One to grow on for Chicago Bears
Loss to Green Bay Packers might sting, but it's nothing two weeks of work can't cure
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Chicago Bears tossed around the "L" word extensively in the locker room after their 10-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and that word wasn't the first name of their head coach minus the "I."
Instead of lamenting a blown opportunity to sweep the division and to end the regular season on the high note that coach Lovie Smith discussed during the week, the Bears talked exhaustively about "learning" things from Sunday's loss that could help in the playoffs.
"It doesn't feel good," running back Matt Forte said. "We really would've liked to have put them out of the playoffs, but our season isn't done. We look forward to going into the playoffs and felt like this game was a very good learning experience for guys like [me] as far as the playoff type of atmosphere we'll see.
"It was a tight game, and for it to be so loud and us be in situations where we were backed up, those things can help us going forward."
With a first-round bye from locking up the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, the Bears don't play again until Jan. 16 at noon CT, when the highest remaining seed from the first-round winners comes to Soldier Field. As the club awaits its opponent in the divisional round, the plan is to operate in a manner similar to the Oct. 31 regular-season bye.
"This was a good measuring stick for us as we go forward," Smith said.
The Bears took a drubbing at the hands of the New York Giants on Oct. 3 and dropped three of four heading into the bye in October. The loss to the Packers was somewhat similar to the massacre at the Meadowlands in terms of breakdowns along the offensive line and an opponent dialing up pressure the Bears simply couldn't handle.
Quarterback Jay Cutler took two sacks in a relatively pedestrian first half that the Bears led, 3-0. But as the stakes rose and the crowd at Lambeau Field grew more raucous, the Bears' offensive line broke down from confusion caused by the noise, not to mention tweaks to the Packers' scheme.
"They kept us out of sync," Cutler said. "We didn't change a lot from last game to this game, and I think they did a really good job of taking away some of our hot reads. They had a really good game plan with some of their slot blitzes and mixing things up with the coverages."
Bears center Olin Kreutz said it was the first time the current group of starting offensive linemen experienced what he called "that playoff atmosphere," adding "it could be a great learning tool for us."
That was a good defense we played, but we shouldn't just score three points. When our defense holds that kind of team to 10 points, we're doing a disservice by not doing a better job. This falls on us.” -- Greg Olsen
Green Bay blitzed Cutler with a defensive back three times in the first two quarters, according to ESPN Stats & Information, but brought the heat with a player from the secondary 16 times in the third and fourth quarters (half of the quarterback's dropbacks). Cutler completed 42.9 percent of his passes in the second half when the Packers brought defensive backs for a passer rating of 50.3.
"It was one game. We're just taking this as experience," right tackle Frank Omiyale said. "We'll remember situations that we were in and how we reacted and how we need to react next time. That's what you do to get better."
In addition to dialing up the pressure, the Packers took away Cutler's most dangerous targets, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester. Knox couldn't come up with any of the eight passes thrown his way by Cutler, and Hester caught one of five passes thrown his direction.
So it's no coincidence that four of the Packers' six sacks came in the second half, along with both of Cutler's interceptions.
"I think you learn from it and go on. We're not happy with our offensive performance," tight end Greg Olsen said. "We made a lot of mistakes: communication, sacks, turnovers, missed blocks, drops. Mine was crucial at that point in the game. We have to do a better job making those plays. That was a good defense we played, but we shouldn't just score three points. When our defense holds that kind of team to 10 points, we're doing a disservice by not doing a better job. This falls on us."
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz probably deserves some of the blame, too, even though there's a chance (as Cutler intimated) the Bears chose not to show much in the regular-season finale.
The Bears abandoned a ground attack averaging 5.5 yards per attempt in favor of the pass and have now lost the past four games in which more passes were called than runs. Green Bay scored the go-ahead touchdown with 12:46 left to play, meaning the Bears still had plenty of time to use the rushing attack in playing catch up.
But after Donald Lee's TD, Martz called a pass-run ratio of 18-to-5 the rest of the way.
Forte said he expects the Bears to "review" themselves during the first-round bye. he said the Bears will "look at what we do better than some of the other things, and kind of emphasize those points in the playoffs."
If they can do that, Olsen said the Bears will be Super Bowl-bound.
"We did a nice job the last time we had a bye," he said. "We started off the season 4-3 and then came out of that bye and rattled off six in a row, five in a row, whatever it was. If we do that again, we're Super Bowl champs. So we've got to move on from this, learn from it.
"We're not happy with how we played offensively, but we feel good about the opening-round bye. We have a chance now to get rested, fix some things and play better in that first game in two weeks."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.