end zone with four seconds left in the half.

And speaking of tight ends, it might be time to consider getting backup Desmond Clark in there more often; he made a tough catch for 24 yards and another 8-yarder to the 1-yard line late in the third quarter before the Bears turned it over on one of Forte's two fumbles.

Starter Greg Olsen is clearly drawing a lot of attention and not always overcoming it, though he did neutralize some drops with a 41-yard reception, a 2-yard touchdown grab and a respectable acting job in drawing a pass interference on a third and 17 from the Atlanta 31-yard line with 1:12 remaining.

This game was supposed to tell us what caliber of team the Bears really are this season. What Sunday night showed is that the offensive line is not doing the job. It told us that the Bears are prone to critical mistakes, making four trips to the red zone and coming away with a fumble at the 1, an interception at the 9 and seven points.

In two drives in the third and fourth quarters, the Bears' offense put together a total of 23 plays and 147 yards and had nothing to show for it.

They will tell us they are focusing on the positive.

"When you have an ineffective defense and offense, you really have to go back to the drawing board and figure things out," Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. "When you're effective offensively and defensively and just missing some opportunities, you're kicking yourselves."

Some opportunities?

"If and should -- those things don't win games," Tommie Harris said on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. "We had chances, and we didn't seize on them."

With Cincinnati and another road contest coming up, Smith said the Bears don't have time to feel sorry for themselves.

He also said his team shot itself in the foot.

Almost sounds pleasant compared to how it felt watching.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.