Well I guess the Bears can’t win them all. After reeling off five straight victories since a 2-3 start, the Bears lost a game they could’ve (and should’ve) won to the Raiders 25-20. The loss puts the Bears record at 7-4, but they lost no standing in the tight NFC playoff race thanks to the Lions losing to the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. As things stand now, the Bears still maintain possession of the first wild card spot.
This game marked QB Caleb Hanie’s first NFL start, and let’s just say that it wasn’t a very memorable occasion. Hanie, substituting for injured Jay Cutler, threw three interceptions, all of them costly and two of them leading to two Oakland FG’s. Hanie’s final interception, perhaps the most costly of the three, occurred in the final two minutes of the first half on a 2nd & 1 from the Oakland 7. The play called down was a backside screen with Hanie rolling out to his right and throwing back to his left. The Oakland defense might as well have been in the Chicago huddle as the play was completely diagnosed by Oakland. The resulting interception was returned by LB Kamerion Wimbley 73 yards to the Bears’ 12 yard line. Only a desperation tackle by OL Lance Louis saved a TD. It was an amazing hustle play as Louis tracked the play all the way down the field.
The Raiders jumped out to a 6-0 first quarter lead on two Sebastian Janikowski FGs (40 and 47 yards). The Bears came back on a 9 play 74 yard drive that was capped off by a Hanie to Johnnie Knox TD pass of 29 yards to give the Bears a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter. The Raiders regained the lead (9-7) on a 42 yard FG by Janikowski, and they capped off the first half by kicking a 4th FG of 19 yards to take a 12-7 lead into the half. Oakland extended their lead to 18-7 with two more FGs, giving Janikowski six FGs on the day. The Bears added two Robbie Gould FGs of their own (50 & 53 yards respectively) to narrow the lead to 18-13, but a late fourth quarter Michael Bush TD broke the Bears back. That TD capped an 8 play, 74 yard drive and gave the Raiders a 25-13 lead with under four minutes to go. The Bears answered back with a 9 yard pass from Hanie to TE Kellen Davis, but failed to recover the ensuing onside kick. The Bears did manage to get the ball back with 1:01 to go and no time outs, but the drive stalled when Caleb Hanie botched a grounding play and got called for a penalty which ran the remaining time off the clock.
As I said earlier, the game was winnable. The Bears defenders got their hands on several Carson Palmer passes that they weren’t able to convert into interceptions. If offensive coordinator Mike Martz would have called a smarter game, the Bears might have won. That back door screen in the red zone was a horrible call. Martz needs to put Hanie in a better position to not lose games. That’s not to say that Hanie bears no responsibility for the throw. He threw three picks! He needs to take care of the ball better. If the throw isn’t there, throw it away or run. He did gain 50 yards on 5 carries, so maybe a few more QB runs would have been in order.
Anyway, here are the awards…
THE GOOD: The Bears’ Defense. The Bears’ defense generated four sacks of Carson Palmer (two by Julius Peppers), they intercepted him once, and they held the Raiders to 73 rushing yards on 27 carries (2.7 avg.). They held Oakland to only one TD and six FGs. Considering that Oakland’s average starting field position was at their own 40 yard line, that’s not bad. The offense turned the ball over three times, but Oakland only managed to convert that into 6 points; that’s good defensive recovery.
THE BAD: Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz. This is the first time I’ve included a member of the coaching staff in the awards. The problem was I had a hard time thinking of a recipient of the BAD award for this game. Despite Hanie’s performance, the offense played pretty well. They gained 401 yards of total offense and rushed for 172 yards on 27 carries (6.2 avg). The reason Martz gets this award is for that back door screen call on 2nd and 1 from the Oakland 7 yard line. Throwing across the field is dangerous enough, but at the goal line it’s disastrous. That was a six point swing because the worse the Bears get from that drive is a FG, but it was Oakland instead who kicked the FG. Remove that one play and the score would be 23-22 Bears.
THE UGLY: QB Caleb Hanie’s first half performance. Hanie in the first half was 7 of 15 for 72 yards 1 TD and 3 INT. BLECH!!! In the second half, Hanie was 11 of 21 for 182 1 TD and 0 INT. So he improved as the game went on, but those three first half interceptions just killed the Bears. However, it’s Hanie’s first start and it was in a hostile environment in Oakland. I expect he’ll do much better next week at home against Kansas City.
There you have it. It wasn’t the outcome we all hoped as Bears’ fans, but the Bears are still in the driver’s seat for the playoff picture. In all likelihood, barring a Green Bay meltdown in the last five games of the season, the Bears will not win the NFC North, but they have a lock on the first WC position. The Atlanta Falcons hold on to the second WC spot, and with the Bears holding the head-to-head edge having beaten the Falcons earlier in the season, they’re in a good position. The Falcons have the Texans and the Saints as the only two remaining games against playoff contenders while the Bears have the Packers and the resurgent Tebow-led Broncos as their only teams on the schedule with winning records. The Bears can probably afford to lose one more game and still remain in the first WC spot. Two games probably drops them down into the second WC spot. I don’t think the Bears will lose two of their remaining five games unless they implode (or suffer more major injuries to key players).