Giant egos blocking Bears' progress
Jay Cutler and Mike Martz both too stubborn to switch paths when plan isn't working
CHICAGO -- Well, at least we know now why Jay Cutler and Mike Martz get along so well.
Call it stubbornness, call it ego, the Bears quarterback and his offensive coordinator have raised both to an art form, only there was nothing the least bit picturesque about Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Washington Redskins.
While you could not fault the two for every ill that occurred in a display by both teams that went beyond sloppiness and approached Pop Warner, they were ultimately responsible for a loss that, ugly as it was, could have been a win.
Down three points with 3:31 remaining in regulation and having already thrown three interceptions in the second half to DeAngelo Hall, Cutler continued to go in Hall's direction. His deep pass intended for Johnny Knox on first-and-10 from midfield was easily picked off again by Hall at the Redskins' 13.
Given the choice to do what was best for the team or take care of his own agenda, Cutler showed us, and later told us, in no uncertain terms who is the most important.
Did he ever consider throwing away from Hall, he was asked afterward?
"No, not at all," Cutler said. "I've played against him before. There's no reason to shy away from him. That's hard for me to say after throwing four picks to a guy. Still, if we had to play them tomorrow, I'd still go after him every time if we could."
You almost have to marvel at how far one guy could go to prove a point. Except that there are two guys who do it, and Martz is just as obstinate.
The Bears finished with a 40-16 pass-to-run ratio against a team that came into the game ranked 24th in the NFL in run defense. Sure, the Redskins came in 31st against the pass, but with the Bears' woeful pass protection, that's almost a moot point. After running only 14 times in their loss to Seattle last week, with the forecast calling for rain and both his running backs rested and raring to go, Martz still refused to bend even when the Redskins' defense did.
After a first quarter in which the Bears ran seven plays and came out with minus-5 yards compared to 144 for the Redskins, they gave up three sacks of Cutler by the midway point of the second before actually putting together a seven-play scoring drive to close the half and take a 14-10 lead into halftime.
It was, of course, pass-happy, Cutler going 7-of-7 for 70 yards. But they were short passes achieved with three- and five-step drops and quick releases by the quarterback, who was sacked four times in the game.
The third Bears possession of the third quarter was actually the best-looking drive of the day, even though -- like all but one of the Bears' seven offensive series in the second half -- it ended with a turnover.
On that drive, there were two 12-yard runs by Chester Taylor and three short passes for 25 yards, including a 13-yard screen pass to Matt Forte, who also had three runs for 16 yards. Then Cutler threw off his back foot to Knox and was picked off at the Redskins' 8-yard line by Hall, who returned it 92 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The Bears committed six turnovers in the second half, negating some more good work by their defense, which forced three turnovers, including an interception and 54-yard return for a touchdown by D.J. Moore.
Moore would have had another touchdown off a fumble recovery if not for a delay-of-game penalty on Washington. In all, the Bears forced six Redskins fumbles but recovered just one.
"That's just how it goes sometimes," said Cutler of all the turnovers, among them his fumble on a quarterback sneak from the goal line on the first drive of the second half. "It's a funny game. It's waves. It's up and down, back and forth. It's never decided until those last couple minutes of the fourth quarter."
The Bears were fortunate to still be in the game at that point, though Hall's fourth interception -- tying an NFL record -- seemed a foregone conclusion.
"I haven't seen that since high school," Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said of Hall's heroics.
"Man," said Moore, taking it one step further, "I ain't seen picks like that since 'Madden' and you're playing your little brother or something."
That sentiment, though Moore didn't intend it that way, summed up Cutler perfectly on this day, a cocky kid trying to win a video game.
It was hard to wrap your head around all the bad, the crowd forced to sarcastically cheer third-down conversions after the Bears extended their streak to 0-for-28 on third-down conversions under Cutler in the previous 10 quarters.
"This is one of the sloppiest games I've ever seen," said Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.
The 4-3 Bears can no longer rest on their four victories, hanging as they were on the Packers-Vikes result Sunday night, a bye week forcing them to contemplate their sins and worse, listen to others contemplate them.
"We're not where we want to be, I can tell you that," said Brian Urlacher. "We want to improve as the season goes on and I don't know if we're doing that right now. We're making too many mistakes on both sides of the ball and we're not progressing like we should."
No, they're not. They're not on the proverbial same page, either, seemingly not even reading the same book.
"If I knew [what our next step should be], we would have done it two weeks ago," said defensive end Julius Peppers. "It's the same story every week, playing good in spots, playing good in a particular phase, it's just not all coming together at once. When that happens, if it happens, who knows when it will, then we can feel really good about the direction the team is going in."
Until then, they may as well be playing PlayStation.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.